Teacher Burnout

I only taught at the grade-school level for one year — and that was at a private school in New York. It convinced me that I wanted to teach, but it also convinced me that I wanted to teach at a higher level where I could continue to learn and grow. But I knew right away how hard those who teach the very young work and I knew that I loved teaching.

So did a young woman in South Carolina by the name of Sariah McCall who recently left teaching because she “couldn’t set [her]self on fire to keep someone else warm.” That is to say, she burned out. As an article in Yahoo News recently reported:

McCall says she never saw herself leaving teaching until it was happening. However, when she found that her job became “less about teaching the kids than making sure that mandates were fulfilled,” McCall made the decision that her own well-being needed to take precedence. “You can’t keep killing yourself over it because it’s not helping anybody. I had to prioritize that I had to be more important than my career. And it still sounds really selfish and I still feel guilty about it,” McCall explains.

If you wonder why she felt the need to leave teaching, take a quick look at her daily schedule:

Sariah McCall was in her classroom every morning at 6:45 a.m., taught bell-to-bell classes, attended meetings during her planning period and worked assigned lunch and recess duties with little time to eat or go to the restroom. When the bell rang for the 2:15 p.m. student dismissal, she worked an assigned bus or hall duty, followed by lesson and classroom prep. Sometimes, she left school by 5 p.m. At home, McCall would work on more grading and paper work until 11 p.m. or midnight, then finally sleep — and repeat.

In our self-absorbed age, it is rare to find a person like Ms McCall who was dedicated to others and to helping them grow into intelligent and responsible adults. But South Carolina, in this report, is seeing quite a lot of this of late. In fact, the reports tells us that 7300 teachers left teaching  for one reason or another during or at the end of the 2017-2018 school year! This is not only sad. It is borderline tragic (and I refuse to overuse that word!) We all suffer when those who teach must quit or face ill-health or nervous disorders because of the endless trite nonsense they are required to do outside of teaching. Or because they can’t make a living.

The answer to this dilemma is quite simple — and I have mentioned this once or twice before. We need to pay the teachers what they deserve, as they do in tiny Finland. This will attract more and better teachers to begin with and perhaps restore some semblance of respect to a calling that is currently much maligned. After all, we measure success in dollars in this country and underpaid teachers are not regarded as successful people by and large.

But we also need to cut out all the bullshit that goes along with teaching generated by an overabundance of administrating types who have little to do themselves aside from determining what others should do. We have far too many administrators in the education establishment at all levels. These are people who are paid well and who go to meetings (after meetings, after meetings) and try to reinvent the wheel. If they were once in the classroom they are no longer and because of the distance now between themselves and the teachers they forget the demands that are placed on the teachers who are simply exhausted filling out forms and checking boxes — making sure they are in “compliance.”

And, of course, the parents at home are too busy to raise their children properly so they are sent off to school, spoiled, undisciplined, and unruly where the teachers are supposed to build the character that has been ignored for six years at home while the parents were earning enough money to maintain their “lifestyle.”

Parents and administrators simply demand far too much of the teachers and fail to reward them adequately. It’s that simple. So stories like that of Sariah McCall will become more and more commonplace as our education system continues to slip into the abyss and small countries like Finland show us how it is done while we turn our faces away — not in shame, as we ought, but out of indifference to a serious problem that undermines the basic premiss of a free society.

A democracy simply cannot survive, if survival is still a possibility, without an educated citizenry. And that requires a bureaucracy pared to the bone coupled with good teachers paid a fair wage and supported, not attacked, by the populace at large that currently wants only to save tax dollars and make sure their children are not taught about evolution.

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14 thoughts on “Teacher Burnout

  1. Well said, Hugh. My mother graded papers well into the night. On the flip side, my brother-in-law who passed away last year, was adored by his classes and about a dozen kids came to his funeral during the week. One said there would have been more if it was on a weekend. When we talked to the other teachers, they said Joe worked well as a unit with the other teachers who had the same kids in a grouping. He would give heads up to others when he saw a kid down or isolated.

