Is Teaching An Unsustainable Profession?

Is Teaching an Unsustainable Profession?  To outsiders, teaching seems like a dream profession. The hours are reasonable, the pay is decent and there are plenty of holidays and days off.

In reality, few professions create the levels of burnout and stress that teaching does. According to the National Education Association, 20% of all new teachers quit in the first three years. In urban schools, the rate is 50% in the first five years.

I detailed some of the reasons for this high turnover in an earlier post. In this one, I take a closer look at burnout.

What Causes Teacher Burnout?

According to the American Federation of Teachers, almost all teachers say that they started their careers with high levels of enthusiasm. Several years after they start, that enthusiasm level drops markedly. Here are some reasons for that drop.

1. Teachers Have Too Much Work

Most teachers are now expected to attend development classes, provide specialized training for standardized tests, grading papers and parent-teacher meetings. At many schools, they’re also expected to add coaching, club supervision, individual tutoring and many other responsibilities to an already-packed schedule. Teachers regularly work overtime and bring work home, but they aren’t paid for this extra work.

2. Many Teachers Now Have to Work Second Jobs

In addition to the high workload at school, many teachers also have to contend with a second job. While it’s common for teachers to get a part-time job during summers, it’s now increasingly common for them to work during the school year as well.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 17.9% of teachers now work a second part-time job. Teachers are also five times more likely to work a second job than any other full-time workers.

It’s clear that teacher salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living in most areas. In fact, adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries have remained flat for the past 10 years.

That said, some school districts have found that raising pay may not be enough. Most teachers would accept their salaries if they worked in more supportive environments, which brings us to the next reason.

3. Teachers Work In Stressful Environments

According to an in-depth article in Psychology Today by Jenny Grant Rankin, burnout among teachers has reached epidemic levels. Rankin cites a number of authoritative studies which came to the following conclusions:

  • “Teachers who do an excellent job are often working in unsustainable conditions (e.g., 60 hours per week, relentless stress, inadequate resources, lack of support or time.)
  • At “no excuses” schools where idealistic, energetic teachers work overtime to help struggling students, teachers typically leave after only a few years on the job.
  • In challenging schools, teachers’ job requirements and the intensity required to meet them are not realistic to sustain for more than two to three years.”

Burnout or Demoralization?Is Teaching an Unsustainable Profession?

One educator thinks that “burnout” is an imprecise term. It implies that the problem is simply an excess of work, whereas what’s really happening goes beyond that.

Doris Santoro, author of the 2018 book Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and Why They Can Stay, says that teachers feel demoralized because they feel cut off from levels of emotional and support.

The Bowdoin College news site recently featured an interview with Santoro, who explained that she preferred this term because it explained the feeling of letdown that many teachers describe.

“Teachers are leaving the profession because they’re demoralized,” Santoro said. “They find their work frequently under political attack, which causes increasing anxiety and depression among them. This is often compounded by the demands made by standardized testing and rigid curriculum mandates. So, I’m finding that people who chose a career because they care about young people and want to help them have found themselves working under increasingly difficult and straightened conditions.”

Teacher Burnout Can Be Deadly

Teachers experience and express burnout in particularly debilitating ways. At the Guardian newspaper in England, an anonymous writer who goes by the byline Secret Teacher wrote a series of articles detailing her struggles with an overwhelming, suicidal depression.

In one article, she relates that she realized that she didn’t really want to die. She just didn’t want to be a teacher anymore.

“Too many good teachers are off work due to stress,” she wrote. “Too many are just surviving thanks to antidepressants, too many are self-medicating with alcohol and too many have succumbed to the illness and just killed themselves.”

Can Anything Be Done About Teacher Burnout?

Many educators and education professionals have proposed several steps to mitigate the problem. Typically, these include:

  • Mentoring partnerships with experienced teachers who have successfully navigated the difficult first years.
  • Peer support groups with other teachers.
  • Better recognition of mental health struggles among teachers.
  • Resources that help teachers do their jobs better, from school supplies to lighter workloads.
  • Compassionate interventions for teachers who are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. In the end, nobody can predict when the levels of burnout will become unsustainable for each teacher. As the problem continues to attract attention, it’s possible that new solutions will emerge.

Alternative Choices

If you’re struggling to keep your head above water, it may be helpful to know that you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. You’re probably having a normal reaction to circumstances that have become unsustainable.

If you want to continue teaching, it’s all right to ask for help.

If leaving the classroom seems to be a better choice, a viable alternative is to take the skills and knowledge you’ve developed in the classroom and turn it into your own online business.

