As teachers try to adjust to changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Walden University faculty member Dr. Crestie Smith weighed in on a familiar topic—teacher burnout.
“With school being held virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher burnout is certainly still a key topic. It’s easy to feel more isolated, alone, and anxious. Learning a whole new normal—whether it is adjusting to the new homework environment, the distance learning platform, or just monitoring the current pandemic crisis—can be overwhelming. As a result, stress that may have already been present is exacerbated,” says Dr. Smith.
“It’s important, as teachers, to maintain collegial contact through phone calls, audio and/or video conferencing, and e-mails. Without a doubt, your colleagues are going through the same things, feeling those same apprehensions. That’s why the support we can provide to one another is invaluable, just as it is during our typical—dare I say it, normal—school environment.”
Dr. Smith says she’s one of the lucky ones. She walked into college with a career goal and found a job in her field right after graduation. She’s now in her 30th year as an educator, leading middle-schoolers from her classroom in Bradenton, Florida, and teaching graduate-level students at Walden University.
When she began her career, that longevity was often the norm for teachers. But over the years, she’s seen a shift toward earlier retirements and teachers calling it quits before hitting the 10-year mark. By some estimates, over 40% of teachers leave the field in the first five years.1
Teaching now ranks as one of the most stressful professions,2 and job-related stress is a major cause of attrition.3 Overloaded, discouraged, and disillusioned, teachers are burning out. Dr. Smith likens teacher burnout to “a flame that has been extinguished.”
“I think most teachers would probably agree that it’s when you hit that wall; when you just feel like you’re uninspired, and not as motivated, perhaps. And I think a lot of teachers just kind of go into this autopilot mode. They may not tell you they're burned out, but they’re burned out, because there is no more flame there pushing them forward, making them excited and motivated,” she says.
Burnout can be difficult to address because many of the stressors causing it are outside of a teacher’s control.
“I would say that in the last several years, education, sadly, has become very politicized. And I think a lot of burnout comes from this feeling of not having any power. And that no matter what you do, you can't make the changes and do the things you want to do. And when someone is beating their head against a wall and that wall is not moving, after a while, you simply get burned out. You’re just going to stop beating your head, for self-preservation,” Dr. Smith says.
“A lot of teachers become very disillusioned and frustrated with the mandates that are placed on them, whether they be testing mandates, the number of trainings, or the number of certificates that they have to hold. Or, the idea that your pay is going to be connected to test scores. … And when all of this is tied to politics in some way, whether it be mandates or laws that are passed, that can be very frustrating, and it becomes very disillusioning,” she says.
But Dr. Smith says that despite the challenges, there is the hope of keeping good teachers. Her decades-deep experience is proof. The accomplished educator has held leadership roles in a variety of K–12 settings and at several universities. As a senior faculty member at Walden, she teaches a variety of courses in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership and has served on many committees and projects.
“I’m entering my 30th year of classroom teaching, and I’ve taught at the college level for a very long time as well. It does give me some interesting perspective because I’m still in that K–12 environment, but I’m also working with teachers from all over the country. So I’m getting these peeks into other people’s experiences as well,” she says.
Drawing on that knowledge, Dr. Smith offers these five ideas educators can use to help keep them from becoming teacher burnout statistics:
Sometimes it can take just “one little thing” to help an educator avoid teacher burnout, Dr. Smith says, “but I think people have to be willing to help themselves.”
“I am an optimist. I think there’s always hope. And I think, with support systems—and sometimes you get schools or counties or districts that have great support systems—I think you can see a lot of great things happen. But I think people who feel unsupported and alone are certainly going to feel burned out probably much sooner in their career than others. So, the hope is that they find a way to combat that with something that works for them,” she says.
As a graduate student in Walden’s online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) degree program, you will begin your journey to becoming a scholar-practitioner who effects positive social change in schools and communities.
Insights from Dr. Smith and other top P–12 educators can help you understand and address the challenges educators face today. And as you pursue your master’s in education online, you can immediately apply what you’re learning to start making a difference in your classroom today.
Walden’s MS in Education degree program has multiple specializations so you can align your studies with your goals and passions. Over 50,000 MSEd graduates have done just that. Let one of Walden’s graduate programs for teachers inspire you to excellence and propel you down the path of achievement, with your flame burning strong and bright.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Education degree program with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.