Burnout Calculus

Angela Buzan Uncategorized

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Last summer I wrote a satirical piece about the teacher shortage crisis, wherein high profile comedy tours resorted to the same pale budgetary excuses that are used in education (—the only thing that was not satire in that story: the numbers).

I think about this analogy often—that is, the idea of other professionals being subjected to burn out, budget cuts, and blows to their rapport. They’re tired topics, really. No one wants to hear about the exhausted teacher. Can’t you just feel the eye roll from online readers already? What the public wants to hear is the heartwarming testimony of the teacher who just loves her job and her kids and is so okay with the thought of not being rich that she sometimes brings homemade cookies to work.

Well, spoiler alert: I’m that teacher too.

Oooh, that got too real. Let’s return to comedy.

In Jerry Seinfeld’s opening season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, he interviews several SNL heavyweights: Jimmy Fallon, Alec Baldwin, Kristin Wig, and Tina Fey. When the conversations naturally shift to the slightly serious side, all four comedians mentioned burnout. But how? They looked like they were having so much fun!

The problem? The syndicated scheduling is mentally exhausting. Having to practice new lines and skits all week and then bring their A-game every Saturday night wears them out. Kristin Wig, on performing characters full force every week, asked Jerry, “what else was I supposed to do with my voice and still be funny?”

So I think about this when I think about high school teachers—the ones who bring their A-game five days a week, six times a day. If an SNL actor who gets the money and the ratings and the support burns out, what happens to the Calculus teacher living on a $39,000 salary with 154 students and an inbox full of parent complaints?

Too serious again? Good. Let’s stay here.

At what point in time will districts and politicians start to consider the idea that syndicated scheduling eats students and teachers alive? When Betsy DeVos bizarrely attacked teachers for rows, she foolishly overlooked a number of linchpin educational issues that are manifested in that seating chart: overcrowding, understaffing, and overscheduling.

The public seems pretty concerned with caged-free chickens, but how do they feel about caged-free people? Did you know sixteen states have more people in prison than college? The Washington Post analyzed the numbers and realized we have more prisons than colleges. The rates of incarceration are not only alarming, they are accelerating. And it starts somewhere.

So back to the issue at hand. As election seasons near, I worry pundits will do the thing where they say schools have plenty of money and teachers are paid just fine for the jobs they do. I wonder if as teacher-leaders and advocates we can help call attention to the fact that yes, money is an issue, but it’s not just salaries, it’s also class sizes and materials. It’s the unrealistic expectations placed on teachers and students considering their physical and mental learning environments.

Business professionals often cite the platitude “every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets.” This is probably because the phrase “when the system is broken, blame the factory workers and products until they quit or are injured and are replaced with new ones” is too long.



Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has thirteen years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

Comments 9

  1. Jess Ledbetter

    So many quotes to love here! And such great points. I think that teachers, acting as leaders, absolutely can AND MUST make sure that voters know we are concerned about the effects these things have on students: the overcrowding, overscheduling, lack of materials, and inability for administrators to retain teachers in these conditions. It’s too bad that politicians have wasted so much time in AZ blaming teachers for the results instead of reflecting on how their policies and funding are setting kids up for failure. We can’t waste any more time in AZ. We must carefully choose those who we elect this term so that AZ kids can be protected, respected, and valued as our future working force in this state.

  2. Jen Robinson

    Thank you for this thoughtful and thought provoking blog. You make a great analogy to teachers and comedians while pointing out the increased demands on teachers. This is timely and needed with the election right around the corner. As teacher leaders in our districts and state, we must step up and ensure the truth is public.

  3. Sandy Merz

    I’m going to avoid reading the Time magazine with teachers on the cover. I’m afraid it will backfire – assuming the magazines attempt is to improve the system, and I know it will just depress me. Where my kids went to school, most the population was better off economically than the teachers, but where I teach, most my parents would love to have what I have. And yet, as conditions get worse, outcomes deteriorate, burn out effects more teachers, who then leave, and conditions get even worse. Like everyone, I hope the elections do make a difference.

  4. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    You totally nailed this. The teacher crisis has gone from something unknown to something that galvanized support, but I too worry about over-saturation. And now that the teacher crisis is known to most, what changes have actually happened because of that? Many in my community see a teacher raise and thinks it is resolved, they don’t see that most of the issues have just started to be wrestled with. And if the teacher crisis was resolved, we wouldn’t be sitting with open classrooms or classrooms led by teachers with alternative certifications.

  5. Beth Maloney

    This quote is so true: “What the public wants to hear is the heartwarming testimony of the teacher who just loves her job and her kids and is so okay with the thought of not being rich that she sometimes brings homemade cookies to work.” This is part of why it is so important for us to share our truth. Another truth you wrote: “yes, money is an issue, but it’s not just salaries, it’s also class sizes and materials.” These are critical issues that often go overlooked but truly impact burnout and retention. Great post!

  6. Leah Clark

    I can’t get enough of the teacher who brings cookies to work and loves her students. Yes, i love my students and occasionally bring treats, but this doesn’t pay the bills. We must educate voters that funding is crucial to keeping us in the profession. I have seen several teachers leave of the past few years simply because they can’t afford their bills or because childcare is more expensive than their take home pay. Without proper funding this cycle of brand new teachers (cookie bringing or not) will continue to move in and out of our schools like a revolving door.

  7. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank yo for this piece. I was in a focus group type setting about a week ago and the topic was around relevant teacher needs/issues. Salary was one of about 10 other issues that included real life issues such as class size, relevant curriculum, limited time to properly prepare to teach (let alone actually deliver the lesson), and the duties and expectations that go beyond the end of the school day. I just finished reading The Help and I noticed I could identify with the maids on a variety of levels. lt is not because I am Black. It’s because I am a Teacher.

  8. Mike Vargas

    I think “Caged Free People” is going to be my new catch phrase. Thank you for your insights. I loved this piece, I too struggle with burnout.. Even now more than ever after getting beat up with valley fever last year.. I just don’t have the energy like I used too.. Its hard especially with 150 kids you say???? What school is that? Because I could use the break from my 175…

  9. Tim Ihms

    Thank you for voicing the frustration of many teachers. And you provided that voice in a unique way relating it to comedians. Higher salaries are not the reason teachers are good, it allows good teachers to stay in the profession of their hearts.

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