“The problem with stories about teacher ‘burnout’”

As we discussed with the term languishing, when we focus on a particular profession, teaching, we see a fraught and reductive phrase bandied around: burnout.

Teacher burnout is a topic which many think pieces, studies, and keynotes have tried to address. ‘Teachers need to learn to relax,’ they might say, with some relaxation techniques included. But how are we ignoring what’s really going on with teachers that “describe themselves as frustrated, exhausted, and disappointed by their work?”

According to this piece from 2019, almost 50% of public school teachers have considered leaving the profession. Clearly, something is amiss.

And yet, calling it “burnout,” tells the wrong story about the kinds of pain educators are experiencing because it suggests that the problem lies within individual teachers themselves. To say they’ve burned out is to portray them as weak and exhausted. Defeated by the pressure, with little hope for rejuvenation. Not only does this diagnosis lead policymakers to prescribe ineffectual remedies, but it likely contributes to the more significant problem…teacher demoralization

This article argues, in short, that we must change the narrative about teacher engagement. Hear what the teachers are actually saying is the problem. The issue, it seems, is not simply giving teachers more tips for self-care to bolster their resiliency but to engage with their concerns and bring them into the conversation about solving their material and moral concerns.

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