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Ask Dr. Lynch: The Role of Emotions in Teacher Burnout

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Dwayne J. asks:

One of my colleagues had to take a leave of absence because of stress-related issues. Basically, she burned out. I am a new teacher, and I don't want the same thing to happen to me. Why does teacher burnout happen?


Dwayne, as you know, teachers have strong commitments to their work. Most of them feel passionately about teaching and see it as a “calling.” The emotions that teachers undergo include love for (most) students, hate for the paperwork, the feeling of excitement when they see a student finally understand a concept, etc. Then there's the dread of filling out report cards, the feeling of burnout in December, and the nervous feeling associated with the first day of school every year. These emotions affect teachers across the board, without regard to experience.

Burnout refers to extreme stress experienced by those who work in intense occupations, especially in offering services that are subject to chronic tension levels. It usually means the inability to function fully in one’s job due to the prolonged stress related to these jobs. Stress and burnout are linked closely to an individual’s state of mind. Burnout is three-dimensional and includes feelings of emotional exhaustion or tiredness; teacher “depersonalization,”  in which they develop a negative and distrustful attitude towards their students, parents and their colleagues; and a reduced sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

It also brings about other negative effects, such as increased absenteeism, decline in classroom performance, and poor interpersonal relationships with colleagues and students. Burned-out teachers are usually less sympathetic toward the problems of students and less committed to their jobs. They develop lower tolerance for classroom disruptions, are less prepared for class, and are generally less productive. As a result, burned-out teachers can have a negative influence on the morale of new teachers.

Burned-out teachers are more narrow-minded about their practices and resistant to changes in those practices. They resort to blaming others for low achievement or failure.

If schools are to succeed at providing students with an effective, relevant education, teachers' emotions must not be ignored. Educators need to feel validated in their work so that they can continue educating our youth to the best of their ability.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.

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