A: Stress and burnout are all too common amongst the teaching profession.
In fact, teaching at primary and secondary level is more stressful than healthcare occupations such as nursing, with more than 40 per cent of teachers reporting high levels of workplace stress.
Many teachers each year simply stop teaching altogether because they cannot cope with the high levels of stress in schools and other education workplaces.
Common reasons include the demands of administration and paperwork tasks, time pressures and the need to manage a wide variety of student needs, such as working with students who have a disability or managing high risk allergies and anaphylaxis potential.
Perhaps surprisingly, pay is not the main concern given by teachers who leave the profession, according to a recent study at Monash University, which investigated the journey of a large group of pre-service teachers as they moved through to their first few years of teaching.
Sadly, many teachers drop out of the profession within the first few years of starting work, costing schools and the taxpayer a fortune in terms of training and replacement of staff.
Around 25-40 per cent of teachers leave their jobs within the first five years of starting work. So here are five strategies to reduce the stress load and burnout potential amongst your teachers:
1. Match new teachers with a mentor so that they have ongoing, structured support and the ability to seek advice, suggestions and solutions with a consistent person who will have the experience to help them appropriately.
This could include tips for planning lessons, reducing workload, dealing with difficult situations and learning about policies and procedures at the school level.
2. Invite a speaker from a local support service or organisation to talk to your staff about stress, burnout and mental health.
Ask them to discuss how to build short and longer term solutions into your school planning cycle, and how staff can support each other.
3. Develop a plan for dealing with high stress times, such as report writing or when there seems to be a spate of difficult behaviours that require management.
Also ensure you have a plan for dealing with a crisis situation which could arise unexpectedly, and that you know how to tap into local resources and support networks.
4. Dedicate a place in the staffroom for ‘stress busters’ – those quick ideas and activities that teachers can use to reduce stress in their day.
You could include posters or photos about tricks like blowing up a balloon (an almost guaranteed way of decreasing stress as it can only be done by breathing deeply and exhaling fully!).
5. Use the language of positive mental health in your everyday interactions with staff members.
This helps get mental health and teacher wellness on the agenda in an informal way and makes it OK for everyone in your teaching teams to talk about mental health.
For too long, mental health has been something which is only talked about in times of crisis, or when things have already begun to go wrong.
Getting in early and talking about words like ‘wellness’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘positive psychology’ and ‘relaxation’ can help reverse this trend.
If you feel stress is becoming an issue for teachers in your workplace, put it on the agenda as a priority to identify the causes, develop an action plan and evaluate how things have changed in a few months’ time.
Hopefully you will find that some positive changes have taken place to reduce stress levels and decrease the likelihood of one of your staff leaving the profession as a result of burnout.