The start of the school year is always so exciting. Classrooms are refreshed and beautiful. New ideas and plans are on the forefront. The children are as inspiring and delightful as ever. Teachers seem ready to dive in and make their magic happen.
Then, sometime in October or November, some teachers hit a wall. I don’t exactly know why, but my observation is that late fall and early spring are peak times for teacher burnout.
Just about every leader I know testifies that they have amazing teachers in their classrooms. They’re right, I’ve observed in enough schools to know that most teachers are master practitioners of their craft.
That is why it can be so hard for a leader to see and admit when a great teacher might be having some burnout. Your role as a leader is to see burnout coming down the road and head it off with the right strategies.
This week we are going to review some of the common signs of teacher burnout I have seen over the years. Next week we will dive into ideas for supporting teachers. You can help them stay the course or gracefully exit.
Working with leaders across the US and Canada, I have observed that the following four patterns and behaviors are often the harbingers of teacher burnout.
Increased Absenteeism or Tardiness
Some people are just habitually late or frequently absent. This is a different HR issue than what I’m talking about today. When a once dependable employee is suddenly late or absent from work and from meetings, you had better start paying attention.
In my experience, this is always a symptom of a greater problem and worth noting. Every time I have had a formerly dependable teacher suddenly start showing up late every day or calling in sick frequently, it was the beginning of a downward spiral.
If you notice this sort of pattern emerging with one of your employees, do a quick check in with them. See if they need extra support in order to get back to their usual pattern of dependable behavior.
Assistant Teacher Turnover or Burnout
Working with a teacher who is burning out isn’t very fun. Be concerned if you have a teacher who has been generally well-liked and now struggles to keep assistants in the classroom.
Assistant teachers want to work with competent leads who can be guides and mentors to them. Everyone likes working in a predictable environment with stable leadership.
When you start seeing burnout behavior in your assistant teachers or you see an increase in turnover in a classroom, it is time to get in there and observe. Sometimes people feel bad saying they are quitting or struggling because they don’t like their colleague. They feel disloyal so they make up reasons and you don’t see the truth until much later.
Even if every person who leaves or seems burnt out is pointing to reasons outside of the classroom, you are responsible for thoroughly examining their daily work circumstances to ensure that you don’t have a burned out lead who is passing the problem to their assistants.
Challenges with Children
I have known several teachers in my career who seem to be some kind of magic child whisperers who can charm even the most rambunctious child into focused activity. I have also seen some of these teachers slowly burn out and almost completely lose their ability to work well with challenging children.
When you have a teacher who used to amaze you start regularly voicing frustration about challenging behaviors, pay attention. Obviously, the first thing to do is observe the child and ensure that you have full context on the situation.
As we are taught in training but sometimes forget in practice, when children exhibit a pattern of challenging behavior the first thing we must do is observe for issues in the physical environment and with the adults in the classroom.
If a once Zen-like teacher is now triggered by challenging children, it is a clear sign of potential burnout.
We already know that the Montessori classroom should be a beautifully prepared environment that communicates the feeling of a home away from home and a sense of belonging for the children.
The prepared environment and the prepared adult are the unique identifying markers of an authentic Montessori school. Your role as leader is to guide the vision and uphold your school’s high standards.
When teachers are unable to keep their environments and storage spaces organized, they likely have bigger issues of overwhelm going on.
If you begin to observe perpetual clutter on top of cubbies, piles of paper spilling out of cabinets, and teachers falling behind on record keeping and filing you need to step in. The prepared environment is essential to the success of the children.
Teacher burnout frequently manifests in chaos in the physical environment. Ask how you can support the teacher in getting better systems in place for cleaning, organization, and paperwork.
What strategies have you used to address burned out teachers in your school? Share with us in the Montessori Leadership Facebook group!
This article by RB Fast first appeared on beelineconsulting.net