“Reasons for teacher burnout and ways to combat it.”


Rebecca Eliahoo

Judging from recent headlines in the UK, teacher burnout and occupational stress are contributing to a crisis in teacher retention – from primary and secondary school teachers to further and higher education lecturers.

It’s not just the UK that suffers from the negative effects of teacher burnout, as a recent joint research project involving teachers in Russia and Portugal demonstrates.

Last week, at the SPACE[1]Conference in Kavala, researchers from Russia and Portugal presented their joint project: Teacher burnout – the problem in higher education and some directions to solve it.

Portugal’s Anabela Mesquita and Russia’s Ilghiz Sinagatullin collaborated with their colleagues to ask teachers in Portugal and Russia similar research questions, with a view to finding out whether the causes of teacher burnout were the same across both of their very different countries.

The Russian and Portuguese teachers were asked to look at four large areas for intervention: pedagogy; scientific research; management; and knowledge exchange. What did they think were causal factors in teacher burnout? Which small changes might have a positive impact on their professional lives?

In Portugal, teachers complained about excessive bureaucracy, big classes, inappropriate behaviour by students; and too many curricular units to teach.

In Russia, teachers said that their huge academic workload, poor working conditions and low salaries had led to a lack of motivation. Like the Portuguese respondents, they also suffered from unnecessary paperwork, as well as rigid and systematic control and what they called ‘test nightmares’ leading to the burden of over-assessment.

Solutions from both countries included a large reduction in bureaucracy; greater collaboration and exchange; as well as increased opportunities for sabbatical leave.

Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly in need of effective change management methodologies because of the introduction of new technology, new models of pedagogy; government and regulatory changes; and a greater diversity of student cohorts.

As part of a collaboration between EAPRIL[2]and SPACE, I presented research on the benefits and challenges of mentoring teachers in education. Mentoring can be a potent and transformative professional relationship, which is one of the reasons why it is used for the support and induction of beginning teachers and lecturers in the UK.

In this context, mentoring was defined as a one-to-one relationship between a relatively inexperienced teacher and a relatively experienced teacher which aims to support the mentee’s professional development, wellbeing and integration not only into their own organisation but also into the wider teaching profession (Hobson and Malderez 2013).

I asked my international colleagues at SPACE whether there were mentoring programmes for teaching staff in their institutions. They said that, although there was mentoring in place for students, there was little systematic and monitored mentoring for teachers in their countries.  The feeling was that sustainable and well implemented mentoring could help combat teacher burnout.

In the UK, I would like to see acknowledgement of the importance of mentoring in education being translated into practical action, such as effective mentor training as well as timetabled hours for both mentors and mentees.

No country can afford the ill effects of teacher burnout.


[1]SPACE is an international network of predominantly professional higher education institutions in the fields of business, languages, entrepreneurship and hospitality. The network provides participation in a wide range of projects and assistance with the submission and management of European projects, new teaching & learning and conceptual and applied research/innovation, besides being a space for sharing and disseminating new teaching and learning materials and methodologies, research & innovation, and outcomes of projects.

[2]The European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning.