Teacher attrition rose significantly over the last two decades. Now more than 41% of teachers leave the profession within just five years of starting, and about half a million U.S. teachers (which amounts to 15%) leave the profession every year. In short, teachers are burning out, which means they are exhausted from the prolonged stress and/or frustration their job entails.
High teacher turnover rates rob students of stable adult relationships, disrupt school culture, hamper student achievement, and are especially damaging in minority neighborhoods, as trust erodes between teachers and students. Of course, teacher burnout also hurts teachers themselves, who deserve to enjoy this noble profession.
When conducting research for my recent book, First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success, I discovered teachers are not working at a sustainable pace as they are currently equipped. The job’s demands have increased significantly over the last two decades, and if teachers are not using the proper tools and receiving proper training to juggle these many demands, they are particularly susceptible to burning out. Of course, the demands themselves need to lessen, such as through consolidation, prioritization, and better organization from higher-ups. Even so, there are steps teachers can take within current school climates to make their jobs easier.
Tech Is Vital
One chapter of my book on overcoming teacher burnout is about technology. Technology can be a major pain point for teachers if tools are hard-to-use, ineffective, not suited to teachers’ individualized needs, or not implemented with adequate training. However, use of effective technology is crucial to managing teaching demands, working efficiently, and meeting students’ needs with maximum ease. Teachers can advocate for effective tools by requesting to join district committees that spearhead edtech purchase decisions and by sharing current technology shortcomings with their administrators, along with pedagogy-centered details on what teachers need from tech tools.
The Data System
A good technology tool can relieve problems that often contribute to teacher burnout. An effective student data system organizes student and district/organization data and makes this data easy to view and investigate. Yet, an effective data system can do so much more to make a teacher’s job easier, like facilitating easy communication with parents, making student grouping and intervention a breeze, and facilitating collaboration with colleagues.
The Data System + Grading
For the sake of time and space, let’s look at the impact of just one way in which an effectual system for data use (Illuminate Education’s suite of data systems) can combat one of the biggest contributors to teacher burnout: time spent grading mountains of student work.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers spend 20% of their working time grading student work; this is barely surpassed by actual teaching in the classroom (25% of time). Most of that grading occurs by hand. This time burden makes antiquated grading practices a large factor in leading teachers to burnout.
Conversely, consider this excerpt from First Aid for Teacher Burnout (pp. 57-58), which involves using Illuminate Education’s Data & Assessment Management System:
You can use an ordinary webcam to instantly score assignments and assessments. Imagine this:
- As students enter the classroom, they drop homework in a tray. Any of their multiple-choice answers are instantly and automatically scored (literally just by landing in the tray), a computer screen shows students how they performed, and the scores are instantly and automatically loaded into your gradebook. You can instantly see how the class performed and group students based on their needs for the day’s lesson.
- As students finish an assessment, they drop it in a tray. Any of their multiple-choice answers are instantly and automatically scored (literally just by landing in the tray), a computer screen shows students how they performed, and students can move to an appropriate station based on this score to do appropriate follow-up work (or get an appropriate follow-up assignment). Scores are instantly and automatically loaded into your gradebook, and you can instantly see how the class performed, see individual students’ and student groups’ needs, and so on.
- You can bubble subjectively graded scores (e.g., rubric based, or judging right versus wrong yourself) afterward, and these can be added (e.g., scanned or inputted) just as easily, at which point they are instantly and automatically loaded into your gradebook, and so forth… Not only can the scores automatically populate your gradebook, but they can also automatically populate your student and parent portal, progress reports, report cards, etc.
Imagine the time saved with such a setup.
Enjoy the Impact
Note the above scenario is just one example of how a data system can drastically cut time teachers spend on just one of the most cumbersome, draining aspects of teaching. When all burnout-fighting aspects of a data system are leveraged, the chance of teacher burnout is lowered.
The key is to advocate for an effective system, as well as the leadership and professional development to ensure its virtues are applied to make teachers’ jobs easier while helping kids. Then enjoy the impact this tool has on teacher sustainability. When a good data system accompanies other strategies to fight teacher burnout, teachers can best enjoy peace and success while helping students thrive.
- Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L., & Stuckey, D. (2014). Seven trends: the transformation of the teaching force, updated April 2014. CPRE Report (#RR-80). Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.
- Krantz-Kent, R. (2008, March). Teachers’ work patterns: When, where, and how much do U.S. teachers work? Monthly Labor Review (March, 2008), 52-59. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Neufeld, S. (2014, November 10). Can a teacher be too dedicated? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/11/can-a-teacher-be-too-dedicated/382563
- Rankin, J. G. (2016). First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
- Seidel, A. (2014). The teacher dropout crisis. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/07/18/332343240/the-teacher-dropout-crisis
*Image: Routledge/Taylor & Francis (from the book First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success)
Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin is a former award-winning teacher, school site administrator, school district administrator, and chief education & research officer. She is a lifetime member of Mensa and her Ph.D. in Education features a specialization in School Improvement Leadership. Her latest book First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success is available for purchase on Amazon.
Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.
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