The hundreds of thousands of dollars (at $50,000 per successful applicant) that the South Australian Government is offering to ‘burnt out, older’ and ‘unmotivated’ teachers to leave the profession and be replaced by fresh, young graduates as part of their Teacher Renewal Program could be better spent. I’d like to see that money invested in teacher education programs that explain what burnout really is and provide school based staff with research proven strategies and that help buffer the effects of working in highly stressful and emotionally demanding work environments such as school administration and classroom settings.
What I’ve seen of the TRP in the press makes no reference to burnout being a naturally occurring phenomenon in the teaching profession. Instead the tone of the reports are derogatory in nature, implying that teachers who apply are tired and should be put out to pasture. The underlying suggestion is that as a profession we don’t work hard and have no reason to be tired, with burnt out teachers being implicated as lazy and/or incompetent.
Now I’m not saying that there aren’t lazy and incompetent teachers in South Australian schools. What I’m saying is that burnout can affect anyone, regardless of age, experience or level of qualification and that this fact is not well known in the teaching circles. Pines and Aronson (1988) describe burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding.” School settings can meet this criteria!! It is recognized as 3 dimensioned in nature with it presenting as i) emotional exhaustion, ii) depersonalisation and iii) reduced personal accomplishment (Maslach and Jackson, 1981). Indicators of this condition may include somatic complaints, sensory sensitivity (particularly to noise), sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, feeling anxious, guilty, overwhelmed, angry, sad and avoidance behaviours.**
If not recognised and managed early, these indicators can develop into more serious emotional issues and can result in individuals leaving the teaching profession all together. We only need to look at what’s been reported in the press recently with schools in both the UK and Australia recruiting people from non-educational backgrounds to work in schools as there are simply not enough teachers to fill teacher vacancies. If we take into consideration the rate at which new graduates are leaving the profession (between 4 and 5 in every 10) in their first five years of working in schools and the age distribution among the workforce (the highest percentage in the 50 to 60 age bracket) it’s not rocket science to predict that a major teacher shortage is looming.
The investment required to train teachers to manage their own wellbeing and increase their awareness about burnout would be a relatively economic alternative to the TRP, not nearly as expensive as what the SA government is currently forking out to fund it. Preventative in nature, such a model would give teachers the knowledge required to recognise when they were experiencing burnout and information about how to manage it effectively. Such an intervention is urgently needed: after all, what will the government do when the inevitable happens and the new graduates become tired, unmotivated and burnt out in a few short years time??
**It is important that individuals who experience these indicators seek support from professionals who understand the risks of working in the educational setting and who are able to provide the appropriate support and management of these side effects before they manifest as problem psychological issues. EQUILIBRIUM Counselling, Training, Consulting provides such services http://www.equilibriumctc.com.au