Teacher Burnout. And Yet, They Still Keep Going to Work.

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I give up.

I’m done discussing tenure (arguing… whatever…).

If you have a blog that revolves around education (and as luck would have it… I do) there’s one surefire way to get more readers (and angry emails).

Write about tenure (actually, there’s a second more powerful way… write about homeschooling, but I’m not going there… at least right now).

Tenure is blog gold.She Doesn't Look Burnt Out.

Writing about it is probably not worth the death threats, but luckily for me I have security (Buddy the Dog).

I’ve come to understand people who have tenure love it. 

I mean LOVE it.  Love, love, love it.

Absolutely love it.

Did I mention they love it (like Buddy loves to nap).

And what’s not to love.

You have a job.  You get to keep the job.


And as most of you know, that’s a very long time (if you don’t believe me, Google it).

Tenure is a pretty good deal if you can get it.

Then there are the others.

People who don’t have tenure in their careers think it’s impractical and unfair.

They aren’t familiar with our world (hallways, spitballs, junior high goofiness, etc.)

The concept of educators having lifelong jobs is foreign to them.

They believe tenure should only be for Supreme Court Justices.

But that’s okay.  It wouldn’t be much of an argument if everyone agreed (and I do hate it when I want to argue and no one will join me).

No matter which side of the tenure argument you fall on, I know one thing for sure.  I’m not changing anybody’s mind.

So I’ve given up.

But I would like to ask for one exception.

If you publicly announce you’re “Burnt Out” this statement should lead to an automatic recall of your tenure rights (to clarify “publicly” can be in person, on Facebook, or over the phone).

No exceptions.

My theory is once someone says this out loud there is no going back.

If  a person establishes they are “Burnt Out” they can’t come back (at least in the same career).

So if you are in your 1st year of teaching or 30th year and the “Burnt Out” bug hits you, you’re done.

No tenure.

No job.

No nothing (except your pension and maybe parting gifts, but that’s it).

Because teaching is kind of important and once the passion has left you, so should tenure (maybe I will win this discussion… argument… whatever… but I’m not going to hold my breath).

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24 Responses to “Teacher Burnout. And Yet, They Still Keep Going to Work.”

  1. Mr. W
    on Sep 16th, 2010
    @ 9:09 pm

    I would tend to disagree. Most teachers get burned out sometime during the year. Especially with all of the extra stuff being required of us. Increasing class sizes, yet still expected to make sure everyone learns and is proficient on the state test. At our school right now, there is no detention policy because the funds were redirected to another program. So how do you think our tardies and behavior is right now? Dealing with parents who won’t accept the truth about little Johnny.

    And having tenure doesn’t guarantee a job for life. We had a teacher who should have been fired. In fact our union rep told the teacher they couldn’t do anything and told the principal to go ahead and fire him because the union couldn’t protect him. What happened? nothing. Is that tenure’s fault or the administrators?

    I am sure sometime during the year you get burnt out. Dealing with parent complaints, student drama, and teachers complaining. It hits anyone who has a lot of emotion invested in their job. Maybe instead of thinking they should lose tenure you should view it as, how do I get this teacher to regain the passion they once had?

  2. Melanie
    on Sep 17th, 2010
    @ 4:09 am

    I completely agree. If you are burned out, then get out. You’re not helping the students by sticking around for 3-5 more years just so you can make more money for retirement. Teaching shouldn’t be about the money anyway. If you’re teaching for the money, you are either getting paid way more than the rest of us, or just confused about how much you are paid! lol

  3. Karen
    on Sep 17th, 2010
    @ 5:43 am

    It’s the principal’s job to make sure that peop le not doing their jobs well find a more rewarding line of work. Tenure doesn’t protect anyone from evaluation and if you are doing your job as a principal and evaluating and supervising (and I mean seeing folks in action more than the one required time for which a person can prepare extensively) and following protocols and timelines a tenured person can be fired. But you have to have the hutzpah (sp?) to do it. It takes times, but if a person is hurting kids, then don’t you have the moral obligation, tenure or not, to do something about it? Tenure does require due process so to speak and that is not a bad thing. Teachers shouldn’t be fired because the principal just doesn’t “like” the person. There should be evidence of incompetence and an effort to help. But if the person doesn’t get better, cut them lose. Goes for anyone working in a school division.