Starting your own online business, whether it’s a blog or website, will allow you to chart your own future without the need to pin your hopes and income on other people.

Check out my #1 recommendation for building an online business.  They provide wonderful hosting, amazing tools, and teach you everything you’ll need to know.  

Here’s a small sample of the over 100 things I’ve learned so far:

  • A fast, easy way to build a website.
  • How to use WordPress.
  • What keywords are and how to choose the best.
  • How to write posts/articles people will want to read.
  • How to use social media to your best advantage.
  • Why being indexed by Google is important, and how to make it happen.

You’ll also find a community of like-minded individuals who understand your dream, and want to see you succeed.  Many of us have friends and family who simply do not understand our desire to have our own business. They can feel confused and this can cause you to feel like the lone ranger.

You are never alone in your journey here, with access to live mentoring and a superior site support department.   

It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns and is the place where I have learned everything you see on this website.  You’ll find everything you need to start your own unique business!

Plus, you’ll be joining over one million helpful folks there, many of them current and former teachers, like me.

Best of all, you can check it out for yourself at no cost or obligation.  Why wait any longer to turn that dream of yours into a reality?

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14 thoughts on “Is Teaching An Unsustainable Profession?”

  1. I am not a teacher but I have some idea what this is about. I started to take education classes in college after I finished my degree in anthropology. Anthropology is a difficult field to find a job in so I considered teaching. I think I would enjoy the actual teaching but the education courses showed me that teaching in a public school was not for me. I am so glad I did the in-class observation in a school that shed light on the problems you outline here. 

    The class was in an elementary school and I was to be a teacher aide. It was an eye opening and entirely depressing experience. I felt down and negative after just one day. The teacher was totally “burned out” and demoralized. I felt bad for her. There was a little girl in this class that asked me for help. She spoke English well but was behind in math. She asked me repeatedly for help. I tried to help her but there was not enough time. I asked the teacher after class if there was tutoring available after school. She said there was but that would not be an option for this girl or many others. I asked why and she said it is because their parents get offended at the suggestion their kid needs help! If the parents don’t agree, there is nothing a teacher can do! This makes sense of course but it is just one example of the lack of support teachers get and the uphill battles they face constantly. You cannot discipline kids, you can’t make them do their homework and you certainly can’t make any progress if their parents are actively stopping you. I really believe the teachers are in an impossible situation now with so many rules and restrictions and so many unsupportive parents. 

    One of our tenants is a teacher and she has similar stories. Many kids get passed onto higher grades now even if they can’t do the work or pass the tests. School has changed immensely and this lack of support from parents is common. They will scream if you suggest their kid is not perfect in every way and the teachers can do nothing but pass the kid on to the next grade. Of course all parents are not this way but there are a lot of them.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to respond.  As you realized, teaching can be very rewarding.  However, there are numerous things that prevent that from happening.  

      My heart goes out to the little girl you described and the teacher you were assisting.  So many children do not make adequate progress.  It’s too easy to single out the teacher instead of asking if other factors are causing the problems our schools are facing.  Teachers have a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on them, but almost no authority to carry out those responsibilities.  As a result, many of them struggle with burnout and demoralization, as did the teacher your worked with.  Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I’ve honestly never known how teachers cope with what happens in the classroom. Long workdays, having to conform to so many rules and regulations, as well as adapt to so many different student personalities would drain anyone. Sure, most teachers get the summer off, but still, the nine to ten-month run during the school year is a gauntlet and I’ve personally known teachers going through the same thing, most notably having to work second jobs just to stay financially afloat. 

    • Hi Todd,

      Thanks for stopping by.  As you noted, many teachers are busy working through those summer breaks just to make ends meet.  In addition, a great many of them are busy during the summer taking courses and other training to keep their credentials up to date.  

      A lot of people don’t realize that teachers must complete a certain number of units every five to 10 years in order to renew their credentials.  This is one more thing that gets added to the work load, and at teacher expense.  While many employers cover employee expenses for continuing education, school districts do not.  It come out of the teacher’s pocket.  Thanks for bringing up an important, but almost unknown, fact of life for teachers!

  3. Well said Nancy,

    I used to be a part-time teacher back in university, so I know exactly how draining it feels. I excelled at some subjects, so the university decided to hire me part-time to teach after class.  So, that means every day I would have to stay up until night time, 9 pm since morning.   

    And, you can bet how depressed I actually got.  Albeit the money.  I learned to respect teachers more after that.  Truly a wonder how they can go through that tiredness.   

