As the school year winds down, the anticipation of summer break is a welcome respite for many elementary and high school teachers. Some teachers take the summer to upgrade their education or teach summer school classes, while others spend the time preparing for the next crop of students they’ll teach in the fall.
However, a number of teachers won’t be returning to their classrooms come September, burning out after only a few years of teaching.
According to 2004 figures from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, roughly 30 per cent of Canadian teachers leave their jobs in the first 5 years. Rob Tierney, a professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education in UBC’s Faculty of Education, talks about why teachers burnout and what schools can do to retain them.
What’s causing teacher burnout and high turnover rates?
New teachers can be overwhelmed by the workload, especially if they have to teach five to six different courses. Course preparations can take up several hours a day, in addition to daily teaching hours. Building relationships with students can be difficult. In high schools, adolescents tend to challenge authority, which can make teaching an alienating experience. Government mandates and monitoring of test-driven curriculums make many teachers feel restricted or disillusioned about their jobs as educators. In rural and remote areas, the turnover rate can be severe with most teachers leaving after only a year. Most teachers in these settings are outsiders, so they find it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle or become part of the community.
How can teacher-turnover be reduced?
Research shows that mentoring and supporting young teachers reduces turnover. They also show stronger satisfaction with teaching as a career. An initiative that works well includes giving time for young teachers to visit other classrooms, to co-teach and observe alongside more experienced teachers. This way, they don’t feel like they are working in isolation. Young teachers can also benefit from a friendlier schedule. This means the same number of teaching hours, but not having to teach as many different courses. Young teachers are typically given the more mundane courses to teach, which can often be the mandatory courses that have larger class sizes. More experienced teachers should step in to help teach some of these courses. One other way to help prevent burnout is to have social workers placed in schools to help build better relationships between the teachers and the community they serve. This helps young teachers feel more connected to their careers.
Teachers often face criticism for not doing enough, or demanding too much. How do you respond to that?
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding experience, but it requires a lot more work than what some may think. It’s convenient for people to blame teachers but we really should be giving credit to our schools for not hemorrhaging more than they are. Public schools are underfunded and professional development opportunities for staff are often the first thing that gets cut in a school’s budget. We need to change how people view teaching, not as a technical skill but as a profession worthy of development.