  4. Alicia Kessler
    on Sep 17th, 2010
    @ 8:19 am

    If you have walked the hallowed halls long enough, you know exactly who’s crowing about burn out, and if you were honest, you wouldn’t want your children in their class. Their mood swings resemble jr. high kids.

    I have often observed them being the same ilk that brag about never using technology or checking their e-mail……mkay…..hope that slate tablet is working out for ya.

  5. Kareem Stay
    on Sep 18th, 2010
    @ 9:47 am


  6. Nick James
    on Sep 19th, 2010
    @ 5:41 am


  7. Kelly
    on Sep 25th, 2010
    @ 3:05 pm

    I recently found your blog, and even though I’m behind on my reading and you have a few posts since this one, I HAD to respond to this one. You are making a real (and dangerous) sweeping generalization about teachers who declare they are burnt out. You KNOW it’s a demanding job often begun with idealism and enthusiasm which the politics and the other not-so-fun stuff about teaching takes it toll and wears teachers down. I have known plenty of burnt out teachers or those who are now in it simply for the paycheck and the benefits. I like to think those are the folks you’re talking about and yes, they should go. Because they don’t have the best interest of the students at heart. Sadly, the burnt out folks you refer to are not the type to really announce their burnout. They just stop caring and go through the motions. But there are also PLENTY of mid-career folks who don’t want to be burnt out– they just are. They WANT to find the passion again. They want to get back to what matters but are finding the obstacles too overwhelming. Kids and parents and administrators can suck the life out of even the best and well-intentioned teachers. Think of it as a cry for help. I speak from experience. I agree with the person who talks about the administrator taking a roll in helping teachers find that passion again. To make such a blanket statement as the minute you announce your burnout your tenure should be revoked (and I’m NOT a fan of tenure) doesn’t take into account the individual and the real meaning behind the declaration. Maybe you take more issue with the public declaration, and even that can deserve some leniency. Again…cry for help? Sorry about being so verbose here.

  8. Jennifer
    on Sep 26th, 2010
    @ 2:28 pm

    I agree with the other person, Kelly. I can say that last year, I was “burnt out!” However, I am at a new school in the same area, and I am loving it. I work longer hours, but I am willing to do it. Sometimes, you just need change. When teachers are “burnt out” encourage them to change things up and see if it renews their feelings. If they change and it doesn’t “renew their faith in teaching,” then yes, pull the plug on tenure.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Jennifer, I couldn’t agree more.

  9. Pat
    on Oct 6th, 2010
    @ 8:54 pm

    Hello!!!! It is a JOB!! Of course we are doing it for the money! We also do it because we LOVE to teach but when it is all said and done we do it for the money! So stop saying teacher should go home if they only do it for the money. Would you do it for free!?

  10. Katrina
    on Oct 9th, 2010
    @ 7:32 am

    That is why some teachers are so amazing… they are so dedicated to their work. If only the students realize their effort then that would be a great way to thank them back. It is a profession but with care and dedication.

  11. A burned out teacher
    on Nov 9th, 2010
    @ 12:46 am

    I have wanted to be a teacher since I was six. I went to school, got the BA/BS, then went and got the graduate degree (yes, I got the standard teaching university education–all except for student teaching as I was assaulted by a student and quit student teaching, took a breather for a couple years, then got back on the horse). I got a job with Teach for America. I thought it would be a good way for an older person like myself to complete that student teaching experience, particularly with the education I had. I spent two years teaching in a reservation school. It was a system seemingly bent in the community and at the school, of passing students socially, and attempts by me to set standards (say, at the grade level I was teaching), tended to mixed reviews. Some kids, even IEP kids, sailed through, liked the challenge, and I hope was served well by me. Others, usually the very bright kids, wouldn’t do the work, swore at me, threw desks at me, and calls home usually went unanswered or the rare parent would blame me. Now, mind you, after the first four weeks I stopped the chair throwing and swearing pretty effectively–I’ve got kids of my own, so I got the classroom management thing down fairly quickly. The kids weren’t the reason I quit teaching.

