It’s no secret: burnout is causing professors to leave academia in droves. According to Forbes, more than half a million teachers in the U.S. have left higher ed since the beginning of 2020. Further data reveals that workload burden is a major predictor of faculty attrition. If you’re starting to feel the pressure rise, you’re not alone. Don’t let teacher burnout creep up on you next term with these tips to maintain balance and resilience in your professional life. 

Teacher burnout symptoms

Increased research responsibilities. Additional grading. Managing a team of teaching assistants. All of the above. Teachers are quitting their jobs in academia because of pure exhaustion. The first step to overcome burnout is recognizing early symptoms. 

Dragging yourself to work, having trouble being productive and finding it hard to concentrate on a task may be a sign that burnout is taking over your job. And if you’re physically or emotionally exhausted, the quality of education you deliver may begin to suffer. Nor will you be the most resourceful mentor to students who need academic or emotional support. Data from The Chronicle of Higher Education reveals the compounding effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on academic stress rates. Nine percent of professors considered themselves ‘very stressed’ in 2019. A year later, that figure jumped to 33 percent. 

Teacher burnout causes 

There’s a high probability that you or a close colleague have felt overwhelmed with work demands recently. The World Health Organization classifies work-related burnout as a major part of chronic stress—and even categorizes burnout as an “epidemic.” Academics are nearly three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than other adults, which means prioritizing personal well-being is key to avoiding stress and burnout. Here are some tips on how you can realign your life to avoid feeling suffocated by work.

Teacher burnout prevention

  1. Life is an important part of work-life balance

Ensure you give yourself enough space away from your work: Research shows how more time with family and focusing on leisure activities lead to reduced burnout. As former First Lady Michelle Obama believes, “If we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to-do’ list.” It’s necessary then to adopt a stricter work-life balance which will boost your mental and emotional state. Doing so will also ensure routine tasks don’t become mundane.

  1. Ensure you are well-rested

Research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that one in five adults fail to get enough sleep. Professors can get so caught up with grading, teaching and researching that sleep is put on the back burner until a satisfactory amount of work is complete. Sleep deprivation may lead to higher anxiety, poor decision-making, lack of energy and lack of concentration. Getting enough sleep can help you stay motivated, alert and engaged, meaning teaching never becomes a tedious task.

  1. Learn to step back

Although it may look great on a CV to have multiple committees and activities listed, it’s healthy to say no every now and again. You might engage in plenty of activities outside of your job requirements, such as helping a co-worker draft a committee proposal. But these seemingly small acts can only fuel the cycle of teacher burnout. The literature shows that extra-role behaviors are frequently taken on by instructors, which in turn contributes to increased workplace stress.

Try not to over-commit yourself. If you sense that your plate is starting to overflow, eliminate tasks from your day that aren’t necessary or place them at the bottom of your to-do list. Focus on what truly needs your attention in a given moment. It might be exciting to start a new, extra-credit project or endeavor but ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” before you add another item to your agenda.

  1. Treat peers as equals

Did you know that your non tenure-track colleagues—a population that makes up 70 percent of professors in the U.S.—are more prone to burnout? Job insecurity, lower pay and perceived status are among the factors to blame. A 2016 study by Lisa Larson, Psychology professor at Iowa State University, shows how even simple gestures, such as help from a department chair or any form of workplace recognition, can lead to increased well-being among faculty. These acts help non tenure-track professors feel as if they fit in at work and boost their self-esteem. If you recognize your peers’ work and achievements, you’ll feel better too.

Although work may seem never ending, don’t forget to put your physical and mental health first. With enough sleep, prioritizing your tasks accordingly and more focus on family and community, you can stave off stress and burnout.

Use Top Hat to reduce signs of academic burnout

Reduce the manual labor and time spent grading and engaging students. Top Hat makes it easy to do just that. Here are three simple ways our engagement platform allows you to direct your time to where it’s needed most.

  • Automatic content updates

    Keep your textbook up-to-date without the manual effort. Review proposed chapter updates from our team of subject matter experts and accept changes as you please.

  • Weekly course reports

    Dedicate more time to students who require extra support. Our weekly reports offer at-a-glance insights into student participation and correctness on the student and class level.

  • Autograded assessments

    Take the stress out of grading. Students receive automatic results on their quizzes, discussions and tests administered in Top Hat.

Want to see how Top Hat reduces the time and preparation involved when running quizzes? Read how Joshua Osbourn, Chemistry professor at West Virginia University, eliminated three hours of grading time with the help of Top Hat.

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