Teacher burnout is a huge problem. Fading are the days of veteran teachers staying in the job and sharing the wisdom of their experience with the younger generation of teachers. Many articles tell of teachers leaving the profession after five or fewer years.
Teachers start out with fire in their hearts, with an ambition to change lives and improve outcomes for all the children in their care. Many leave after just a few years when that fire has not only burnt out but has burnt them out too.
For others, who contemplate no alternative, the fire smoulders for years until they become cynical with a system that is ever-changing but rarely improving, and expectations that increase exponentially with little recognition of their efforts or the value they add to lives or society.
I recently listened to a book on the topic written by a passionate educator whose fire was extinguished by overwhelming expectations and an inability to reconcile unrealistic demands with a desire to teach children.
In a job interview, when asked what she taught, it was her response ‘I teach children’ that landed her the position. As the years passed, her employer’s focus turned from teaching children to teaching content and collecting data. As for many, her challenge was to continue educating the whole child while fulfilling the requirements of her employer. It’s a challenge that defeats many.
Teacher: One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabrielle J. Stroud is a personal record of one’s teacher’s journey and how she faced the challenge. But it is more than that. It is the story of a journey travelled by many teachers. The names and places may change, but the story stays the same.
It is a book I wish I’d written. I laughed with Gabbie and cried with Gabbie. I’d walked in her shoes and she in mine. While our times and schools were different, our responses to the changing education landscape were very similar. She wrote from my heart as much as from hers.
If something doesn’t happen soon to support teachers, there’ll be no heart left in education and it will be a wasteland of useless data, lost potential and unhappy futures. Of course, I’ve written about that before, describing differences between education and schooling in a poem I called Education is.
If you are interested in reading more about teacher burnout and considering how teachers may be better supported, here are some articles to get you started:
The Causes of Teacher Burnout: What Everyone Needs to Know on The Chalk Blog. (US)
Burned out: why are so many teachers quitting or off sick with stress? In The Guardian. (UK)
Stressed-out teacher? Try these self-care tips on ABC Life. (Australia)
The hardest, most underestimated part of a teacher’s job on News.com.au. (Australia)
Heartbreak becomes burnout for teachers when work is turbulent on The Conversation. (Australia)
The Truth About Teacher Burnout: It’s Work Induced Depression on The American Psychology Association’s Psych Learning Curve. (US)
Teacher Workload in the Spotlight from my own Queensland College of Teachers. (Australia)
These are but a few of the many describing conditions that contribute to teacher burnout. However, for a truly entertaining but heartbreaking read that provides an accurate understanding of what happens to the heart of many a passionate teacher, you can’t go past Teacher: One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabrielle J. Stroud. Gabbie summed it all up sadly by saying that she didn’t leave teaching, teaching left her.
It’s about the teacher fire that I’ve decided to respond to the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch. Charli challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!
The heart of a teacher
“It’s storytime, children.”
They gathered at her feet, bright-eyed, transfixed.
Jane read, instructed and encouraged. They never tired.
Later, all snuggled up in bed, Mum asked, “What will you be when you grow up?”
They gathered at her feet, bright-eyed, hearts open, minds buzzing.
Miss Jane read. They hung on every word, contemplating obstacles and possible resolutions, following the heroes’ journey into the cave and out.
“No time for stories. It’s test time.”
They slumped at desks, eyes glazed, minds dulled, hearts heavy.
The cave was cold and dark. Were they ever coming out?
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.