    Some demographics about the school I taught at:

    40 % graduation rate
    2 seniors out of 45 ready for college according to the ACT test scores.
    Attendance rate of around 45% (on a good day. That meant that 240 out of 500 would come to school.
    Pregnancy rates amongst teenage girls–60% in girls ages 14-16.
    Gang activity–rampant

    Teachers: Extremely committed. Some had been there upwards of 15-35 years.
    Administrators: Revolving door–new principals every 2 years. Same superintendent for 10 years. That meant every new principal was asking teachers to try stuff out that either didn’t stick or didn’t work because there was no consistency in administration.
    Yes, the school was on the NCLB list.

    It was the following:

    1. The 12-14 hour days, seven days a week. I’m a very good organizer, and I could never work less than 70-80 hours a week. My administrators were pleased with me, and my results (1st year 96% of the class passed with average above 80%, only 2 students failed 9th grade). The second year my class averaged a 85% average, grew 3 years in reading, and only 3 failed (because they didn’t come to school). To achieve those results required a work week of 70-80 hours a week. Veteran teachers, even with 32 years worth of lesson plans, also worked that hard, because they dumped paperwork on us–lesson plans that took 6 hours to fill out, if you had ONE class. Teachers who had 3 plans could count on lesson planning 3-4 hours a day in order to stay ahead one week in plans. We were told this was necessary in order to make the NCLB people happy.

    2. Constant anxiety over lesson plans, planning lessons that passed the litmus test of the assistant principal (few did). When teachers started taking 150 hours (collectively) of time off, teachers were blamed for being “noncompliant,” or “lazy,” or my personal favorite, “resistant to change.” We were told that once we got the lesson plan “mastered” that there would be new things introduced. Mind you, all of us went to school and wrote decent lesson plans before all this. Some of our teachers made AYP more than 2 years in a row.

    3. Constant depersonalization through constant punitive implementation of word walls, charts, and other meaningless drivel we were to hang on the walls. Although I directed students constantly to reference the wall charts, the students never looked at them. I gave them a test for which all of the answers were on the walls. Students got an average of 50 percent on that test (which didn’t count anyway, I was testing whether the so-called research on wall charts was correct. It’s not). If we did not make the word walls (in a high school!) we were threatened with “Plans of improvement.” So yes. I hung the word walls, made the posters (which took hours on top of grading, making creative and engaging lesson plans, etc, and also writing the pacing guide for the 9th grade since there was no curriculum when I started).

    4. The “research is King” theory. Educational research has been around for 30 years. It is not hard science, nor will ever be so long as people remain human and have different ways of learning. Yet we got “Pop Science Educator of the Week” books pounded into us (we must read, we must write reflections, we must meet in groups to discuss said popular educator). This on top of grading, lesson planning, creating engaging lessons, etc etc ad nauseum.

    5. Now, I could care less about tenure. I am a person with 20 years experience in education at the university level and the high school level, and I was 40 when I taught in high school. Yet I will be ridiculed by veteran teachers on here for being “inexperienced,” having a “bad attitude,” and “not sticking with it long enough.” Whatever. People want to argue about tenure when there are schools in this nation that get federal funding up the wazoo and kids are STILL passed, there are still NO standards, community politics gets the upper hand (which was why kids were being passed or scores manipulated in the grade book by the superintendent to pass kids so that our numbers wouldn’t look so bad), and teachers STILL get blamed.

    90 percent of the teachers in the school I was in quit the second year I was there, including me. We were all good people who were burnt out, demoralized, and treated like children by our district. We wanted to do right by the kids, but we were never once asked how our school could be improved. We were brow beaten and threatened into implementing a lot of useless theoretical garbage that–guess what–didn’t raise test scores one iota, and sent 90 percent of the teachers packing. And the teachers that remained were first year teachers–all of the veteran teachers quit.

    We live in a “right to work” state so our union was powerless–not allowed to strike. Today I hate teaching, I am disappointed in myself for not being able to maintain the 70 hour work week, and I really hate the way teachers are treated in this country–there is absolutely no respect for public school teachers, and a real drive to privatize schools, in my opinion. Public school teachers are not treated as professionals even though Marzano states that teachers are the best and most knowledgeable professionals in their classroom since teachers are the ones who spend the most time with students.

    Our administrators were good guys too–really nice guys who did their best. I’m sure of it. Too bad our district had such low expectations and people who lived there had no expectations for their children other than giving them whatever they wanted to make them happy. Not one of those kids went to college and stayed there because they were not prepared for college level work. Clearly, the pass em cuz you feel sorry for em strategy didn’t work, doesn’t work, and will never work.

