Burnout and Educators
As globalization and technology continue to change the way in which businesses function, the need for highly skilled workers possessing the ability to synthesize, analyze, and communicate will be the litmus test separating successful from unsuccessful economies. Where does the US fall in light of this? Can the US produce sufficient highly skilled workers to meet the demands of an ever evolving society? If the 2010 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is any indication, then the US was found wanting.
The test results showed US students lagging behind many of their peers from other countries in core subject areas. This realization has once more invigorated the consistent intermittent debate surrounding quality education in US schools. In the aftermath of the report, the brainstorming sessions that follows will once more seek to unearth the impediments to the creation of a better education system. What will be discovered? An examination of prior measures unveiled to address the shortfalls of quality education to date seemed to focus consistently on educators as a causative element.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2002), as well as research which hints that a high quality teacher is the single most important factor that influences students academic performance give credence to the prior statement. These avenues which seek to focus on ways to increase academic achievement seem to hint that educators are the most critical element impacting the ability of students to perform academically. This conclusion has led to extreme pressures on educators to increase academic performances. These pressures while not new (for as Popham stated, they existed prior to NCLB (2004)), will increase in magnitude as the world continues to change. Can this continuous insistent pressure result in adverse effects for educators? What are the implications for the teaching and learning environment, and invariably society?
Relentless pressure to perform in environments that are highly volatile is often conducive to burnout. This burnout is a nemesis to the creation of an education system that is capable of producing students equipped to deal with 21st century workplace challenges; skills which are critical to any country hoping to maintain or achieve a competitive advantage. Drucker makes this point when he coined the term “knowledge workers’ and highlighted their importance for the success of 21st century businesses. This paper examines the principles of rest and highlights the value of rest to educators operating in contemporary educational environments.
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The paper pinpoints the challenges facing contemporary American education system which may inhibit rest and brings clarity to the dangers of burnout – a condition created by lack of rest. Leaders in education as well as stakeholders are provided with clear guidelines which may be used to prevent burnout and promote rest. The paper ends with a plea for education leaders to adhere to the necessity to rest in order to construct learning environments capable of creating students with the analytical, synthesizing, and communication skills that are critical to meeting the demands of contemporary and future organizations.
The day started with an Individualized Education Plan for one of my students. Once the meeting was finished, I analyzed the results from the summative assessment for forty students from the previous day. I realized that fifteen of my students did not grasp some of the key concepts from the lesson and so I commenced planning intervention strategies. Two strategies had to be different to accommodate two of my students who needed modified assignments. This activity took almost fifty minutes. So, I had just enough time to adjust my lesson plans for the day. It was now five minutes before the start of class, and as I checked my calendar, I realized I had a meeting at the end of the day with teachers from my department. I made a note to myself, “just before I leave for the meeting I must remember to call the parents of three of my students as they were not completing homework and had started acting up in class”. As I jotted the note, I glanced at the other meetings and forms that needed attention by the end of the week. As the bell rang one teacher passed my door and as I smiled politely and asked “how are you;” she looked at me and stated “I am overwhelmed, there seems to be so much to do and with all these meetings I am quite frankly exhausted.”
Rest -the principle
“After God created Heaven and earth on the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2).” According to Botterweck, Ringgren & Fabry, this day, often recognized as the Sabbath stems from the word Sabat, symbolizing cessation from work (2004). Genesis 2 therefore set the precedence for mankind to take a break from work. As one journeys further into scriptures Hosea 10:12 “… fallow your ground… ” when examined through Robbins Social Approach to understanding text represented a call for mankind to desist from their activity. While the verse may have held cultural implications for the Jews as they were farmers, the ramifications for mankind in contemporary society are no different. The principle demands mankind be removed from the confines of work; that time be taken away from the everyday tasks.
The value of rest
The necessity for educators to rest is vital to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments. Outcalt (2005) believes rest allows one to regain strength through the renewing of the mind. Rest is akin to the lubricant between two joints; it provides the conditions necessary for smooth operation without complications which may inhibit action. Rest is the indispensable ingredient that fosters motivation and drives creativity, without this ingredient motivation is stifled and the death of creativity fast-forwarded.
The value of rest and renewal to educators is critical to the creation of an effective and sustainable education system. As the world continues to evolve and the momentum of change accelerates, the pressure on educators to produce students who are academically proficient to manage the demands of the 21st century will continue to increase. This increased demand will force leaders and stakeholders to demand more from educators; a move which has the potential to drain educators physically, emotionally and spiritually as they work overtime to increase students’ performance. Maslach and Leither (1997) convincingly made similar points when they stated that the speed and rate at which organizations are bombarded with changes may result in leaders and followers becoming physically and emotionally exhausted. In a bid to meet these demands, the possibility that workers will lose rest is likely and unfortunate. Without rest, creativity is stifled, motivation becomes a fantasy, competence is sacrificed, and mediocrity flourishes. These outcomes erode creativity, innovation, collegial relations, and productivity. The end result is that rest is sacrificed and inefficiency is given room to grow.
In a society where change is a constant and stability is a pipe dream, the need to be constantly moving to be in sync with societal changes has the propensity to hinder rest. Managers and employees are often driven to work harder and longer to avoid mergers, downsizing, acquisitions and restructurings. The same holds true for educators. Standardized tests show many students not meeting the proficiency bar; drop-out rates climb; more students exercise their first amendment right to explain how entertainers make big bucks with little education and therefore education is not important; and law-makers continue to increase the pressure on educators to produce better quality students. These have factors have helped to create an environment where the necessity for rest often becomes blurred. For many educators, when the pace and workload become too hectic; depression, anxiety and stress are only a few outcomes. Muller made similar arguments when he stated that in today’s world, with its unrelenting emphasis on achievement and efficiency, it is possible to lose the essential rhythm of life and how best to create an equilibrium between work and rest (Muller, 2000).