A U.S. teacher recently quit her job, and her Facebook post explaining why is resonating with educators across the country.
On June 13, Jessica Gentry took to social media to explain that teaching students put her mental and physical health “in jeopardy” every single day because the expectations of her job were simply too much.
Gentry, 34, said that large class sizes, reliance on technology and the expectation to be a parent, caregiver and educator at the same time is too much.
The former teacher, who worked at Stone Spring Elementary School in Harrisonburg, Va., said she didn’t have the resources to do her job properly.
“Sitting in one meeting after another, begging for more support, only to be told ‘don’t lose sleep over them’… when you love your kids and are passionate about your mission, these messages tear you apart,” she wrote.
The filter comes off now..I think it's easier for people to believe that I left teaching because of the lousy pay. …
“Knowing they need more than you can give them in a classroom of 21, with less and less support, multiple languages spoken, several different disabilities… it breaks you.”
Her post has since been shared over 200,000 times and has more than 160,000 likes. Many have responded thanking her for her honesty, agreeing that teaching is a very mentally challenging profession.
Gentry said she decided she needed to take care of herself so she can be there for her daughter. Despite what people may think, Gentry said she didn’t leave because of her salary.
“I left my retirement fund, my paid sick leave (46 days left on the table, unpaid). I didn’t leave for better pay,” she wrote.
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According to Dr. Susan Rodger, a psychologist and associate professor at the faculty of education at Western University, burnout and “compassion fatigue” is incredible common among teachers.
“While there was some tolerance or some ability to absorb the compassion fatigue and burnout , as our resources are reduced in the system, there’s less coping resources,” Rodger said.
“Teachers are in charge of the health and well-being of children… we don’t give them the resources.”
Rodger said jobs like teaching and nursing are “caring professions,” meaning those who work in these fields carry a lot of emotional labour. Emotional labour can be defined as having to put others’ well-being in front of your own.
Rodger says the amount of emotional labour teachers take on largely contributes to their burnout and compassion fatigue.
Dr. Andrew Miki, a B.C.-based clinical psychologist and founder of Starling Minds, says that because the expectations of teachers are so high, many push themselves to meet the demands of their job.
Starling Minds is a digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) program for professionals across Canada that focuses largely on teachers.
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“There’s a tendency for a lot of teachers to burn out because they’ve got a really high bar in terms of the standard of education that they want to deliver,” he explained.
“The problem is that with such a high bar, there’s not enough resources.”
Miki says that in order to meet these expectations, teachers often push themselves to their limits. He says that this is not sustainable over time, and often leads to negative repercussions, like stress and anxiety.
Because teaching is such an emotionally taxing job, it’s important educators get the support they need, says Miki.
Miki said that since most people in the teaching profession are good learners, CBT can be an incredibly helpful tool for dealing with workplace stress.
While treating stress is not a one-size-fits-all issue, learning to react to stressors in a healthy way can help.
“One of the things that CBT really tries to teach people is how do you understand what those stressors are, what those patterns are, and how do you learn to better manage them,” he said.
“There’s a lot of different strategies and different ways to do it, but I think the challenge is that it’s so unique to the person that they’ve got to do it themselves.”
For Gentry, leaving the profession was best for her well-being.
“I may have left the classroom… but I am still advocating for those kiddos,” she wrote. “It just looks different now.”
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