    I have since been through therapy, was on depression medication and anxiety medication the last year I worked there, and after a year of quitting and doing something else, haven’t had to take them since. Miracle, that.

    Meanwhile, I will wonder the rest of my life how the kids I had for two years did. I feel as if I were driven out of teaching because expectations were unbelievably high for teachers and not high enough for kids.

  12. Sam
    on Dec 1st, 2010
    @ 5:15 pm

    I have to laugh when people say teachers should just “get out” if they’re burned out on teaching.

    Oh, ok…just change your career like that and good luck in this economy.

    An oversimplification to the max.

  13. Another Burnt Out Teacher
    on Dec 15th, 2010
    @ 10:52 am

    Burnt Out Teacher from November 9, do you live in Georgia? I taught in the northeast for three years, and even though we faced many of these same problems, it’s FAR worse in the south. I always thought teacher’s unions were causing the problems, but now I miss mine desperately!!

  14. Erin
    on Jan 30th, 2011
    @ 7:55 pm

    This kind of attitude people like you show toward teachers is absurd. So teachers should give up their personal lives to be 100% dedicated to their jobs? Would you expect that from an accountant or an engineer? Teachers have good years and bad years, and just because you have a bad year doesn’t mean it is your fault and that you should give up. Also, how many people can just change their jobs just like that? We have to pay our bills too.

    People are always so quick to blame teachers for the problems in our schools. Try the unsupportive administration, the parents who do nothing to prepare their children for school, and the discipline problems. The teachers at my school are extremely dedicated and hard working, but we are all feeling frustrated because of factors beyond our control.

  15. Feeling the Burn
    on Feb 5th, 2011
    @ 12:38 pm

    Tenure = Straw Man

  16. Michael
    on Apr 27th, 2011
    @ 7:35 pm

    Ok, tenure,,,by all means lets keep that 10% of the bottom of the bell curve teachers just because they got tenure.. I hate whiners more than anything, I have re-invented myself several times. If your burnt, get out, do something else, rest your brain then maybe come back to it. Just because your burnt, and scared to try something else doesnt mean I want my kid in your class. Your forcing your problems on our kids. In private colleges, there is no such thing and the average teacher stays 7 years, then its back to the grind stone of what ever industry you were in before. Its just life, put on a helmet and nut up..

  17. Beaulah
    on May 30th, 2011
    @ 12:20 pm

    Burned out I guess. My principal felt the prIoper way to let me know this was to give me an UNSATISFACTORY on my summative review. Could part of the reason I burned out be his leadership style?

  18. Elaine
    on Jun 21st, 2011
    @ 4:08 am

    I love teaching! Why am I on a stress leave? Perhaps I tried too hard. Perhaps I was too efficient. Perhaps I was too selfless and generous. What gets me is: why are the hard-working, caring teachers the ones who burn out? I have co-teachers who yell at their students, fall behind in their marking and are generally lazy. I quess that’s what the system wants. Those teachers don’t face the same pressure from parents & others, because they don’t hold up any standards.

    Some school situations would kill a superhero, let alone a teacher. Administrators and principals load on the work, without thinking about the consequences. Not many parents really care what actually goes on in a classroom, as long as the kids seem ‘happy’. I am bitter right now. I was teaching 4 grades in one room, with learning disabled & ESL students and no teacher’s assistant. Perhaps I’ll feel better after a rest & a change. But honestly, they overload you and then kick you down when you can’t handle it anymore.

    I think that one’s attitude towards a stressed or burnt-out teacher is very indicative of one’s general attitude towards the well-being of students and people in general. Would we tell a student to quit school and find a different job, just because they were going through a time of trouble. No, we would assess, counsel and use whatever resources we could to help that student get back on track. Teachers are not throw-away comodities any more than students are. Every person is valuable and worth fighting for.

