Even under normal circumstances, teaching is a stressful profession that requires long hours, huge workloads and constantly adapting teaching environments. However, this past year has escalated many teachers’ stress levels as they’ve had to continuously adapt their teaching strategy from in-person teaching to distance learning and back again.
One survey found that teachers report working 60-65% extra hours to create effective teaching environments, with more than 50% of teachers reporting they no longer take regular breaks. With the demands of meeting government safety guidelines and pressure to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on students’ academic performance, teachers’ risk of burnout has increased dramatically over the past year. And with schools having just reopened, there will be new challenges to face ahead.
What the research says
Although the research has primarily focused on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students’ learning and well-being, an increasing amount of research has revealed the damaging effects the pandemic has had on teachers’ well-being. Almost 66% of teachers felt their efforts were unappreciated by the government and 59% of teachers felt unappreciated by the public, causing many to feel demotivated.
Research in the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020 showed that between April and October last year, an additional 22% of teachers and 84% of teachers overall reported feeling stressed. 74% of educators even reported experiencing at least one work-related symptom of burnout.
Another report by the Education Support charity found that 60% of headteachers and 52% of teachers report a decline in their mental well-being. And a survey by Tes Education revealed that nearly half of teachers report feeling “drained and exhausted”, 33% of teachers are “coping” with demands and 15% are “physically and mentally on the brink”.
Therefore in these next few months, the priority for schools needs to be finding the right balance between managing students’ recovery and managing teachers’ recovery.
How to reduce teacher burnout
It’s important that teachers feel supported and that others recognise the enormous amount of pressure that has been placed upon them to ensure children are learning in a safe environment. The prolonged reduction in face-to-face interaction with peers and students alike because of lockdown has made teachers feel isolated and exhausted, negatively impacting their mental health as a result.
Teacher burnout can also have negative implications for student motivation and well-being as burnt-out teachers cannot provide adequate emotional support for students if they aren’t receiving emotional support themselves. Therefore, teachers need to look after themselves and schools need to be implementing strategies so teachers can do this. At InnerDrive, we’ve suggested some ideas on how you can do this…
Prioritise your health
It may sound cliché, but teachers need to be prioritising self-care. Set some time aside each day to do something that will benefit you, be it a hobby, exercise, some reading or just getting outside. Research shows that those who spend more time outside report experiencing more positive moods and improved concentration. Exercise is also one of the 5 main strategies that the NHS suggests people do to enhance their mood and improve their well-being. By putting yourself first, you’ll be in a better position to help your students.
Limit work emails after work hours
You arrive at the school premises early and leave late so everything is set up for your morning lesson. Despite this, as a teacher, you’re constantly expected to monitor your emails in-between lessons for new information about guidelines, department meetings, extra-curriculars and events.
However, checking work emails after work hours can have detrimental effects on your health: not only can it lead to a reduction in sleep quality, but also sleep duration. Constantly checking work emails can also reduce enjoyment for the job as teachers never switch off from work to relax and recover in time for the next day. You could turn your email notifications off between certain time periods, or even suggest your school take a wider approach and switch off the school email server between 6pm and 6am.
Be kind to yourself
Teachers should understand that it’s okay to feel drained and demotivated as a result of the pandemic. It’s a testament to how hard they’ve worked and persevered to ensure students are receiving the education they deserve. So, if you’re not as productive one day, don’t beat yourself up about it; know when to take a break.
Encouraging positive self-talk is one way to improve how you feel and, consequently, how you perform at school. Taking the time to reflect on the past year and saying ‘stop’ straight after a negative thought has been shown to manage frustration, overcome nerves, and give a more positive outlook on life.
Encourage a positive classroom culture
A positive classroom culture is not only beneficial to students but to teachers’ well-being too. After teaching through a screen for so long, feeling comfortable in the classroom and re-establishing good relationships with your students will serve as a reminder of why all your hard work this year has been worth it. Some strategies teachers can use to boost their classroom culture is to have high expectations, create a psychologically safe classroom environment for both their students and themselves, and encourage a sense of belonging.
Have routine catch-ups with other teachers
Having strong social relationships is key. After lockdown, re-establishing that support system amongst teachers is crucial. Schools and school leaders should make sure to regularly check in with staff to see how they are coping with the transition as schools reopen. Burnout shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject and should be openly discussed in team meetings.
Although this may be time-consuming, it’s important that teachers feel supported and that they can reach out to the school if they need help. All teachers are in the same boat, so sharing their experiences and coping strategies with one another may reduce feelings of isolation and improve well-being.
However, if you’re struggling and feeling really burnt out, understand that it’s okay to ask for help. Teacher burnout can have serious physical and mental consequences and your health should always be your top priority.
After months of uncertainty and trying to keep up with the demands of distance learning, teachers’ well-being has been tested to the limits. Supporting teachers and students is at the heart of what we do at InnerDrive.
If you feel you’ve been hit particularly hard by lockdown or are experiencing symptoms of a burnout don’t be afraid to reach out. You may also find our mental health awareness for teachers pack a helpful resource.
Alternatively check out our teacher CPD workshops, including our Catching Up After Lockdown CPD course, which will teach you everything you need to know about stress management, resilience building, and more.