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MSU scholars see teacher burnout as contagious culture

Teachers experience school pressures that lead to burnout--and it's contagious, says a study. Photo Credit: Michigan State University

By Marielle Joy Opana

We expect teachers to be always prepared and well informed to be effective educators, but there are situations that even the best of them gets her own share of burnout from all the pressures.

Michigan State University education scholars recently found out that teacher burnout has been contagious among young educators.

MSU doctoral student and principal author Jihyun Kim co-authored the teacher burnout study with Kenneth Frank, a professor of measurement and quantitative methods of College of Education, and Peter Youngs, an associate professor at University of Virginia and also a former scholar at MSU.

Kim became interested with this burnout culture because of her own experience as a young educator in Korea, her native country, having worked there beyond the call of her duty.

Researchers analyzed their accumulated survey data on burnout of 171 teachers who spent their first four years in the field and 289 experienced teachers who became mentors or close colleagues of the young teachers.

According to their research, early-career teachers are vulnerable to burnout and stress due to pressure from full-time workloads and big expectations from their school and the district.

The lack of enough resources in many other aspects, such as professional development, preparation time, and teaching materials, also contributes to it.

“These resources are critical not only for reducing teacher burnout, but also for closing gaps in students’ learning,” said Kim, who will begin to work as an assistant professor of education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in the coming fall.

“This study is one of the first to provide evidence that the organizational culture in schools can make a notable difference for early-career teachers’ burnout levels,” Frank said in a statement.

There is a substantial link between burnout with early-career teachers and exposure to both a school-wide burnout culture and burnout among closest colleagues of the young teachers. But the school-wide burnout culture showed much stronger link.

“If you are surrounded by people who are downcast or walking around under a pall of burnout, then it has a high chance of spilling over, even if you don’t have direct contact with these folks,” Frank added in their study published in the journal of Teaching and Teacher Education.

Frank also stressed that teacher burnout is equally tied with the current education policy environment.

“We know that early career teachers are susceptible to burnout because of the significant demands placed on them. It is also clear that the introduction of new reforms in K-12 education on a frequent basis adds to the pressures they experience,” Frank said.

He noted of policies such as teachers being ranked or evaluated depending on the student test scores. Good compensation and lack of power in the assignment of students raise the bar of pressure among young teachers, too.

Lastly, Frank suggested: “If school administrators and policymakers are serious about promoting retention and reducing burnout among novice teachers, they should be aware not just of the curriculum they are advocating, or their rules and policies for teachers. They should also attend to how the organizational culture in their schools can have direct effects on burnout levels of their faculty.”

About Wired Correspondence (185 Articles)
WIRED CORRESPONDENCE is an online newsmagazine managed by freelance journalists and editors. This is our attempt to break into online journalism, initially covering general news around the world. Our main focus in the near future, however, is to report under-covered or under-reported social issues in the Philippines and elsewhere through narrative, long-form journalism. We aim to help through storytelling.

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