  19. Dann
    on Mar 29th, 2012
    @ 10:16 am

    Isn’t it a leader’s job to train, equip, motivate, and inspire his subordinates to high achievement? What kind of leader would just dismiss a cry for help from one of their team? A struggling teacher deserves to be helped, a struggling veteran teacher has absolutely earned to right to help, a little understanding, and some slack when necessary. Yeah, yeah I know it is about the kids, I get it, I believe it, I live it, but you know what 99% of the teachers are all about the kids and that gets rough sometimes and they need their principal’s support not some administrative backlash. What happened to team unity and chohesiveness? If in fact the teacher is the key element to classroom sucess then why aren’t administrations countrywide more supportive of the classroom teacher rather than bending to every parental whim and demand. I think you would see a lot less burnout and stress issues if administration and school boards backed the classroom teachers instead of their own special interests, dysfunctional parents, and the latest gee whiz gizmo or study that has come along. Empower the teacher and become amazed at student performance. Embattle the teacher and watch student performance dwindle to nothing.

  20. Elsbeth Washburn
    on Nov 11th, 2012
    @ 11:32 am

    I am a 23 year veteran teacher, and I am toast. I have worked so hard for so long that my body is finally forcing me to leave the profession. Maybe I can go back in a year or two. I sincerely hope so. However, the ridiculous and impertinent demands made by administration have finally dragged me so far down I can’t see any other recourse. My babies do well. I do not give grades (my own son made a C in my class one grading period because he was not doing his part), and my failure rate is always between 1 and 3%. Those that fail still maintain a positive relationship with me. They KNOW it was their choice. I tell them that getting 59% or even 50% of the learning offered is still learning. I work with them to design individual learning plans and am always striving for 100% success.
    However, the morale in my school is horrible. Staff is leaving due to stress and physical ailments in record numbers.

    I am burnt out and depressed. I am leaving for a while, but I have no guarantee that I can come back to my existing job. My district won’t grant leaves of absence. So, I have to make a longterm decision that will affect not only my family but all the people I try to help (including my former students who are now college students and hit financial bumps in the road).

    Burnout is not a weakness. It is an injury to the body and soul earned in educational combat. Perhaps if school districts were to address the need for morale and support as well as periodic leaves of absence without pay, far fewer of us old, batlle-scared educators would fall by the wayside.

  21. Elsbeth Washburn
    on Nov 12th, 2012
    @ 8:21 am

    Oops. battle-scarred

  22. A burnt out 2nd year teacher
    on Apr 9th, 2013
    @ 7:52 pm


    I completely agree with the above comments. Especially the one made by a burnt out teacher on nov 2010.

    I am in my second year of teaching and this year is just absolutely terrible. My first year went great, I loved my collegues, my students, and especially my administrators. In my first year, I would walk in in the morning and walk out after school and it felt like only a few minutes of time had gone by.

    This year I have almost gone on stress leave due to the administrators being absolutely ignorant, corrupt, and just lacking in humanity. They are cruel and heartless. Out of 43 teachers at our school, 35 teachers are looking to leave next year.

    These administrators have been administrators for so long that they forget what it is to teach. They pile on extra work. So much so that I have fallen behind in my marking and preparing. I am stagnating as a result of all this extra work that they pile on us which is SUPPOSED to make us BETTER TEACHERS.


    In any case, this is my rant that will likely not be read by anyone.

    Also, original poster, it is quite obvious that you have never been in some of these teacher’s shoes or else you wouldn’t be mouthing off like you did. What you are suggesting is to fire teachers who are tired and burned out. It is people like you who make us teachers stagnate and burn out…oh and your children which will inevitably have inherited your dysfunctional genes.

  23. ThreeMoreYearsToGo
    on Feb 19th, 2014
    @ 10:03 am

    Why is it that teachers in America are supposed to be secular saints?

    As someone else just said, it’s a job, not a “calling”. Do we expect DOCTORS and LAWYERS to quit their careers when they’re burnt out?

    And, in this economy, who would give up their job, when the prospect of finding another is virtually nil, particularly if you’re not a fresh faced 23 year old?

    Frankly, there might not be teacher burn out if teachers weren’t expected to be all things to all people, and to somehow have been ascribed the role of saving society. It’s why we have tenure, to save those in the classroom from brainwashed administrators and politicians that assume all of the faults we have in society come from “bad” teachers, whatever that may mean.

    I’m just wondering how long of a time the blogger was a teacher, before jumping into administration. If you liked teaching, why did you bail out of the classroom? After all, isn’t that where the ACTION really takes place?

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.