Tackling teacher burnout at the source

Mental health techniques to fight stress.
Jan 26, 2022
One in five have decided that they are done with the profession

Teachers are leaving and there is no clear path to finding more, it’s been suggested that retirees might be tapped up to teach in NSW schools or final year students.

It might be better though to address what is making teachers leave and in a word it's burnout, too much is being asked of teachers with too little support.

Teachers need strategies to deal with the stress and training in the maintenance of mental health might be one of them.

Australian Catholic University’s Graduate Certificate in Mental Health for Teachers and Educators will be available online from this year as a post-graduate qualification. 

Dr Debra Phillips, who developed the course, said the demands of delivering classes during the pandemic had brought to a head the ongoing crisis in teacher mental health.

“The pandemic kick-started us to research what was needed, to get something ready and put it out into the public domain. This course is a timely, ethical response to the growing awareness around teacher stress and workload, exacerbated by the pandemic and its lockdowns,” said Dr Phillips.

The course will aim to provide educators with a foundational knowledge of the factors that surround, impact, and influence mental health and wellbeing over the many different stages of their teaching career.  As well as classroom teachers, Dr Phillips expects teaching executives, school counsellors, youth justice professionals and early childhood educators to enrol.

“They will learn to identify the workplace and socio-cultural factors that create unease and distress – to target the ones that individual teachers can control and let go of the ones they cannot control.”

One part of the course will ask teachers to reflect on why they came into teaching in the first place.

“Often it’s related to this idea that teaching is a vocation with a spiritual dimension. The units are structured to reignite the fire many started their careers with and to help teachers to locate it once again. For many, the pandemic especially has eroded that desire, and the fire to teach has waned. We know that it can be rekindled.” 

Dr Phillips said teachers often lost their passion through exhaustion and demoralisation.

“When the fire goes, the desire to do anything is no longer there because there is nothing left to give. You have lower staff morale in schools, and that feeds into the school climate. Teachers no longer have the energy to be innovative or creative.”  

Research shows teacher wellbeing is critical to student wellbeing. “Quality student outcomes are dependent on teachers’ robust mental health, and without it, student academic achievement can come undone,” she said.

While many universities offer courses that enable teachers to identify and manage student mental health and wellbeing, there has been little available for teachers themselves. Dr Phillips said many teachers were unaware that their energy was draining away until they hit burnout which is a symptom of eroded mental health.

Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels