Burnout and Compassion Fatigue In Teachers: What Is It And How Can You Cope?

As a teacher, you care wholeheartedly about your students and their well-being. You want to help the next generation succeed and perform. You work hard to share knowledge and support our youth in reaching their full potential.

And yet, despite these goals, nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within five years. Among those who stay in the field, a significant percentage report feeling overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

Burnout and compassion fatigue in teachers can affect everyone- you, your family, your students, and your community at large. If you’re struggling, here are some tips to consider. 

Symptoms of Burnout and Compassion Fatigue In Teachers

Although people may use the terms interchangeably, burnout and compassion fatigue are different experiences. Burnout refers to a persistent state of stress, helplessness, and apathy. Compassion fatigue refers to absorbing the trauma and emotions associated with helping others.

Common symptoms of teacher burnout include:

  • Feeling consistently exhausted.
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus.
  • Increased anxiety about work-related tasks.
  • Excessive cynicism about work.
  • Feeling ineffective and procrastinating often.
  • Excessive irritability and agitation in the workplace.

Common symptoms of compassion in fatigue in teachers include:

  • Struggling to understand your purpose or goals as a teacher.
  • Feeling numb or detached from your work.
  • Excessive sadness or helplessness.
  • Violent fantasies.
  • Ongoing problems with students, administrators, or parents.
  • Blurring boundaries and overworking.

Both conditions often go hand-in-hand. Teachers are susceptible to burnout and compassion fatigue if they feel isolated, disrespected by their superiors, or overworked with too many tasks. To date, burnout is one of the leading causes why teachers quit the profession altogether. 

Coping With Teaching Burnout or Compassion Fatigue 

All teachers are susceptible to burnout- it’s essential to remind yourself that your feelings don’t mean you’re a “bad teacher” or that you’ve done something wrong. Teaching is inherently challenging, and it’s difficult to balance your emotions with the ongoing demands of the classroom.

Reach Out To Support 

Build relationships with your colleagues and make an effort to get to know them beyond their teacher role. Spend time nurturing and cultivating these dynamics- they’re in the same position as you, and they understand the difficulties!

With that in mind, avoid gossip in the workplace. Even if you loathe your principal or detest a particular parent, try to withhold these opinions from your colleagues. Gossipping often backfires and can lead to more complications.

Keep Practicing Time Management 

Efficiency is an important life skill, and it’s even more critical for teachers. Take the time to research and practice time management skills. For example, set an intention to plan your time appropriately each day. Audit what you’ll need to do ahead of time.

Consider applying the two-minute rule when completing small tasks. The premise is simple: if it takes less than two minutes, do it now.

To truly optimize your time, you’ll inherently need to say no. You can’t oblige to every request. You can’t prioritize everything. If you’re not sure if you have enough time, delay with a response like I’m not sure if I can commit to that, but let me get back to you by the end of the day. 

Discipline Yourself to Engage in Self-Care

How do you unwind at the end of a workday? What do you do on the weekends to recharge yourself?

If you’re like most people, you probably want to zone out and forget about the stress of the day. Maybe you turn to Netflix or Facebook or other mindless activities. 

While there’s nothing wrong with relaxing on the couch, these habits probably don’t help you feel very rejuvenated. In fact, they may even zap your energy more, compounding the burnout problem. 

Don’t “wait” to feel motivated to take care of yourself. That motivation may not come! Instead, rely on discipline, scheduling, and commitment to integrate self-care. 

Ground Yourself Often

Remind yourself of your role and limitations as often as you need. You aren’t perfect, and nobody needs you to be perfect.

Yes, you may care immensely for your students, but you cannot control every action they take. And yes, you may fall slightly behind on grading, but you’re allowed to spend time with your family in the evening.

You are allowed to have boundaries and needs. Do your best to honor yourself by implementing them often. This mindset can combat feeling stressed, and it can also make you a more effective, present teacher. 

Final Thoughts 

Burnout and compassion fatigue in teachers is a complex problem. In general, we need more societal support and resources for our educators. But, as a teacher, you can also take specific, proactive steps to safeguard your well-being.

At Willow Counseling, we specialize in supporting clients working hard in helping professions. We understand the nuances of burnout, stress, and secondary trauma. 

Teaching is difficult, and therapy can help you feel less anxious, depressed, or cynical in your work. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation. 

Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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