Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teacher Burnout

Both my parents have been teaching for decades, although Mom is planning on retiring within the next couple of years; Dad took early retirement and has been retired for a several years now. I think one of the reasons he took early retirement was because he just started really disliking the job - not just the administrative minutiae that most people don't know teachers have to face, but the kids too; he started disliking teaching itself, and the kids he was facing every day. There were a number of years that the administrative stuff just drove him up the proverbial wall, but teaching was still a lot of fun, and he loved the kids, so he could put up with the nonsense. Once he could no longer find the joy in teaching or the relationships he had with his students, he hung up his slide ruler. (Dad was a math teacher.)

I've recently begun to read a couple teaching blogs: 
one by my new friend Maria in Rome (because at heart I'm really nosy, and I like to see other teachers' materials), who also has a personal blog; a former classmate's girlfriend's blog (she teaches in Brooklyn); and a veteran teacher's blog. I've only  just discovered the veteran teacher's blog, so I've only read the most recent blog entries, but this entry caught my attention especially, because she speaks about the extent to which she has begun to dislike teaching. I think this was the first time I had considered what I would do if I discovered I disliked teaching, and disliked it to the point where it was soul-crushing. I'm not entirely sure what I would do. I'm more prepared to be unemployed than for the possibility that I'd develop an aversion to teaching.

I thought of former classmates who did exceptionally well in high school, went to college at 18, graduated at 22, and began teaching the following September, having had no other full-time professional experiences, who might conceivably teach for the next 40 years without interruption. (I only occasionally get twinges because of their having gotten jobs right away.)

I thought of myself, and others, who worked before going back to college, had to discern through trial and error what they would like to do professionally. I question whether I would become burned out after teaching for 30 years: Will I get burned out before that? If so, how much sooner? Teacher burnout is a big deal; I don't have any numbers, but occasionally I hear things like the average amount of time it takes for teachers to become burned out is between five and seven years. It goes hand in hand with teacher recruitment and teacher retention - how to recruit teachers who will stay.

What if I don't actually get a teaching job? I'm not being a pessimist. There's a hiring freeze in New York City right now, in effect until the end of the summer; new positions can only be filled from within. Think about that:
There's a hiring freeze in the largest school district in the country. And it's damn near impossible to get a teaching job in Long Island unless you know someone. I do not know anyone here, not having any family in the area, not having gone to any of the local schools.

I'd be happy to get a job within a related field, like directing a writing center or tutoring center, even an academic coordinator or something along those lines; I have a background in writing centers and I love that type of work. I can't remain unemployed simply because I can't find a teaching job, which is why I've broadened my job search. I'm actually thankful I worked before I went back to college, because I have a resume that illustrates a skill set that isn't based on summer work or inconsequentialities. I had a life, such as it was, before college. But I
love teaching writing, especially at the college level, like I've not enjoyed any other previous job, and I think I'm good at it. I think I could be even better.

I'm just not sure what I'd do if I discovered I hated teaching. So much of it depends on the age of the students (you can hate middle school but love high school; hate college but love middle school); where the school is, geographically; even the specific culture of an individual school can affect a teacher. All these are potential deterrents for new teachers who hadn't considered such variables, thinking all variables are the same, that they'd  love to teach any students in any location at any level.


  1. I was really interested in your post, of course, Michelle. As for my personal experience, I started teaching in 1988 and I've been teaching since then in State schools. After passing the examinations in 1992, I got a permanent position in a middle school (11-13 year old students). I worked there for 8 years and I've got wonderful memories. In 2000 I applied for High School and soon got a position. I've been teaching in this institute since then. So I've been ...on the run for a long time and I still love this job very much. I started by chance 'cause I actually wanted to translate books after graduating. But now I wouldn't change mine with any other job in the world. Burnt out? No, in these days I'm only very tired. I'm longing for a break. So...Hold on, Michelle. If you really love this job, it can give you great satisfaction.
    BTW Thanks for mentioning my blogs.
    Have a nice weekend!

  2. Michelle,

    It helps with burnout to do other things in your teaching - work at different schools, teach different courses and levels, experiment in creating courses and curricula. I have been teaching more or less since 1982, and would not say I am burned out. I still enjoy the kids a lot, find myself looking during the summer for new and interesting aspects to bring to the classroom in the Fall, but the time slowly comes when you realize you have stopped wanting to spend your whole day thinking about this subject. Even if it has, and still does, interest you greatly, you find that you want to do other things. That's my issue right now, as well as the fact that I am getting physically tired. Teaching, with a good job, is fantastic, and I am so glad to be doing it.