Can we prevent teachers from ‘burning out’?


The Spanish education system has once again received a slap on the wrist through the recent OECD report . Proposals for reducing early school leaving include the need to support teachers so that they can manage the new demands of education and the practice of their profession does not lead to frustration and the well-known burnout syndrome, since it has a direct influence on the quality of education.

The report makes an x-ray of the starting situation in which job instability and the need for greater teacher professional development stand out.

Data from previous reports, such as the Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) , allude to the low percentage of teachers who state that they have received pedagogical and didactic training during their initial training to teach the subjects for which they are responsible today. In addition, it is verified how new teachers feel less prepared to teach, compared to the OECD average .

The latter, together with the aforementioned job instability in the early years, creates an unflattering breeding ground for pursuing the profession.

Some progress

Despite this panorama, not everything is dark: the advances made in initial teacher training are also recognized. Thus, measures such as the opening of a national debate on the 24 reform proposals for the improvement of the teaching profession proposed by the Spanish government as the basis for a debate within the framework of the recent reform of the Education Law are praised.

Its lines revolve around access to the profession and concrete and innovative actions regarding teacher professional development, both from initial and ongoing training.

A good approach, part of the solution

The note of attention on the importance of socio-emotional competencies in the selection processes for teacher training is very interesting.

The report places most of the responsibility on the State and the Autonomous Communities, as promoters of these policies. But an important part of the assignment falls on the universities, responsible for training future teachers.

Both the aspects related to emotional management and the so-called soft skills, the ability to solve problems and resistance to stress are fundamental areas for teacher training and development that are currently taken very little into account.

Avoid getting burned

In line with stress management, the burnout syndrome (known by the English term burnout ) that teachers face at all educational levels is too well known. Defined as prolonged physical and mental exhaustion over time, it is associated with an excessive and increasing workload. The complex contexts of current education or the lack of a teaching community also have an influence. All of this ultimately leads to a devaluation of the quality of teaching.

Although experienced by the entire union, this syndrome is especially harmful in science teachers and affects the education of mathematics, physics and chemistry, technology or engineering. These teachers access the profession from scientific-technological careers, knowing first-hand the processes of science.

Thus, he is subjected to the tensions caused by a change in his professional identity towards a science teacher. This results in unfulfilled expectations and contributes negatively to the already difficult task of awakening students’ interest in science and technology and balancing the gender gap in STEM education .

The identity, key

Educational research is focusing on the development of a teaching identity . A concept that is promoted from initial training and is linked to socio-emotional, personal and professional aspects.

This is a measure to reflect on one’s own teaching future and the conception of constructivist teaching and learning models. In them, the students are responsible for building their own learning, becoming the center of it, always with the guidance and support of the teacher.

These approaches are associated with active methodologies such as scientific inquiry or argumentation, which break with the repetition of the methods learned in the student stage (too often, linked to traditional models that do not fit current demands .

From where and to where

Our research with science teachers in initial and new training (those with less than five years of experience) has investigated reflection on educational practice and awareness of the development of teacher identity.

The process is complex given its multifactorial nature. There are also few tools to analyze the evolution of self-identity in educational practice.

But even with the right tools, in practice there is a lack of time to spend looking at where we come from and where we want to go as teachers. However, it is always satisfying to see how these future teachers inquire about their own teaching identity and how it has been shaped throughout their lives.

At this point, we can conclude that teachers who experience an active methodology during their student years, and who are accompanied and provide spaces for reflection on their professional development, become the best promoters of science learning.

Awareness, identity, quality

We must encourage future teachers, those who will contribute to the scientific training of an active and responsible citizenry, to build their teaching identity.

Identity can be a philosophy to adhere to, that serves as a frame of reference, in those moments in which your scientific and pedagogical foundations are shaken, when you are overwhelmed by the demands of your work, which moves away from the ideal that you harbor in your mind as a student that you were and a lover of science that you are.

This teaching identity should allow them to develop the didactic aspect of their scientific training, and equip themselves with a good dose of resilience to lead their students on the right path of science.

Author Bios: Cristina Garcia Ruiz is the Ramón y Cajal Researcher · Experimental Sciences Didactics Area and Jorge Luque Jimenez is on the Research staff Didactic Area of ​​Experimental Sciences both at the University of Malaga