Prof. Yitzhak (Isaac) A. Friedman is the head of the Neuropedagogy Research Center and the head of the M.Ed. program in Educational Systems Administration at Achva Academic College, Israel.
Emotional burnout has been investigated intensively among teachers both at the beginning of their professional paths and later on. It was found that preliminary burnout is present among pre-service teachers as early as at the stage of being exposed to the reality of working with pupils, spending time in the teachers' room at the school, and coming into contact with the parents and the community. Key studies have shown that a salient cause of teacher burnout was the evolving of a wide gap between the initial expectations of professional self-efficacy and the exposure to the reality that is revealed in the professional work. This being the case, teacher burnout can be defined as a crisis of professional self-efficacy in teaching, which consists of three components: tasks, relationships, and the organizational aspect of the teacher's work. Environmental pressures have the ability to jeopardize one or more components of professional self-efficacy.
What can be done in order to reduce the risk of teacher burnout?
The possibilities of reducing the danger of burnout can be based on regarding the professional self-efficacy crisis as the basis for understanding the burnout process, and will be presented below.
1. The school's organizational sphere. In contrast to the prevailing thinking, according to which teaching and the interrelations with the pupils are the most stressful factors, current research has demonstrated that it is in fact the "teachers' room" and the atmosphere that prevails therein that can constitute a critically significant element of stress. Beginning teachers complain bitterly about the indifference, perhaps even the alienation, they experience on the part of their colleagues in the teachers' room – individuals who could in fact provide very powerful professional and personal support. In this context, it is possible to operate on two complementary planes: (1) the establishment of collegial support groups, and (2) the nurturing of a supportive environment.
(a) The creation of professional collegial support groups. The tenet that underlies this proposal posits that professional information and responses to queries concerning professional performance at work can be provided by experienced colleagues. In support groups such as these, the participants help one another with regard to information and various means of overcoming professional obstacles; they reinforce one another with their professional ability and obviate the need to seek burdensome external advice; they share similar and related professional problems and attempt to solve common ones. These support groups have well-known procedures, whose efficacy has been proven.
(b) The nurturing of a supportive and welcoming organizational environment. The environmental support of the school as an organization has been found to be of critical importance at the initial stages of beginning teachers' work. Many studies point to the fact that the school's organizational environment is an important key to preventing or alleviating pressures that arise. In this context, school principals would be well advised to: (i) adopt an inclusive, supportive, and encouraging administrative style; (ii) clarify the goals, objectives, and tasks associated with the teacher's role as well as the expectations of him/her; (iii) create open and flowing channels of communication within the school among the teachers themselves, between teachers and principal, between teachers and pupils, and between teachers and parents; (iv) enable the teachers to benefit from professional development.
2. The task component and the teacher's professional performance. Pre-employment training that is appropriate and tailored to the school reality has been found to constitute an extremely significant factor in coping with stressful situations at work – except that such training does not always relate to the truly stressful factors. Teaching students have reported that as early as the beginning of their work in the classroom, they are troubled mainly by the need to come up with ideas for preparing activities and to serve as figures of authority who are capable of imposing discipline and order. Beginning teachers have reported that in their preparation process, they lacked instruction in anything associated with creating teaching contents as well as in coping with children in various situations. Since it is well known that such instruction is indeed provided at the colleges, it seems that beginning teachers find it difficult to perceive the connection between the preparation they received and the practical work in the classroom. They become aware of the existence of discrepancies between the theories they learned and the actual practice, and as a result, their belief that teaching is a scientific profession that is derived from theory is seriously undermined. The awareness of the demands of the profession and the large areas of responsibility that exist in teaching reinforce the gap between training and actual performance.
These insights can lead to several directions of action such as holding workshops during the first months of teaching. These workshops would include (a) a workshop for improving teaching skills – in particular, dealing with discipline problems; (b) a workshop for organizational behavior in the school; (c) practical workshops for classroom management – in particular, acquiring practical tools in the following eight domains: (i) managing the physical environment of the classroom; (ii) planning and determining rules of conduct in the classroom; (iii) clarifying the allocation of responsibility, the obligations, and the joint expectations of pupils and teachers; (iv) maintaining the pupils' proper behavior; (v) planning and organizing teaching and learning; (vi) instruction pertaining to everything that is connected with the pupils' involvement in classroom work; (vii) achieving "good beginnings" of lessons; and (viii) working with pupils with special needs. Acceptance of this direction of action signifies a change in the teacher preparation process by dividing it into two obligatory stages – the pre-teaching stage and the during-actual-teaching stage – by altering the structure and contents of the induction.
3. Cultivating teaching styles that seek to target pupils' problems. On the basis of research that sought to reveal the pupils' point of view as regards the teachers' teaching patterns – namely, supporting cognitive and emotional learning – it is possible to suggest several directions for teacher preparation. Following are some examples: (a) emphasizing the pupils' successes rather than their failures and difficulties by attempting to analyze the difficulties and the causes of the lack of success in parallel to determining ways of improving achievements and avoiding future failures;
(b) cultivating humor (pupils appreciate light humor); (c) creating realistic levels of expectation (it is not a good idea to create levels of expectations that the pupils have no chance of reaching without a few or many interim stages).
4. Stress management. Stress management techniques can help teachers overcome pressure-fraught situations in their work. These techniques include physical activity, relaxation techniques, bio-feedback, and cognitive-behavioral techniques.