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Teacher Burnout – The Warning Signs and How to Avoid It

by Model Teaching | January 10, 2020.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, based on data from the Department of Education, total annual teacher turnover rate hovers around 16% where 8% of teachers each year leave the profession and another 8% switch schools. This rate is more drastic within high-poverty schools, where it is estimated that turnover rates are up to 50% higher in Title I schools. Most teachers leaving the profession report some sort of dissatisfaction as their reason for leaving. This teacher burnout is a common problem across schools, and even impacts teachers that stay within the profession, so understanding the signs of burnout and methods for preventing it can help you take charge of your career.

Teacher Burnout

Common Causes of Burnout

Let’s be honest, teachers wear many hats in their day to day work. They are arguably overworked as counselors, nurses, test administrators, paperwork processors, lesson planners, role models, and disciplinarians, to name just a few of the roles we play. Combine those demands on our time with historically low pay, and it is inevitable that many teachers will begin to feel burned out.

Additionally, many people who go into the teaching profession have high standards for themselves, and might even have some perfectionism tendencies. These personality traits often lead teachers to compare themselves to others, and as we are usually our own harshest critic, we may feel like we don’t measure up to others. This undue pressure can also contribute to eventual burnout.

Another reason for teacher burnout is a lack of support, particularly when teachers may feel a lack of support from their administration team. Oftentimes, administrators feel pressure from their higher-ups, and that pressure unfortunately trickles down to the classroom teachers in the form of unreasonable demands and expectations. Additionally, it is easy to become discouraged by the volume of “red tape” put in place in so many districts when it comes to obtaining services for students with special needs.

Administrators aren’t the only ones who can show a lack of support. Teacher can also feel this negativity from the parents of their students, or even other teachers. Some parents show a lack of respect and support for teachers as well through actions such as incessant communication, frequent demands for one-on-one conferences or phone calls, or even going behind the teacher’s back straight to administration with a problem that should have been addressed initially with the classroom teacher. Unprofessional teachers who gossip, speak negatively about students and the school, and don’t collaborate are also a huge factor in increasing teacher burnout.

Finally, there are the actual classroom factors that contribute to burnout. Large class sizes, accompanied by little to no paraprofessional assistance, will wear down even the most dedicated teachers. Add in students with special needs and/or students with behavior problems, and you have an even more emotionally stressful classroom situation.

What Burnout Looks Like

So how does teacher burnout manifest? How can you recognize if burnout is beginning to take root in you or someone you work with? It usually begins with a failure to take care of yourself. You may not get enough sleep, or eat healthy foods, or get regular exercise. This can lead to overall fatigue, problems sleeping, and weight gain or weight loss. Teacher burnout can also impact your mental and emotional state. It may begin with general forgetfulness or inability to concentrate, or lead to a general feeling of unhappiness when at work. In severe cases, teacher burnout can lead to depression, which may need to be treated by a medical professional.

How to Prevent Burnout

Burnout can be reduced and even eliminated! Follow these five tips to ensure you have a long and successful teaching career.

  1. Balance – It is critical to find a healthy work/life balance. This means limiting the hours you work and ensuring that you have regular time off where you are not thinking about teaching! It may mean you don’t take work home during the week, or you leave by a certain time each day, or you don’t check school email at home.
  2. Self Care – Everyone, especially teachers, can benefit from self-care. This includes the basic building blocks of life such as sleep, exercise, and diet. Be sure to get the amount of sleep that your body needs by establishing a consistent bedtime, and allowing yourself time to wind down each night before bed. It also includes getting regular exercise. It could be as simple as taking a walk around the block each evening, or it may mean signing up for a boot camp. Start small and see where it leads! Diet is the third critical component of self-care. It is easy to fall into a fast food trap when our time is limited, or to graze on the unlimited treats that always seem to be in the teacher workroom, but your body will benefit greatly if you make healthy eating choices the majority of the time.
  3. Say No – It is ok to say no to extra duties. You do not have to sponsor a club, serve on the textbook committee, plan the school-wide social events, and mentor a new teacher all at the same time. Choose one or two leadership roles that you are passionate about, and say no to the rest.
  4. Positivity – If you surround yourself with positive people, you can’t help but radiate positivity as well. Steer clear of the toxic teacher personalities and instead, seek out those teachers who truly enjoy their work and seem to have found a good work/life balance. Look for someone who can be an unofficial mentor to you. This person can share your celebrations, but also be a sounding board for you when you have a rough day.
  5. Be Reasonable – Lastly, and most importantly, be realistic about what you can accomplish. You have 24 hours in a day like everyone else, but how you spend that time is up to you. Chances are, what you are already doing is more than enough and going beyond the call of duty.

In conclusion, teacher burnout is certainly a valid concern in the education field, but it does not have to be inevitable. By knowing what to look for, and ways you can limit it, you will be on the right path to a rewarding career in education.

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Positivity Plan Resource

Positivity Plan

This resource is a tool for teachers to create a plan to reduce the likelihood of burnout by addressing each of the five tips contained in this article. It also includes a quick checklist / self-analysis to see if the reader shows any typical signs of teacher burnout.

Use the Positivity Plan to analyze your career for signs of burnout. Then use the tool to create a plan for implementing each of the 5 tips in your teaching career to reduce burnout. You may want to administer the self-analysis tool again after a few weeks of implementing your new plan so you can see a trend of reducing burnout.


Copy and paste these links into your web browser to view these additional resources!

  • https://www.weareteachers.com/prevent-teacher-burnout/ This article expands on 12 ways teachers can battle burnout.
  • https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/teacher-burnout-causes-symptoms-and-prevention1711.html This article clearly defines teacher burnout and explains what causes it and well as how it can be prevented.


Copy and paste these links into your web browser to view these additional resources!


This article gives statistics about teacher turnover rates.


Teacher stress and burnout: an international review. This article in the Educational Research Journal compiles the results of several studies about teacher stress and burnout from the last 10 years.


School climate factors relating to teacher burnout: A mediator model. This study examines the impact that school climate has on teacher burnout.


Student Behavior Patterns Contributing to Teacher Burnout. This study examines the impact that student behavior has on teacher burnout.

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