    Teachers deserve good pay, as they can make a huge difference on people’s lives, even more than the educational part. They can encourage, inspire and, when needed, console. Like any profession, there are teachers that need much improvement, but we need to be their supporters helping when needed. When people wonder what they can do to help, they need to simply ask the schools.

    Thanks, Keith

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the ideas in your article, Hugh. I spent 35 years teaching high school kids in Ontario. Fortunately, we are paid a fair wage. However, we do need to support our teachers and put a rein on politicians who decide to reshape public education in the image of their own ideology. We need to save our teachers from burnout. It is a global problem, so thanks for drawing attention to it.

  3. There is a nefarious “plan” behind this though it may not be readily seen, or even the possibility accepted and that has to do with dummying down the population back to a sort of dark ages of parochial schools and strictly elitist universities. History repeats itself and our entire civilization as reversed its forward trends and it’s Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow all over again. The “System” however it defines itself is aware that it has no need for educated billions, that real education can only mean trouble to the Establishment, so why would it reward teachers for creating revolutionaries? These ruling forces aren’t stupid. How did Britain avoid a bloody revolution post WWI? It killed its best and most dangerous educated brains in the trenches of France. Why did Hitler come to power? For the same reason. How did the USA prevent a real revolution in the 60’s and 70’s? It made sure its own dangerous brains were killed and drugged out in Vietnam and then on the survival battlefields at home. A real educated populace would never tolerate the likes of Reagans, Bush’s and Trump as leaders. Education, friend, is the #1 enemy of the ruling Matrix.

    • I agree with much of what you said, except that this country had student exemptions during the Viet Nam war — which allowed me and many others to get their degrees. I am not quite ready to embrace the conspiracy theory. But I get closer each day.

      • Long (long!) time ago I figured that to get a better understanding of the ocean was to stand where the waters meet the rocky shore with its deadly breakers, so you can actually compare the ocean from the shore. Another way of putting it is, learn to live in the much maligned left field. That’s where one “sees” the conspiracy, or conspiracies. The trick is to go, “Now what?” and not go around shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” After all, the sky is always falling (ubiquitous change) but that is not what kills people or ends life on earth. It’s more likely to be what artificially supports our comfortable artificial sky until the supports fail…

    • The most highly-educated population on the planet largely supported Hitler and the Nazis. That’s still a scary thought.

      • Well Jerry, that particular bit of scary history has less to do with an educated populace than the economic and political conditions in Germany. Hitler and his Nazis delivered on their promises and desperation along with the usual high level quota of European racism and anti-antisemitism did the rest. The truly educated people suffered greatly under the Nazis. Nazi preference was for the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist types and those are not well educated as a rule. Hitler’s hit men and goon squads were either illiterate or massively brainwashed, for the most part, beyond any reasonable attempt at dialogue. I didn’t get that bit of history from books but from my parents who fought, lived through and survived the war so that would be first hand knowledge… well sort of? 🙂

  4. bullshit! i chuckled, but with respect, as i know you’re serious this time.

    yes, teachers should receive top wages…

    I am very worried about our country; there are lots of ‘i want it now’ spoiled brats, but thankfully there are some amazing young souls as well. Who will choose ‘teaching’ as a profession would be a big guess, and surely our leaders realize the importance of paying teachers what they are worth… How can we reclaim a system where a good education is top of the list of priorities?

    • Education is NOT at the top of our list or priorities, sad to say. And Sha’Tara is not totally wrong about it being in the best interest of those with power to keep the population ignorant.

  5. Hear Hear!!! Too much b.s. is put on teachers, leaving them with little time or energy to do the thing we really need them to do … open the minds of their students and teach them to think. They are too busy policing their classroom and fulfilling endless streams of administrative tasks. Good post, Hugh!

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