Problem of Teacher Burnout Now Public, But Not Solved

By Thomas Toch — September 30, 2004 2 min read

New York--Meditation, assertiveness train-ing, avoidance, but above all, the old-fashioned remedy of being able to bend a sympathetic ear--these were among the ways of “coping” with the problem of job-related stress suggested to teachers by a panel of experts during a two-day “Stress and Burnout” conference last week at Columbia University.

In recent years, teachers have begun to realize that the pressures of daily life in the classroom can have harmful effects on their performance, their attitudes, and even their health, said speakers at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the clinical psychology department at Teachers College and the New York State Psychological Association.

“Teachers are becoming more open about the anxiety they suffer in the classroom,” said Victor D. Villandre, who gave a talk on the causes, symptoms, and consequences of teacher burnout. “Teaching is an individual job, and in the past many teachers simply internalized their problems.”

Participants as well as speakers at the conference mentioned school violence, job insecurity, unsupportive administrators, low public confidence in the schools and, most of all, a sense of isolation as major factors contributing to increased stress in recent years.

It is impossible to determine how many teachers are burned out, they said. But surveys show it is a major problem which can manifest itself in increased teacher absenteeism, poor classroom performance, and ineffective teacher-student relationships.

Mr. Villandre, a high-school physics teacher and stress consultant for the New York State United Teachers, added that, although teacher burnout--which is frequently charac6terized as physical and mental exhaustion--is talked about more openly today, there are only sporadic attempts to counter it.

The American Federation of Teachers (aft) and the National Education Association have in the last two years begun to conduct burnout workshops for local affiliates.

And teacher organizations in Chicago, New Orleans, and New York have set up “teacher-helping-teacher” programs that promote discussion of problems among sympathetic peers, which speakers at the conference agreed is the most effective means of dealing with burnout.

The New York State United Teachers, in aninnovative program, has 50 paid consultants who work with teachers throughout the state.

In addition, a few school systems--such as the Three Village School District in New York--allow teachers to take in-service courses on stress and burnout for credit.

But Jerry M. Kaiser, who runs the aft stress program, says that he knows of few school systems that employ specialists to work with burned-out teachers.

“There is generally a certain adversarial tone [between school administrators and teachers] to the issue,” he said. “People tend to help their own.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 1981 edition of Education Week as Problem of Teacher Burnout Now Public, But Not Solved