Compassion fatigue takes toll on teachers

The psychological and emotional strain on teachers brought on by ever- increasing demands affects students in ways that are not fully appreciated (“Who Is Taking Care of Teachers?” Education Week, May 8).  This compassion fatigue is insidious, slowly but surely undermining morale.

Chronic stress, which 46 percent of teachers report, forces them to call in sick.  The more absences teachers rack up, the less time they spend with their students.  It’s not surprising that teachers in schools with a large percentage of disadvantaged students are out more than their colleagues in other schools.  That’s because those students bring huge deficits to the class through no fault of their own.  Teachers have to attend to their needs before teaching subject matter. Excessive absences are then reflected in student underachievement in the former.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Burnout results in disengagement, which means merely going through the motions. A 2015 poll found nearly two-thirds were “not engaged.”  How can they be helped?  Unfortunately, schools and districts fail to provide the support teachers badly need.  The media pile on by focusing only on negative news.  Telling teachers about the importance of exercise and diet is important, but I question if that is nearly enough.

The way the typical school day is structured leaves little time to attend to personal needs.  That’s why I think it’s worthwhile scheduling periodic pupil-free days or at least shortened days so that teachers can confer with their colleagues and receive outside assistance.  I seriously doubt that will happen, as pressure mounts for measurable outcomes.  My suggestion would be seen as time away from instruction.  But instruction is only as good as the state of the mental and physical health of the teachers who provide it.

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One Reply to “Compassion fatigue takes toll on teachers”

  1. I would suggest that choosing a profession where you have great responsibility, visibility and accountability but are generally not viewed as a true professional, nor paid like one, might have more to do with teacher fatigue than diet and exercise.

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