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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

The prolonged SOS of "burned-out" teachers

Sun, 25 Nov 2018 12:01:00 +0000 Published in Las Provincias

Occupational burnout syndrome is a concept coined by the American psychiatrist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. He coined it to refer to the stress and feelings of exhaustion and frustration generated in a professional due to an overload of work. Later, in 1976, the social psychologist Christina Maslach added new features to the syndrome: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and leave realization staff. It affects more those who work with people, as is the case of teachers.

A teacher becomes "burned out" when he/she cannot assimilate a major disappointment: that the goals he/she set for him/herself are impossible to achieve, mainly due to conflicts at classroom. Professional burnout often leads, in turn, to negative attitudes towards a work that he or she ends up distrusting.

In spite of the fact that, lately, the media serve as a loudspeaker, the anguished SOS of the teachers who "burn out" day by day in a stressful work , continues to have little social response. The increase in the number of cases of "burnt-out teacher syndrome" can be seen in the increase of issue of sick leave and in the issue of transfers and early retirements.

The "report Cisneros" (2018) concludes that conflicts at classroom, caused by undisciplined and aggressive students, make one in ten teachers think about leaving the profession.

In my opinion, those who should be more receptive to the calls for help from teachers overcome by conflicts at classroom are the students' parents, but this is often not the case. Quite a few parents, far from understanding teachers, behave as defense lawyers for their children.

In a newspaper interview, Jesús Niño, psychologist at "El Defensor del Profesor", stated that the complaints they receive refer both to bullying by students and by their parents.

Kallen and Colton's report (1980) found a close link between two factors: increased violence in schools and compulsory schooling, especially in the last years of secondary school. Young people of working age who are forced to remain in school against their will tend to react with disruptive behaviors (those that interrupt an activity or process, impeding its normal development ). This subject of students neither learn nor allow others to learn.

 Students' disruptive behaviors hinder the action professor. They usually start with actions that interrupt or delay the teacher's explanations (absurd questions, unnecessarily asking the teacher to repeat what he/she has already explained, etc.). And they may continue with disrespect, disobedience and confrontations with the teacher.

I suggest that the professor accepts the financial aid of a well-known psychological treatment of "bournout". It consists of modifying the patient's cognitive and emotional processes that make him/her exhausted and depressed. For this, a therapy is used that begins by asking the patient why he/she considers the people who upset him/her to be bad. The goal is to make the "burned out" person see that he is thinking in a wrong way; that the people who bother him do not have the bad intention that he is attributing to them. 

Some measures from subject didactic also help to avoid possible disruptive behaviors, such as the following:

 1-Change the approach several times in the same class, in order to avoid monotony, boredom and "dead time".

2-Eliminate "explaining" classes, in which the student is limited to passive listening; it is preferable to teach by telling stories related to the content of the subject.

3 -Use the technique of "directed copying", since it increases concentration. For this purpose, the digital whiteboard is used instead of dictating notes; the teacher completes the most significant contents on the whiteboard simultaneously with the students.

4-Micro-tutoring during the class is very effective in a conflictive classroom . It consists of addressing a few students, one at a time, at different moments. It is a personalized attention with a duration of one minute, in which a committee or a stimulus is given.

5-Form groups of work cooperative. This breaks the impersonal and overcrowded group of class, while encouraging communication and work as a team. Conflict in the classroom is diluted in small groups.

6-Training teachers to handle new situations of disruptive behavior and in very heterogeneous groups.

Fortunately, there are teachers who never give up. They are the resilient ones. Resilience is the ability to overcome any adversity and emerge stronger from it. Those who possess it face problems from a possible solution and transform adversities into opportunities.