Ten Ways New Teachers Burn Themselves Out

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Although teacher attrition rates appear to have stabilized in recent years, the fact remains that nearly half of new teachers leave the profession before celebrating their fifth year anniversaries. I remember my first years in the classroom as some of my hardest, both personally and professionally. New teachers weren’t mentored then, and even now, many who do have the opportunity to work with a mentor report varied levels of satisfaction from their experiences.

How can we make the first years of teaching rewarding enough to retain new teachers? This question framed my work with a group of middle school mentors last month. They began attending to it by brainstorming ten different ways that new teachers burn themselves out. Naming them helped these mentors define new entry points for their work.

Ten Ways New Teachers Burn Themselves Out

1. They treat administrators and seasoned teachers with parental regard. Rather than viewing themselves as valued contributors to the system’s learning and work, new teachers often downplay their expertise and withhold their ideas, yielding the floor to titled leaders and those they consider masters. Eventually, this leaves many feeling devalued.

2. They make their work their only priority. Rather than scheduling time for self-care and nurturing their relationships with others, new teachers will often allow their work, which is never done, to take priority.

3. They are perfectionists. Fresh from the classroom and several years of study, new teachers know theory well. They know best practices, they have a clear vision for what ideal instruction looks like, and they’ve been evaluated on their abilities to achieve it. The classroom is an entirely different reality, and many struggle to frame failure as a teacher.

4. They are people pleasers. And when all of the people inside of a system have conflicting values, needs, and interests, new teachers find themselves in very tenuous positions.

5. They fail to manage their paper load. Eager to put their eyes on everything their students produce, new teachers haul home stacks of work each evening, and when they inevitably fall behind, they beat themselves up over it.

6. They over-manage student behaviors. New teachers have a difficult time establishing and maintaining shared expectations for student behavior. They struggle to pick their battles as well.

7. They listen to those who suggest the sky is falling. New teachers enter the classroom wide eyed and eager to make a difference. While many find their enthusiasm contagious, it often makes others uncomfortable. Idealism raises red flags for every skeptic, inspiring warnings and tales of woe. Valid or not, that kind of fear is quickly depleting. Knowing that colleagues question their perspective is often discomforting too.

8. They take on too many roles. New teachers are often asked to chair committees, assume advisorships, and take on coaching positions. All at once. It’s too much.

9. They become the face of change. Sometimes, new teachers are hired because school leaders are in the midst of facilitating changes that they already have experience with. When this happens, new teachers are often held up as examples for other staff members. This can be disastrous.

10. They worry about what others think. New teachers worry that their students will dislike them, that parents will challenge them, that principals will be disappointed in them, and that they won’t be able to please all of their colleagues. They burn precious energy avoiding criticism at all cost, and eventually, this drains them.

As the mentors I’m supporting began identifying these challenges, I found myself nodding my head in recognition more once. This list of challenges is far from definitive, though. I’m wondering if you agree with their opinions.

What would you change? What would you add?

How could this sort of endeavor enable mentors to help new teachers well?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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