Is teacher burnout contagious?

July 10, 2017 by Kenneth Frank, Michigan State University
A study by Michigan State University's Kenneth Frank and colleagues suggests burnout can be contagious among teachers in the same school. Credit: Michigan State University

Burnout among young teachers appears to be contagious, indicates a new study led by Michigan State University education scholars.

The study found a significant link between among early-career teachers and exposure to both a -wide culture of burnout and burnout among the young teachers' closest circle of colleagues.

Surprisingly, the link was stronger to the school-wide culture of burnout than it was to burnout among close colleagues.

"If you are surrounded by people who are downcast or walking around under a pall of burnout, then it has a high chance of spilling over, even if you don't have direct contact with these folks," said Kenneth Frank, professor of measurement and quantitative methods in MSU's College of Education.

"This study," Frank added, "is one of the first to provide evidence that the organizational culture in schools can make a notable difference for early-career teachers' burnout levels."

Frank co-authored the study with Jihyun Kim, an MSU doctoral student, and Peter Youngs, a former MSU scholar who's now an associate professor at the University of Virginia. Their findings appear in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education.

The researchers analyzed the survey data on burnout of 171 teachers who were in their first four years in the profession and 289 experienced teachers who served as the young teachers' mentors or close colleagues.

Kim, lead author on the paper, said she was interested in investigating burnout based on her experiences as an early-career teacher in her native Korea, where she worked long days and weekends.

Early-career teachers are particularly vulnerable to stress and burnout as they adjust to working full-time and respond to school and district expectations, she said. Further, schools often fail to provide teachers with enough resources, including the appropriate teaching materials, assistant teachers, professional development and preparation time.

"These resources are critical not only for reducing teacher burnout, but also for closing gaps in students' learning," said Kim, who will begin work in the fall as an assistant professor of education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Frank said teacher burnout is also tied to the current education policy environment. Controversial policies such as evaluating teachers based primarily on student test scores, merit pay for teachers and lack of voice in assignment of students to teachers can bring added pressure.

"We know that early career teachers are susceptible to burnout because of the significant demands placed on them. It is also clear that the introduction of new reforms in K-12 on a frequent basis adds to the pressures they experience," Frank said.

"If school administrators and policymakers are serious about promoting retention and reducing burnout among novice teachers, they should be aware not just of the curriculum they are advocating, or their rules and policies for teachers. They should also attend to how the in their schools can have direct effects on burnout levels of their faculty."

Explore further: Stress contagion possible amongst students and teachers

Related Stories

Stress reduction program reduces teacher burnout

September 15, 2013

(HealthDay)—Teachers show improvements in burnout, psychological symptoms, and classroom performance after participating in an eight-week stress reduction intervention modified specifically for their profession, according ...

Early burnout puts heat on teacher education

October 7, 2013

Teachers are at risk of burnout, even during their early career, according to a large-scale study looking at what motivates teachers and why their initial enthusiasm may be unable to be sustained.

High-volume NICUs see more staff burnout

April 18, 2017

(HealthDay)—Staff burnout in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) is most prevalent in units with high patient volume and electronic health records, according to a study published online April 18 in Pediatrics.

Recommended for you

On-chip, electronically tunable frequency comb

March 18, 2019

Lasers play a vital role in everything from modern communications and connectivity to bio-medicine and manufacturing. Many applications, however, require lasers that can emit multiple frequencies—colors of light—simultaneously, ...

Alligator study reveals insight into dinosaur hearing

March 18, 2019

To determine where a sound is coming from, animal brains analyze the minute difference in time it takes a sound to reach each ear—a cue known as interaural time difference. What happens to the cue once the signals get to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.