How to avoid teacher burnout in 2023

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

Almost half of Australia’s teachers have said burnout and poor mental health is the reason they will consider leaving the profession within the next 12 months.

In a 2023 study of 4000 teachers by the medical research group Black Dog Institute, it found that 60 per cent of teachers’ absences during the survey period were due to mental health and emotional problems. A staggering 52 per cent reported experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 59 per cent experiencing stress and anxiety, it’s clear Australia’s teachers are struggling. 

Head of Population Mental Health at Black Dog Institute Associate Professor Aliza Werner-Seidler says, “Teachers are working longer hours with fewer resources and this pressure is building with an increase of burnout and time being taken off due to mental ill-health.”

According to Dr Werner-Seidler, “research has shown teacher wellbeing can also have an impact on students’ academic and emotional outcomes, and the emotional wellbeing and economic productivity of parents.”

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This data comes after the announcement of the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan in December of 2022 — a $328 million government initiative to “address the national issue of teacher workforce shortages.” 

However, with 70 per cent of teachers reporting unmanageable workloads, 76 per cent citing school staff shortages and 25 per cent claiming to be teaching classes outside of their expertise, it’s clear teachers are still waiting to feel its effects. 

What does teacher burnout look like?

Queensland Health defines burnout as “a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.” Being difficult to detect, teachers experiencing burnout may find it hard to engage in activities they usually find enjoyable. Victims may no longer find value in things that were once important to them or experience a growing sense of hopelessness. 

Burnout symptoms for teachers 

  • Losing your passion for being a teacher
  • Finding it harder to perform regular or basic tasks (e.g. preparing a lesson plan)
  • Withdrawing from co-workers, students, friends and family
  • Being easily emotional (irritability, anger, sadness)
  • Lack of emotions
  • Performance issues (lack of productivity, low self-confidence).
  • Difficulty sleeping

Preventing teacher burnout

While preventing teacher burnout may feel like a chore, negative teacher mental health can affect the entire school community. Teachers must remember to prioritise their mental health, so they can ward off burnout and continue to help their students to the best of their ability. 

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  • Set clear work boundaries. Schoolwork often follows teachers out of the classroom and into their homes. Without the distinction between home and work, teachers can feel overwhelmed by the constant workload. Try setting clear working hours during the day and make it clear to your school, students, and families that you are only available for certain times. Remember, it’s ok to say ‘no. 

 

  • Talk to your school. If you are concerned about your mental health, try approaching the school for support. Your administration can put supportive strategies in place to help you stave off the effects of burnout, such as offering sick leave, reorganising your classes or decreasing your workload. 

 

  • Build relationships. If you are experiencing burnout, chances are so are your fellow teachers. Try contacting others in the school to discuss your feelings and identify the causes impacting your mental health. Building these relationships can help teachers feel less isolated, creating a sense of community and sparking open communication with your schools’ administration. 

 

  • Spot the early warning signs. Understanding the signs of burnout allows you to be more aware of your mental health. Remember to periodically step back, take stock of your situation and act early. 

 

  • Acknowledge positive moments. Look for moments of happiness, humour and connection throughout your day. Try writing them down in a journal, allowing these moments to physically remind you of the positive aspects of your teaching career. 

 

  • Self-care. Self-care is different for everyone. It can be as simple as creating a healthy sleep routine, regular exercise, socialising with friends or making time for meditation. The focus should be on prioritising your wellbeing and carving time out of your day to do something important to you.

Seek outside support. If you need extra help, seeking outside assistance early is important. For example, connect with a mental health professional through Beyond Blue or set an appointment with your local GP. If your school has an EAP, you can also use the range of external and internal mental health support it provides.

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.