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Why Some Teachers Still Love Teaching While Others Burnout

Special / May 17, 2019

-Errol St.Clair Smith-

There’s a growing sense that a lot of teachers are mad as hell, and they are aren’t going to take it anymore. Take “what,” you ask? The long list of things that are wearing teachers down and driving many out of the profession.

You know the list. You’ve seen many versions in various countries, and much has also been penned about how teachers are responding. According to one respected report, eight percent of the teaching workforce is leaving every year. Another estimates that we’re talking about half a million teachers hitting the emergency exit button annually. Old news, right? But here’s where it gets interesting. While many articles point to teachers being dissatisfied with what teaching has become, very little has been written about a group of teachers who seem to be riding above these problems and enjoying teaching. These teachers and professors report loving teaching despite an educational climate that routinely leads to what many call burnout. We’re talking about teachers and professors who have flipped their instruction.

A Curious Discovery

Over the past 11 years, we’ve found that even great teachers in the best schools say they have experienced burnout. In fact, some say they’ve hit burnout multiple times in their teaching careers. Most describe the experience as a feeling that they simply can’t stomach even one more year of teaching. But they persist anyway. As one teacher noted:

“There’s an awful lot about teaching today that we didn’t sign up for. In spite of this, most teachers will continue to do the job. Most will do their best.” — Paul Murphy

But the cost of soldiering on for many is a lost love for teaching, apathy about “new teaching initiatives” and one eye fixed on their retirement date. And then there are those who practice Flipped Learning.

Otherworldly

Talking with Flipped Learning practitioners is like walking into an alternative universe. Yes, they experience and acknowledge the same issues other teachers have with education. They talk about being tired, being overwhelmed, and even looking forward to their summer break. But the one thing we’ve never heard a practicing Flipped Learning educator talk about is feeling burned out and ready to leave teaching. Which begged the questions, what’s up with that?

This month’s issue began with an informal survey of Flipped Learning educators. We asked them about burnout. We asked whether they had ever ever experienced burnout. We asked if they could explain why teachers who have moved from traditional lecture to Flipped Learning never seem to talk about burnout. Finally, we posed the question we thought would get us laughed out of the room: “Is it possible that Flipped Learning is a solution to burnout?” We were intrigued enough by what we heard to dedicate an entire issue to the subject.

We started by looking at what was already written on the topic. Three points quickly jumped out at us.

  • Some view burnout as a “problem with teachers” who just don’t have what it takes – The data suggest burnout is not about weak teachers. Burnout is not your fault.
  • Some view burnout as primarily a “systemic problem” that can only be fixed by school administrators and policymakers. The data suggests that this view is not true either.
  • Some make a distinction between “burnout” and being “demoralized” and disempowered. This is the view that we found most interesting, most relevant, and most explanatory of what may be going on with Flipped Learning educators.

Empowered Teachers

It’s interesting to note that Flipped Learning has primarily been a bottom-up movement. Most Flipped Learning teachers and professors around the world did not begin flipping their lessons or their classrooms because of a mandate from the front office, or the curriculum gods. Most teachers discovered Flipped Learning, saw the possibilities, and embraced it on their own.

Some started with the tacit support of their school leaders. Others snuck Flipped Learning in under the radar while maintaining the veneer of playing by the rules. Whatever route they took from traditional instruction to Flipped Learning, what’s clear is that Flipped Learning teachers seem to feel that that they’ve found a way to take back their power. A way to do what they got into education to do in the first place — to help turn on light bulbs in the heads on other human beings. So this issue is not really about burnout. It’s about how flipped teachers who were frustrated, angry and flirting with burnout, went from demoralized to empowered and what you might glean from their experiences.

Barriers to Empowerment

Despite the promise of Flipped Learning, a few developments may be blocking educators from discovering the Flipped Learning path to loving teaching.

Flipped Learning is a fad

For many K-12 teachers in the USA, Flipped Learning is a fad that came and went. Many have moved on to the new, new thing and are overlooking a path to empowerment that is hiding in plain sight.

Seduced by technology

There is ample evidence that education technology has become the driving force in education reform. Tech companies like Google Microsoft and Apple are locked in a pitched battle to dominate instructional priorities. Though educators report lackluster results, many school districts, schools, and teachers are simply too caught up in the tech wave and took a look at what Flipped Learning is doing for teachers and student learning.

Railing against the man

Around the world, we see an interesting development. Flipped Learning is slowly moving from a bottom-up movement to a top-down movement. Will educators still feel empowered if the idea to flip instruction is mandated by “the man” versus discovered and shared by teachers with teachers?

From Burned Out to Fired Up

We have no idea where the winds of education will take us tomorrow. What we do know is that in the midst of myriad ways that teaching is changing, Flipped Learning educators in at least 49 countries, have found a way to be empowered and love teaching no matter what. We think they are on to something.

Whether you read a few of the articles in this issue or read them all, we think you’ll find your story among them. More importantly, we hope one of these stories will help you find a way to beat burnout and stay fired up about teaching — no matter what.

30 FINAL EXAMS TO GRADE, 32 FINAL PAPERS TO READ, WHY AM I NOT BURNED OUT?

by Dr. Thomas Mennella

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TEACHING TIME

by Beth Lamb

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT ONE SIMPLE CHANGE MIGHT END TEACHER BURNOUT

by Dan Jones

TEACHING CAN CONSUME YOU: HERE’S HOW I MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T

by Steve Griffiths

AVOIDING THE TOP THREE NEWBIE MISTAKES THAT LEAD TO BURNOUT

by Aimee Shackleton

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOUR STAFF FROM BURNOUT?

by Terra Graves

IS WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW ABOUT TEACHING BURNING YOU OUT?

by Peter Santoro

FROM BURNED OUT TO TEACHER ON FIRE

by Dan Jones

WHEN YOU REACH THE END OF YOUR TEACHING ROPE, DO THIS

by Dr. Thomas Mennella






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Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve, led the development of community platforms for the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The updated book will be released this summer.




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