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Change the Workplace, Not the Person, to Fight Burnout (Opinion)

To the Editor:

In recent years, especially since the pandemic, it seems that “burnout” has joined the lexicon of buzzwords and acronyms that pervade the teaching profession. (“How I’m Keeping Ahead of Burnout: 4 Tips for Teachers,” Feb. 20, 2024).

In their book, The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs, psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter define burnout as “crushing exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and alienation, and a sense of ineffectiveness.” This is certainly rampant in the teacher workforce. As our awareness of this phenomenon and its contributors grow, research is now shifting in support of the position that burnout is not an issue with the individual but rather the conditions of the workplace.

Maslach and Leiter cite six areas where workers can be in a mismatch with their workplace: workload, control, rewards, community, fairness, and values. These workplace conditions vary from district to district and school building to school building. It is this uniqueness that prevents research from being able to provide one prescription to cure burnout. Further complicating the picture are expectations contributing to burnout that women teachers in particular may face from society, colleagues, and leaders.

While one can appreciate tips to help teachers navigate this experience, it is more appropriate now to investigate the workplace conditions that allow burnout to fester. Given the challenges in attracting and retaining teachers in classrooms across the country, we can no longer blame the victim.

Kim Kneller
Science Teacher
Allentown, Pa.

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