The mental health crisis has become an increasingly pressing issue in society, affecting individuals across various ages and professions. Teachers and school staff are no exception—increasing academic stress for their students coupled with the challenges of the educational system have led to a situation where many teachers are facing their own mental health concerns.
Teachers have long been known for their dedication and passion for education. However, the increasing demands and expectations placed on them have taken a toll on their mental wellbeing. Factors such as heavy workloads, administrative pressures, student behavioral issues, and the need to meet academic standards have created an environment that can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.
Teachers are often expected to fill many roles—educators, counselors, mentors, and caregivers. They invest their time and energy into supporting their students’ well-being, often neglecting their own. This neglect, in addition to persistent stress, emotional exhaustion, and a lack of work–life balance can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and even a loss of passion for their occupation. Data supports this as more than 270,000 teachers have left the profession each year since 2016, and the trend is expected to continue through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This isn’t a new problem—relative to other professionals, teachers report experiencing significantly more stress and higher levels of mental health problems. According to a study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, 21 percent of educators characterized their mental health as not good for 11 or more days out of the previous 30 days, which is significantly higher than respondents in the general public, of whom less than 10 percent poor mental health during that same time period.
What can teachers do to prioritize their mental health?
Here are four ways teachers can be proactive about protecting their mental health and preventing burnout:
Past studies showed that teachers spend approximately 1,913 hours teaching annually. For comparison purposes, an average full-time employee in any industry works about 1,932 hours spread over 48 weeks. However, teachers work close to that before any other activities, such as mentoring students, leading student organizations, and coaching teams, all of which is termed “extra-role time” behavior. Teachers who engage in extra-role time at night or on weekends, in addition to their already heavy workload, may feel like work begins to creep into their own time, leading to a poor work–life balance, which then plays a role in burnout and poor mental health.
Furthermore, chronic absenteeism has risen in both students and staff, meaning that many schools that were already short-staffed are now asking their teachers to do even more—covering classes when other teachers miss school, giving up free periods, and relying on administrators to cover where they can.
Research has shown that teacher morale is directly related to student achievement and sets the tone for the classroom. Teachers are also more likely to retire early or stop working if they are depressed or don’t feel emotionally or physically well, and it is well-established that states of high stress can negatively impact immunity and physical health.
What can schools do to help prevent teacher burnout?
To mitigate the factors contributing to burnout and poor mental health, proactive measures must be taken before the school year begins. Schools can support teachers by implementing the following strategies:
Prioritizing teachers' mental health is essential for creating a healthy and productive learning environment. Teachers and school staff have an enormous impact on the lives of students—being sure they are taking proactive measures to support their mental health is an utmost priority for every community.
American Federation of Teachers. (2017). 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/2017_eqwl_survey_web.pdf
American University School of Education. (2021). Addressing teacher burnout: Causes, symptoms, and strategies. School of Education Online Programs. https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/teacher-burnout/
Bosquet, S. (2012). Teacher burnout: Causes, cures, and prevention. American International College, pp. 1-22. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED534527
Chang, M. (2009). An appraisal perspective of teacher burnout: Examining the emotional work of teachers. Educational Psychology Review, 21, pp. 193-218. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-16757-001
Roloff, M.E., & Brown, L.A. Extra-Role Time, Burnout and Commitment: The Power of Promises Kept. Business Communication Quarterly, 2011, 74(4), pp. 450-474.[2,9,11,14,22,25] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254078981_Extra-Role_Time_Burnout_and_Commitment_The_Power_of_Promises_Kept