29 February 2024

Burnout. Why do teachers stop loving their job?

The quality of a school is determined by the quality of teachers' work: caring for students, a collaborative approach to their education, openness to modern teaching methods, the need to impart not only curriculum knowledge but also values necessary for living among others. Meanwhile, teachers are such a burnt-out professional group that many of them lack the motivation or strength for this.

Author: Maria Mazurek,

Research

Photo: Ante Hamersmit/Unsplash

Janusz Korczak, an outstanding Polish educator, researcher of the world of children, and a precursor of pedagogy based on partnership with students, said: “Children are born with wings. Teachers help them unfold.”

Not every student is fortunate enough to encounter even one teacher on their path who perceives their role in this way. Some even clip the wings of these children. In Poland, there are thousands of wonderful educators who take pride in their work, sincerely concerned about their students, and ready to impart the most important values in their work. There are also thousands who count the minutes until they leave school.

And it’s not necessarily their fault.

Failures and sorrows

“I have the impression that in school the most important thing is to undermine the teacher. And everyone does it, parents, children, and the administration. It’s unbearable.”

“No one ever motivated me for this job. Except maybe the children.”

“We were never told that this job would be so difficult.”

“The worst thing is teaching to exam criteria. It’s a tragedy. Children become dumber, and so do we.”

These are statements from teachers in a narrative study conducted by Sabina Zalewska with a group of 127 educators*. The paper is depressing: most teachers perceive their work as a series of failures and sorrows.

The results of the latest “National Study on the Occupational Well-being of Teachers”**, conducted with a group of over seven thousand professionally active educators, are also worrying,. Over half of the teachers declared experiencing negative emotions related to their work. Nearly one-third confessed that they no longer see its purpose. Even more teachers admitted that they feel exhausted, which is the main symptom of burnout.

What’s wrong?

“The servant function” – this phrase, repeated with regret by teachers and referring to their work, was also mentioned in the qualitative study “Social and Professional Position of Teachers” conducted by Magdalena Smak and Dominika Walczak***.

Teachers feel that their profession is undervalued by society. Low salaries are not as painful for them as the societal perception of their professional group. The main factors lowering the professional prestige of a teacher are their perception in the eyes of parents and their relationship with other educators.

Similar conclusions emerge from the study “Sources and Spaces of Deficits in Teachers’ Job Satisfaction” conducted by Prof. Małgorzata Zalewska-Bujak****. The researcher from the University of Silesia indicates: The main area of deficit in professional satisfaction turns out to be relationships with colleagues (other teachers and principals) and difficult relationships with students’ parents.

Teachers cooperating with the Holistic Think Tank also point out similar problems. Piotr Walda, a history teacher from a public school in Warsaw, said bluntly at a discussion organized by our organization a few months ago: “I’m losing. I’m losing to my colleagues at work. I’m losing to the parents.”

And one more quote from a teacher from Sabina Zalewska’s study: “There is no such thing as the internal culture of the school. Teachers don’t help each other.”

For teachers to feel fulfilled and motivated in their work, they need to feel support from colleagues and inspiration from other educators.

If this support is lacking, it’s easier for them to forget why they chose this profession in the first place. They often start their work full of hope and enthusiasm for working with children. But then, as the years go by spent within school walls and among burnt-out colleagues, enthusiasm gives way to frustration, and zeal – to routine. While 62% of teachers in their first five years of work feel satisfaction in their profession, this number gradually decreases in subsequent years. *****

For teachers and with teachers

Adolf Diesterweg, a German educator and social reformer, a proponent of the idea of democratic schooling, operated in the first half of the 19th century – in a world that did not yet know the locomotive, telephone, or light bulb. Since then, the world’s population has increased eightfold, and the reality surrounding us – partly due to several industrial revolutions – has completely changed its face. Yet the words of the 19th-century educator about the school being worth as much as the teacher remains just as relevant in the age of artificial intelligence.

At the Holistic Think Tank, we are convinced that schools should always – but perhaps now more than ever – teach humanistic values: empathy, cooperation, partnership, communication with another person, subjectivity. We are also convinced that this change must and should start with a change in the minds of teachers. Burnout among educators, lack of support from the environment, and a sense of isolation will certainly hinder this change.

Therefore, our priority is working with teachers and for teachers: networking, training, inspiring, and offering teaching tools. Teachers must feel that they are not alone in their dream of a better school.

Bibliography:

*Kondycja i efektywność nauczyciela. Badania narracyjne kadry nauczycielskiej we współczesnej szkole, Zalewska S.L., 2018.

**Ogólnopolskie badanie dobrostanu zawodowego nauczycieli. Skrócony raport, Paliga M., 2023

***Pozycja społeczno-zawodowa nauczycieli. Raport z badania jakościowego, Smak M., Walczak D., 2015

****Źródła i przestrzenie deficytów satysfakcji zawodowej nauczycieli, Zalewska-Bujak M., 2022

***** Poziom satysfakcji nauczycieli z pracy edukacyjnej, Korczyński S., 2016