Stress and Burn-out
A teacher calls her unit president and describes an incident with a colleague who won't share her resources and binders. As the president and the teacher talk about the incident, the teacher becomes increasingly agitated. Her story expands to include interpersonal problems with two other teachers on staff. The teacher then tells the president about her sleeping problems. She says she used to love teaching but lately has been thinking about quitting.
The president thoroughly discusses the conflicts the teacher has with co-workers and offers advice on problem-solving techniques she could use to improve her working relationships. These strategies include taking a "time out" when an argument is brewing; asking for a third party (maybe the OECTA school rep) to sit in on discussions; writing down her concerns prior to meeting with co-workers; focusing on the "real" problem. These and other strategies will help the teacher cope with her immediate problem with colleagues.
The president also discusses the other difficulties the teacher has mentioned. Sleep disorders and the desire to quit are symptoms of stress and possibly burnout which the teacher needs to recognize if she is to get help. The president can give her a copy of the OECTA booklet, Helpful Tips for Teachers, which she may find useful.
The teacher's school board may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) whose services, usually free, may be of great benefit. The teacher may also want to talk with her doctor. Sometimes a few days off work and a better understanding of the stress can help teachers cope. Whatever the cause of stress, it is important not to ignore the symptoms as they can escalate into larger problems.
The teacher is exhibiting all the tell-tale signs of stress and burnout. Increased conflict and reduced patience with co-workers are symptoms of stress, as are sleeping problems and the desire to quit. Gradually losing the passion for teaching is a common symptom of burnout.
All workplaces have worker conflict; schools are no exception. We may not like all our colleagues, but we do need to get along professionally. We cannot ignore interpersonal conflicts if they start to interfere with our ability to teach.
Stress and burnout are significant problems in professions that deal with human services - teaching, nursing, counselling. A study from Johns Hopkins University concluded that teaching has the fourth highest rate of stress in all occupations. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, estimates that 80 per cent of health care costs are stress-related.
OECTA recognizes this growing problem. The constant changes in education, increased responsibilities coupled with de-creased supports, the ever-increasing attacks on the profession, are some reasons behind the increase in stress. We may not be able to eliminate these causes of stress, but we can offer assistance.