The Boeing 747, first introduced to the public back in 1968, is one of the most prolific and versatile aircraft in the transportation industry. The massive aero-beast is capable of reaching speeds to 545 mph and has an intercontinental range of almost 6,000 miles. The aircraft is powered by four high-bypass turbofan engines, technology that delivers double the power of the previous design at 1/3 of the fuel rate. There is no doubt that the 747 is marvel of human engineering. The most marvelous aspect of the aircraft is that it only requires one engine to maintain enough airspeed velocity to keep the craft airborne in case the remaining three all burnout. The aircraft only requires one operational engine to keep moving forward.
If only teachers were so lucky.
Teacher burnout is an ignored epidemic and one that deserves more attention. Too many factors are in place allowing teacher-burnout that it impacts the success of the educational field as a whole. According to a 2014 Huffington Post article, 13% of teachers leave their position each year, while a staggering half of first-time teachers will leave the profession within five years – costing states up to $2 billion annually.
Imagine the impact that has student-growth.
To accurately gauge the reason why teacher burnout occurs, consider the educational/professional buy-in that a teacher must possess to maintain accreditation. I was shocked recently when discussing careers with an acquaintance that he was unaware that a Master’s Degree is, for the most part, a requirement to teach public education. Yes, it’s true. Many states requires educators to be “highly qualified” to maintain their teaching certification – i.e. holding a Master’s Degree (some private schools, who see considerably less teacher turnover, sometimes require PHDs in their field). On top of four years spent in undergrad, teachers accumulate an extra debt, and an extra two years of life dedicated to a higher degree, to accept a position with such a high percentage of burnout.
My graduate degree cohort consisted of 14 students – I am currently one of three still teaching. Most of my cohorts announced they were passing on the profession before even receiving their Master’s.
So you dedicate almost six years of your life to attaining the minimum requirements to teach, now you have to deal with finding a position.
Most schools, those who are sought after for their high-success rates or other variables, will not consider an applicant for an open position without three years of education experience – this requires all newly knighted-Master’s Degree candidates to drop backwards and accept lower paying jobs, such as paraprofessionals (avg. annual salary $17,500) or volunteer for years before even being considered for a position.
The second option is to accept a position in a “meat-grinder” school. Meat-grinder schools are low-functioning school systems, mostly found in urban areas that are severely under-funded, under-performing, and ignored. They act as training centers for administrators and teachers to earn their keep before quickly moving on.
And if you don’t find a job, congratulations, you’ve educated yourself into a professional corner.
So a teacher is someone who paid their dues either in the unlivable salaried dustbowl of paraprofessional/ volunteer positions, or they are thickening their skin teaching in a challenging school district. You get your summers off! You get to go home at 4! Why the burnout?
It’s a misrepresentation of the profession to believe that teachers “stop doing their job” at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. First, it’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s a 7am to whenever-you-can-stop job – 3 o’clock is the time the students leave and all the other stuff has to get done. My first three years teaching were spent going in at 6am and leaving at 5pm when the janitors kicked me out – evenings spent sitting on the couch at home until 10pm grading papers, planning lessons, and answering parents’ emails. And then lying in bed until who-knows-when roleplaying the next day’s lesson though my head looking for every kink in the system. Add on top of this that most schools require teachers to take over the administration of an after-school club or athletic team – sometimes making your physical at-work hours extend until 9 or 10 at night.
The teacher work hours are miserable and they don’t stop.
Add on top of this that you must be on your game every second of the day. I’ve seen so many posts on FB or Reddit from folks using the phrase “bored at work”. There is no such thing as a teacher. You are constantly moving from one place to another, constantly multi-tasking your daily plans, your after-school activity, you’re trying to explain to Bobby why he can’t make up his essay to get a better grade while telling Julie that she needs to come in after school to make up her missing quiz while explaining to Suzie that she can’t turn her essay in late because it was due five weeks ago, plus you have a mandatory IEP meeting occurring during class so you have to have your sub plans set and ready to go.
Add on top of all of this of being the punching bag of 120 hormonally-charged students who take out all their angst, sorrow, and other pubescent emotions out on you.
Remember that annoying row of teenagers at the movie theater that you hated so much who ruined the movie? Or that table at the restaurant of kids? Them. Every day. 120 of them.
And all of this is being monitored with an emotionally taxing “teacher evaluation system”.
I’ve been teaching for ten years now, it took me nearly three years to even begin to figure out how to juggle all of this, and took me another three years to be able to do the juggling, and it took me fatherhood to be able to step back from it all and openly admit, “I can’t do all of it 100%.” But still, by December I’m done and sometimes looking elsewhere.
So what can the education profession do for teachers that will lower the teacher burnout rates? The answer may not be well-received by my colleagues – it has nothing to do with increased pay or more time off.
Shorten summer vacations. Take it down to four to five weeks maximum. Take those other three weeks and spread them throughout the school year. Design a school year that has six-week blocks of instruction and then a week off throughout the entire school year. Also, give each teacher a day-off from students every week – allowing the teacher time to sit and work without distraction all day long, to grade, to plan, to rest, or to just experience what it is like to enter a workspace as a professional and accomplish clearcut goals for the day rather than spontaneous and/or abstract ones that pop-up like shooting targets.
Treat teachers like professionals, rather than parts of a machine. Keep their emotional, physical, psychological, and professional interests in mind as they fly through their formative years of the profession, because, unlike the 747, if only one of these flames out at 35,000 feet, the remaining ones cannot keep the teacher airborne, he/she will certainly crash to the ground.