The increasing burnout and attrition among teachers are threatening the quality of education and student outcomes (Steinhardt, Smith Jaggars, Faulk, & Gloria, 2011; Graziano, 2005). It results from a broad range of factors at an individual, classroom, school, and district levels, and can be identified by such signs as emotional exhaustion, isolation, anxiety, and depersonalization (Brunsting, Sreckovic, & Lane, 2014; Mowers, 2010). With these varied causes, teacher burnout and attrition have dire consequences for the teachers themselves, students, schools, administrators, and policymakers (Harfitt, 2015). Teacher burnout leads to attrition resulting in teacher shortages, increased costs, and poor school and student performance, among others. Due to these impacts of teacher burnout and attrition, appropriate solutions are necessary. Thus, this research aims to examine the extent of teacher burnout and attrition and its influence on the teaching profession in order to find some of the solutions that can help address the problem.
Burnout is common not only in the educational field but also in other demanding professions (Mowers, 2010). In the US alone, more than 200,000 new schoolteachers are hired each year (Graziano, 2005). However, the attrition rate is high, with at least 11% quitting the profession in the first year and about 30% fleeing after three years of their career. Graziano (2005) also noted that the trend increases with experience years, as at least 45% of teachers leave the profession after five years. It is a similar case in our organization and other institutions of learning, where at least two teachers quit every year.
Causing Factors of Teacher Burnout and Attrition
The cause of teacher burnout and attrition has been attributed to several factors. According to Brunsting et al. (2014), these reasons range from individual to system levels. Steinhardt et al. (2011) contend that the teacher burnout and attrition has increased due to work-related stress that teachers often encounter during their professional practice. Some of the stressors among teachers include the lack of support, work overload, difficult students, and interpersonal conflict (Steinhardt et al., 2011; McRae, 2014). If they occur for a long time, they lead to job dissatisfaction, despair, and ultimately leaving the profession.
Fisher (2011) identified years of experience, the level of job satisfaction, teacher’ coping skills, and student behavior to play a significant role in influencing burnout among secondary teachers. They were also found to determine their stress and retention levels in the profession. Buchanan et al. (2013) also noted that support, isolation, working conditions, workload, professional learning, student engagement, and behavior, as well as the availability of teaching resources, are critical factors leading to teacher burnout and attrition during the early years of the teaching career.
Implications for Education
The increasing teacher burnout and attrition have detrimental effects on the teaching profession. They not only induce the shortage of qualified teachers but also result in disruption of the school program, which significantly undermines school and student performance (Emery & Vandenberg, 2010; Steinhardt et al., 2011; Schaefer, Long, & Clandinin, 2012). Moreover, the schools are burdened by frequent recruiting and hiring of new teachers, which is associated with increased costs of staffing. Despite these negative impacts of teacher burnout and attrition, McRae (2014) observed that they could be used as indicators of the underlying school and teacher problems that, if addressed, could lead to motivation and retention of quality teachers.
Resolving the Problem
Various attempts have been made to solve the problem, but the escalating situation indicates that little success has been achieved. McRae (2014) noted that efforts like increasing teacher salaries, recruitment of more teachers, corporate support, and provision of teaching resources and technologies are yet to bear fruit. The delayed results could be attributed to the failure to identify the root cause, and therefore, more target-specific strategies are required to resolve the issue.
Previous Research on Teacher Burnout and Attrition
Affected Teacher Groups
Previous research has looked into burnout and attrition in the teaching profession in-depth. Harfitt (2015) acknowledged that teacher burnout and attrition in the first few years of the career are high among the beginning teachers. It could be due to high expectations during the profession entry and the perception of their work, which may precipitate arrested development during the early experience and disillusionment (Gavish & Friedman, 2010; Schaefer et al., 2012; Gallant & Riley, 2014). High rates are also observed among the special education teachers considered a high-risk group (Emery & Vandenberg, 2010). They usually have lower self-efficacy with significant job dissatisfaction, which results in increased stress and burnout. Brunsting et al. (2014) identified prolonged stress among special educators as well as working conditions to be associated with burnout symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lowered personal accomplishment.
Causes of teacher burnout and attrition have been widely investigated. However, stress remains a significant factor contributing to teacher burnout and quitting the profession altogether (Emery & Vandenberg, 2010; Aloe, Amo, & Shanahan, 2014; Gallant & Riley, 2014; Brunsting et al., 2014; Janzen & Phelan, 2015). The stressors mainly include job demands, unruly student behaviors, and lack of collaborative and supportive environment from the administration, colleagues, parents, and students, which may also cause health issues among the teachers. Brunsting et al. (2014) linked teacher burnout with experience years, conflicting or ambiguous roles, and disability of the students as salient factors in special education.
