Teacher burnout may affect others, but it could never become my nemesis. And for decades this premise held true. I believe burnout manifests itself in a depressive state: a teacher loses interest in working with children, finds it difficult to motivate himself to provide creative planning and truly cannot formulate thoughts while standing in front of the classroom. Those symptoms never appeared in my day to day teaching or week to week preparation. Do understand there were some days, even weeks where the teaching felt a little contrived due to the time of year or days without a break. But I always loved getting up in front of my students, sharing some valid insight to the day’s lesson and watching them run with it.
This all changed starting the third month into my last position. I noticed the following:
*All communication was through email, usually three to four paragraphs with negative connotation.
*I received an email from a disgruntled administrator written in all red caps!
*Department chair would work through the meeting’s agenda and then turn it into “here are the things you are doing wrong.” Yet, this person was not my supervisor.
*I was openly reprimanded in department meetings by the department chair and colleagues; I later found out this was common in our building.
* By the time the third principal was appointed (in three years), I was called to the office and scolded in closed door meetings. My answers to the unfounded accusations never seemed to resinate.
*A 22 year old colleague was allowed and perhaps even encouraged to report to the principal about my “poor teaching practices.”
*This same colleague, on the days I was out of the building, encouraged students to write letters to the principal claiming that our program was dying and my methods old fashioned.
*Never was there a fact finding, face to face with the colleague or the principal. If a faculty member declared my incompetency, therefore it must be true. Meanwhile our program grew, but those numbers did not seem to matter.
The summer after I completed my third year at this school, I confided to another teacher that I dreaded to go back to teaching. I was burned out. At this point in this position, I never knew when I would be blindsided by a department chair, an assistant admin or the principal. I was drowning in self-doubt. Was I truly burned out?
No. I was mentally defeated by my colleagues and the administration. Experiencing demeaning conversations by those around me attacked my spirit but not my passion to teach. I continued my position there for six more years, nine total. The thrill of seeing my students grow never changed. On Sunday evenings, I felt I just couldn’t take another verbal rough up from the adults in my building. But on every Monday morning, the pit in my stomach would evaporate within minutes of my first class. Lesson learned: burnout is very real and must be addressed as it will negatively affect your students.
Disparagement by colleagues and administrators is also very real. As long as it does not diminish your passion to teach, it will not adversely affect your students. But make no mistake: it needs to be dealt with as this atmosphere of unbridled verbal assaults is driving teachers away from the profession. A good summer read to affect change? “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!”