Is everyone working in education burnt out…? Part 2


So actual burn out is pretty darn serious… But, if you work in education, consider this list below and see how many of these you can identify with. Or think about how many of these you see affecting others:

  • critical boss
  • perfectionism
  • lack of recognition
  • inadequate pay
  • under-employment
  • tasks with no end
  • impossible tasks / nearly impossible problems for solving
  • difficult clients (e.g. students)
  • incompatible demands (many demands that may not be achieved together)
  • bureaucracy
  • conflicting roles (home, family)
  • value conflicts (personal / workplace values)
  • meaninglessness of achieved goals
  • social and emotional skills deficit

This is pretty much just pasted in from the Wikipedia entry on short-term burnout, also known as occupational burnout.

I’m not suggesting that everyone working in education is actually burnt out. It’s just a sensational headline to grab your attention.

However, I do think that if we work in education we are in danger. The reason is we tend to care about what we do.

Typically, we tend to be strongly motivated, dedicated, and involved in our work. For better or worse, we tend to find meaning doing what we do. And this means that when we don’t achieve our goals or if the job fails meet our expectations we get frustrated or start to feel exhausted.

If this continues over time, we end up feeling drained, become cynical, and generally become negative and crappy at our jobs.

And, sure it’s not full blown burnout. But it’s still debilitating and can be hard to come back from. Some times it’s easier to quit your job.

I think that’s why one of the major issues in tertiary teaching, particularly for those work with youth, and in trades and vocational training in general, is the churn rate.

Two questions for you then:

  1. How can we prevent this kind of short term, occupational burn out?
  2. How can we make it better for tutors who are feeling the effects?
  3. Can we stop or at least slow the churn rate for trades or vocational tutors by dealing with the effects of short-term burn out?

Ok… that was three questions. What do you think?

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

4 thoughts

  1. 1. Encourage people to look after themselves well – really good nutrition, regular, restorative exercise, less coffee, more quality sleep!
    2. Create supportive learning communities where tutors can encourage one another and be encouraged, mentor and be mentored.
    3. Encourage tutors’ on-going participation in professional development – attendance at workshops, symposia.
    4. Celebrate, document and publicise innovation and successes.

  2. Warning! It’s a wild rant.

    I think we have a discrepancy between the people working in the sector the criteria for funding. The role of the tutor simply no longer aligns with the role many signed up for and therefore generates a growing frustration that results in churn.

    For example, when I talk to new youth guarantee tutors they all want to make a difference with youth. Most are creative, most care deeply about young people and most are motivated by coaching young adults into the work force and setting them up for success.

    What do they get:
    * An unrealistic NZQA credit burden that destroys creativity and doesn’t even adequately represent the learning that takes place.
    * An NZQA assessment system that is implemented pedantically driving out innovation (assessment driven teaching)
    * TEC criteria that overreaches into tutor practice

    After six months in the job tutors are complaining about the ‘system” (see above) and how it doesn’t meet the real needs of the students. They are disillusioned by the system and leave.

    We have unfortunately become victim to ‘bureaucratic capture’ and it is destroying our sector. The accountants have reached their hands into classroom practice. We are now in the position were instead of rules being designed to support learning, learning is being designed for rules.

    1. Yes…! I guess there are two threads to these posts… one relates to what tutors can do to make things better for themselves. And the other concerns these implications, in other words the unintended consequences of funding and compliance driven decisions that happen at the top levels of the educational bureaucracy…

      Sir Ken Robinson is famous in one of his TED talks for criticising the fast food approach we have now to education. However, I’ve been wondering about how, rather than the crappy quality of fast food as a metaphor, we shouldn’t be looking at the excellent systems that fast food restaurants have in place for managing youth in the “at risk” age bracket – as a metaphor.

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