Despite a common agreement that there are causes other than individual-based factors that induce teacher burnout, it has also been argued that burnout is not multifactorial but rather an individual factor (Van Maele & Van Houtte, 2015). Therefore, it has little relationship with such other factors as school administration. In their argument, trust between the teacher and students can significantly precipitate teacher burnout more than trust between the teacher and principals or colleagues. Buchanan et al. (2013) also established that the increasing years of experience, as opposed to the findings of many studies, raise teacher attrition rate. As a result, all three categories of teachers, including beginning, experienced and special educators, contribute to the high turnover rate.
Most of these findings show that teacher burnout and attrition are more common among early career teachers and special educators. Similarly, they identify stress as the most common cause of burnout among teachers. However, the different insights into this issue are important as they reflect the diverse nature of the problem and the context in which it is examined, thus enabling the development of context-specific solutions.
Appropriate interventions are required to address teacher burnout and attrition problem that result in loss of experience and knowledge in the teaching profession. These solutions would help in hiring and retaining quality teachers necessary for better educational outcomes (Buchanan et al., 2013).
Emery and Vandenberg (2010) highlighted that creating and maintaining supportive teacher relationships is necessary for creating a conducive learning environment, leading to positive outcomes for teacher and student development and behavior. Achieving this objective requires the promotion of social and emotional competence and the overall well-being of teachers through self-efficacy mechanisms that protect them against burnout (Jennings et al., 2014). Emery and Vandenberg (2010) noted that one of the factors leading to increased stress and burnout among special education teachers is low self-efficacy. Similarly, Aloe et al. (2014), in a multivariate analysis, demonstrated classroom management self-efficacy (CMSE) to be protective against teacher burnout. Notably, high CMSE levels among teachers were associated with a low risk of burnout.
Teacher awareness of the risks of burnout to their career, health, and students could also help in resolving this problem. Brunsting et al. (2014) observed that it would help the teacher to improve appropriate classroom management skills for avoiding burnout resulting from teaching and disturbing students. It should also involve support approaches from the school administration, colleagues, and students. McRae (2014) also emphasized that engagement in mentor programs and techniques that can help in the effective management of stress would be useful, particularly for the beginning teachers.
Teacher burnout and attrition have serious implications for the teaching practice; therefore, they require effective strategies of addressing them. Due to its effects on all the levels of education, ranging from students to policymakers, all the stakeholders’ efforts in the educational sector are crucial. The findings of this study regarding the improvement of teacher interactions with other players in the educational sector, stress, and classroom management skills, could significantly reduce burnout and attrition if applied. These interventions should also include the school and system levels owing to the complex nature of the problem. Thus, the current study provided insights that could help the school administrators and policymakers to develop and execute effective strategies for reducing stress, burnout, and attrition in the teaching profession. They are also expected to enhance the retention of teachers and result in better education outcomes.
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Brunsting, N. C., Sreckovic, M. A., & Lane, K. L. (2014). Special education teacher burnout: A synthesis of research from 1979 to 2013. Education & Treatment of Children, 37(4), 681-711.
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Jennings, P. A., Brown, J. L., Frank, J., Tanler, R., Doyle, S., Rasheed, D., … Greenberg, M. (2014). Promoting teachers’ social and emotional competence: A replication study of the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) program. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2-4.
McRae, A. (2014). Addressing the revolving door – Teacher burnout and attrition in K-12 education. PR with Panache. Retrieved from https://www.prwithpanache.com/client-news/ednet-insight-addressing-the-revolving-door-teacher-burnout-and-attrition-in-k-12-education
Mowers, E. N. (2010). Teacher burnout in North Dakota. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University.
Schaefer, L., Long, J. S., & Clandinin, D. J. (2012). Questioning the research on early career teacher attrition and retention. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 58(1), 106-121.
Steinhardt, M. A., Smith Jaggars, S. E., Faulk, K. E., & Gloria, C. T. (2011). Chronic work stress and depressive symptoms: Assessing the mediating role of teacher burnout. Stress and Health, 27(5), 420-429.
Van Maele, D., & Van Houtte, M. (2015). Trust in school: A pathway to inhibit teacher burnout? Journal of Educational Administration, 53(1), 93-115.