Preventing New Teacher Burnout
A local doctor recently asked, “You know what two professions I prescribe the most anti-anxiety medication for? Cops and teachers.” This is not surprising, as rookie instructors possess energy and fear--two qualities that can lead to anxiety and burnout when struggling with what is arguably "the single most stressful job there is."
So how can school administrators unburden new teachers and help them focus on what matters?
1. Identify hidden rules
Every school has norms of which new faculty might be unaware. Therefore strong mentoring colleagues are critical. A good first meeting would involve discussing a fact sheet of 20 things that might not be obvious to rookies, like taking sick days the Friday before a 3-day weekend or bogarting the laptop cart.
2. Don’t “correct” without offering strategies
Just because a new teacher’s hallway line of 4th graders is rioting doesn’t mean he doesn't care and hasn't tried to manage the situation. Instead of giving him the evil eye, visit him privately and offer advice: “Hey, I picked up an idea to settle students down while they’re in the hall. Want to hear it?”
3. Lock the doors at 3:45 on Friday
There is a school in North Carolina that sends teachers home as soon as students leave on Friday because they know that work-life balance is critical to professional enthusiasm and effectiveness.
4. Activate the PTA
Enlist the PTA to ask parent volunteers to respond to and evaluate journals or math homework or work one-on-one with students.
5. Give Writing Response Advice
Suggest that rookie instructors tell their students not to expect that all writing will receive a detailed response. Why? Students need practice writing. Teachers don’t need practice grading.
6. Don't Assign Rookies the class nicknamed "Lord of the Flies"
Often new teachers altruistically request the most challenging classes without realizing that transforming a fractured culture in under 90 minutes only works on TV. Besides, they need more planning and grading time than they can initially comprehend—not students who would challenge Bodhisattva disguised as Michelle Pfeiffer.
7. Provide Checklists for Less Visible Procedures
Provide checklists of steps involved in procedures and tactics for planning, reporting, communicating, researching, etc.—used by the most productive teachers:
- Before and after school routines.
- How to plan and negotiate standards, pacing guides, grade-level expectations, assessments, etc.—many of these I have listed here for Edutopia.
- What to say during a parent phone call.
- Workflow tips
8. Offer PD Choices
Have new teachers identify what kinds of training they need.
9. Provide Dinner
First year teachers can be upended when procuring food no longer consists of walking from their dorm to the college cafeteria to nosh on kale, albacore tuna, and raw almonds. And Lord know, they can't afford to eat out. Free or low cost healthy dinners on the school campus once a week--call it the City High School Ziti Committee--can free up teachers' time and encourage collaboration.
10. Start a Walk-and-Talk Club
Three things alleviate burnout:
- social encounters;
- cooperative problem solving.
Having an after-school walking club can allow teachers (when they don’t have afterschool duties or conferences) time to decompress and reflect on the day.
The biggest cure for burnout is professional efficacy, so anything a principal or assistant principal can do to help new instructors enhance their effectiveness will also support their retention.