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How many of you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders because of the past couple of school years? From the pandemic to school shootings to scrambling to keep schools running amidst the teacher shortage, it’s no wonder that educators feel burned out and demoralized. If you have questioned whether you should stay in the field of education, you are not alone. Keep reading for ten small steps in and out of the art room you can take to support yourself and reduce burnout.
Both burnout and demoralization are types of work dissatisfaction. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s important to clarify that burnout is a medical diagnosis resulting from compounding factors caused by someone’s work and their relationship with work. As such, it is an outdated notion to assume that using only better self-care practices or stress management will eliminate burnout. While it will help, it will not fully resolve most people’s feelings of burnout.
While the symptoms of burnout are serious and need attention, they are considered temporary states.
Demoralization, on the other hand, is a complex process. Philosopher of education, Doris A. Santoro, conducts empirical research examining teachers’ work concerns. She explains that demoralization happens when “a value-conflict [is] experienced as a result of policies, mandates, and school practices.” When teachers feel “unable to access the intrinsic rewards of their work, believe they are complicit in wrongdoing or find that they are incapable of meeting their ethical obligations,” their ability to do meaningful, value-based work is compromised.
Teachers love their jobs and are passionate about providing high-quality education for students. However, a study conducted this year by Merrimack College and EdWeek Research found that only 12% of teachers are “very satisfied” with their jobs. Educators For Excellence’s annual survey called Voices From the Classroom found that “counter to the national narrative, most teachers remain committed to staying in the classroom long term.” They also found that teachers of color are “far less likely” to say teaching is sustainable.
Teachers feel pressure to be resilient and flexible, but the last two years have seen a crisis of low morale and burnout at a growing rate. The collective trauma some of us have encountered proves we are vulnerable and need help.
When the National Education Association surveyed its members this past spring, 55% of teachers reported considering leaving the profession earlier than planned. In the 2022 State of Art Education Survey we conducted, more than half of our respondents said they feel burned out at least once weekly. 41% of respondents cited they feel a lack of respect as art educators.
At Education Week’s three-day Leadership Symposium, panelists discussed findings from teachers surveyed. They listed “more recognition, flexible schedules, and better pay” as a remedy to sentiments of low morale. Undoubtedly, there’s a dire need to improve pay structures and schedules.
Feeling stuck and powerless keeps us in a cycle of low morale. It can feel overwhelming to advocate when in this vulnerable position. Consider the options, and decide what feels manageable. Whether you put your energy toward cultivating inner peace or national reform, it’s vital to take action and break the cycle.
Let’s look at two approaches for managing symptoms of burnout and demoralization. Short-term actions will help you get back on your feet, feel energized about your job, and support a hopeful, positive outlook. Long-term solutions revolve around influencing change in your immediate sphere as well as advocating for measures that improve the broader field of education.
Because burnout and demoralization can leave us feeling powerless and stuck, it’s important to take actions that begin to recognize and address problems. Short-term goals aim to create a perspective shift and direct energy into reigniting your passion for art education.
Social reciprocity between educators has been shown to reduce burnout. This is a proactive strategy that supports leaning on your colleagues. Share strategies and lesson ideas. Delegate tasks when possible. Attend a conference or join a Facebook group to network with like-minded art educators.
2. Make Art With Me!
Reclaim your joy by making art with the AOEU community. Join us on IG Live with your favorite art materials to create therapeutic art that will recharge your batteries.
Honor your time by adhering to specific work hours and manageable timeframes. You can use a tagline under your email signature stating something along the lines of, “Thank you for your email. My working hours are from 8–3 p.m., and I will be happy to respond during that timeframe.” It’s a small step, but art teachers are notorious for staying late to grade projects, take work home, and catch up on emails around the clock.
Talking about your concerns is an essential step toward acknowledging problems. There are several things your school leaders can do to help. Schedule time to check in to keep the lines of communication clear and open to help decrease anxiety. During this time, discuss the following topics with your administrator to ensure everyone is on the same page. Through this process, you may find areas where you need to advocate for yourself.
Here are some clarifying questions to guide a conversation with your administrator:
5. Take time off.
Step away from the classroom. This can be a break or time to determine the next step. Read this article for considerations about staying in art education or trying something new.
Demoralization cannot be solved overnight. Many teachers are faced with impossible decisions right now. Relief can come in the form of being able to carry out meaningful work. Sustainable change is possible by advocating for policies that support teachers’ abilities to perform their duties.
Morale tends to remain high when the district, school board, and administration listen and respond in ways that acknowledge they understand educators’ concerns. Better working conditions are achieved holistically when each stakeholder works toward a shared vision.
Engage and nurture the influence of parents by partnering with them early and often. Parents and caregivers can be amazing allies that show up for you and your students when you most need them.
Attend your school board meetings regularly and keep up-to-date with decisions. To share your educator’s perspective, contribute to the conversation by following the procedure to submit a public comment. Leverage your voice by getting to know your school board. It’s much more challenging to react to policy change than to be part of the conversation influencing it.
Unions exist at the school, local, state, regional, and national levels. Consider attending union meetings and learning their values. No matter where you stand on their impact, unions have power, and you can influence them by taking part. There are two major national unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. They each conduct research, advocate for policy changes, and provide expertise in the field.
If achieving meaningful educational reforms is important to you, how you vote matters. Once legislators are in office, communicate about issues that matter to you. You can stay up-to-date on policy actions using the database called Education Commission of the States.
The demand for mental health services nearly doubled in 2021. You are your best advocate for taking care of yourself. To hone in on what specifically weighs you down, talk about it. If you are struggling with where to start, many benefit plans offer free or low-cost, in-person or virtual mental health services. Many larger school districts may also offer their own counseling resources.
Undoubtedly, these are challenging times for the teaching profession. There are no easy solutions, but there are supportive ways to cope and many opportunities to move forward. It’s vital to break the burnout cycle and be aware of the factors contributing to demoralization. You have a lot of power to make small changes in your own personal and professional life to be your healthiest art teacher self possible.
AOEU has many resources available to support your self-care and help you access joy as an art educator:
Share one way you have persevered through a work challenge.
What are your best tips for advocating for change?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.