From the Magazine

Book review: Teacher Burnout

Even before the pandemic, which has been the most challenging professional experience of many teachers’ careers.

The stress associated with the teaching profession has worn down teacher motivation and commitment, leaving some teachers to question their commitment to the profession. By some accounts, more than 1 in 5 teachers have plans to exit the profession in the next year. It’s time for a major turnaround in the hearts of our greatest American asset.

Educational psychologist and author Tish Jennings has been following the teacher burnout crisis, as well as the growing attrition rates in the field of education for the past 20 years. She believes the untenable working conditions, paired with misguided reform efforts, are the causes of teacher burnout. 

In her new book, “Teacher Burnout Turnaround,” Jennings presents a host of stress-causing factors and provides solutions for each. By following the strategies presented in this book, Jennings suggests that the all too common issue of teacher burnout can be addressed by individual teachers who actively engage themselves in school transformation, despite the shortcomings of the system. Jennings is careful to note, however, that she does not see teachers as the only people responsible for the changes that are necessary in the education system, nor does she want to further burden teachers. She does, however, believe that teachers are uniquely positioned to initiate change in the system in ways that will better engage students and promote learning. 

Jennings wrote this book to guide teachers through the process of effecting sustainable change from the bottom up, by learning how to apply systems and design thinking.

She hopes that her work will empower teachers to inspire students to engage in meaningful, self-directed learning that will prepare them for a successful career and fulfilling life in the real world. 

The book is divided into three parts: “Addressing Teacher Stress and Burnout,” “Preparing for Transformative Change,” and “Empowering Teachers.” In part one, ” Jennings explains how teachers got to this place of burnout and solutions for fixing it. She also explains the stress matrix and discusses the process of building inner resilience. From there, in part two, she addresses everything that is necessary to prepare teachers for transformative change, including how to change the way we think about school, mind traps, and design thinking. In the third and final part of the book, Jennings places her emphasis on empowering teachers. She discusses taking the lead, professionalism, and empowering students. 

Although the book was written pre-pandemic, it feels particularly relevant amid it.

While the issues of teacher stress and burnout were not created by the pandemic, they were certainly exacerbated by it, leaving teachers across the globe feeling exceptionally stressed and bringing the need for the important conversations presented in this book to the surface. This book would be a welcome addition to teachers’ spring or summer break reading lists because it feels relevant now, in this time of uncertainty, when so little else does. Additionally, it leaves teachers with a ton of simple, useful strategies for improving situations that are afflicting the field of education today. 

It is clear from her writing that Jennings truly believes that teachers are positioned in a way that no one else is to be agents of change in the educational system and beyond. In order to do this, she believes that they need a toolbox, which she aims to provide partly by way of this book. “Teacher Burnout Turnaround” is illuminating in the sense that it provides the background information and necessary support for teachers to start making changes in the system in ways that improve outcomes for students and themselves, pandemic or not. The toolbox presented in this book has the potential to illuminate the path to positive changes in education, led by the professionals who know best — teachers.

“Teacher Burnout Turnaround” is a truly empowering book, which helps teachers to better understand the issues that ail them, prepare them for transformation, and put them on the path to it. In the book, Jennings enlightens readers about the issues of teacher stress and burnout, and why they’re growing more and more prevalent by the minute. By understanding how we got where we are, what causes this stress, and how to build resilience, teachers are left in a better position to prepare for the transformative changes that Jennings suggests are both possible and necessary. 

Challenging teachers to reframe their thinking, this book really asks all of us to think about the purpose and setup of school differently. Powerful ideas in strategic thinking are introduced into the teacher repertoire. You’ll learn about things like design thinking and mind traps, that’ll quickly become arrows in your quiver as you approach classroom, community, and even personal challenges.  

The last and most helpful part of the book, about empowering teachers, is what really stands out, though. In this section, Jennings gives readers some simple and career-changing tools — mental exercises being a key one — that help us all to step up and take the lead, display the professionalism necessary to get their voices heard, and offer ideas to empower their students at the classroom and institutional level.  

Overall, “Teacher Burnout Turnaround” is a timely, illuminating, and empowering book that is certainly worth a read, particularly in these unprecedented times. 

Suzanne Williams is a high school teacher and publications director in Indiana. When she’s not teaching her students Journalism or Japanese, she’s reporting on education-related topics, crafting, longboarding or playing with her corgi.