    Spreading love to all teachers around the world! 😀

    • Hi Riaz,

      You brought up a very important point.  The long hours, and the amount of planning required to be prepared for the next day’s classes.  As you noted, teaching is a draining job.  

      I suspect that the constant tiredness that you mentioned is partly responsible for the burnout and depression so many teachers are dealing with.

      Thanks for joining the conversation and spreading a little world-wide love to all teachers!  

  4. I’ve always been amazed at how much is expected of teachers nowadays.  They’re supposed to adhere to ‘approved’ and new teaching guidelines that ensure no children are left behind, but when problems arise, it’s often that people blame the teacher. 

    Education has definitely grown in the years since I was in school, in some ways it’s been excellent.  In other ways, I’m not so sure.  There’s more demand on the teachers now than there ever was before, so I’m unsurprised teachers are facing burnout and demoralization.  Excellent article.

    • Thanks so much for the kind comment.  Education has always been a political hot potato, but it’s almost become impossible in today’s teaching environment.  

      There are so many groups with varying agendas involved, that it can be mind numbing.  As you’ve noticed, there’s never a shortage of people ready to criticize the classroom teacher.  I’m glad you took the time to add your views to the conversation.

  5. I have several friends who are teachers, several of whom are actively looking for another line of work. With that said, one of my close friends does it pretty much for its own sake. 

    She’s always talking about how some of the teachers around her view it as just a job now, which I can imagine would happen a lot in light of the problems they face in today’s world. She views it more as a calling, which I find very admirable at a time when so few people think that way about any profession. 

    I think those who stick to it would just about have to be driven by something like that, because there aren’t many people out there who would do something that involved a ton of work, little pay, poor appreciation, and even some very unruly students. It’s a pretty thankless job, unfortunately.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for taking the time to add a very important perspective.  I’m sure your friend who views teaching as a calling is doing wonderful things for her students.  I sounds as if she has found something deep inside herself that allows her to continue on in the face of so many obstacles.  

      Except for Teacher Appreciate Week, it can be an incredibly thankless job.

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Thank you for bringing a very real and too silent an issue to us all.  My parents were both teachers and retired in the 1990’s after 30+ years in teaching in mainly private schools here in Australia, and how times have changed!

    Teachers are so important to our society in the formation role they have over our children, our future generation. To hear that many are working 60 hours per week, have relentless stress, inadequate resources, lack of support or time is quite alarming.  Also that so many are turning to a second part-time job to make ends meet is even more alarming.  These beautiful people shouldn’t be under so much work and financial stress.  The work stress sounds inhumane really.  To read of that poor teacher struggling with overwhelming suicidal depression – whoa! Something has to be done.

    Back to my parents working careers.  They had great balance, lots of holidays and plenty of family time and a happy childhood for us all with the family camping vacations.  We never had much financially, but we had time together as a family and mum & dad both had a good work-life balance.

    How times have changed!  What happened between the 1960’s-1990’s (my parents teaching careers) to now??

    In the news here in Australia, it’s all too frequent of the violence against teachers too.  It doesn’t help that society is going backwards a bit.  Family breakdowns lead to more troubled children and teachers bear the brunt of much of this.

    Thanks so much Nancy for shedding light on this very real problem.

    • Hi John,

      The childhood you described sounds wonderful.  It’s the reason many people went into teaching.  It was a great way to earn an adequate income and have the same vacation days as your children.  

      As you read, teachers of today don’t have the same lifestyle to look forward to.  Between the lack of a living wage, and the threat of violence in the classroom, it’s not a job for the faint of heart.  

      I agree with you.  There is a lot about modern society that has contributed to many of the problems in our schools.  Our children deserve better.

      Thanks for taking the time to joint the discussion.

  7. I have to say that I really think you did a great job on the website. I can really relate about the phones in the class room. My nephew can not put down his phone in class and outside of class.

    It is a frustration for teachers because they probably do feel as though nothing is getting through to their students. I am a firm believer that children should not get started with electronics at an early age.

    • It is a huge frustration for teachers when students are glued to those tiny screens during a lesson! I’ve read the research on how doodling helps with concentration in the classroom. But, this just isn’t the same thing.

      Your point about children not getting too early a start with electronics is also well-documented. Unfortunately, most people overlook the problems and only embrace the benefits.

      I hope you’re able to get your nephew to spend a little less time on his cell. The benefits will be well-worth the efforts.

      Thanks for joining the conversation, and for the kind words. I appreciate it!


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