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Here’s How We Can Support Burnt Out and Devalued Early Educators Worldwide


South Australia’s Royal Commission on Early Childhood Education headed by Julia Gillard has done just that issued an interim report. The main recommendation is kindergarten for all three year olds (in a move similar to other states). But the report notes that one of the critical considerations surrounding this change will be the early childhood workforce.

SA’s report comes when the productivity committee begins wide research in early childhood education and care in Australia.

As part of this, the committee looks at the workforce. We already know there are high rates of marketing and burnout in early childhood educators. This makes it difficult for people to make sustainable careers in the industry. It also makes it more difficult for services to find staff and for families find childcare for their children.

Us new research looks at why early childhood educators experience burnout and how we can fix it.

Read more: More than 1 million Australians do not have access to childcare in their area

Course teachers

Like other essential sectors the issue of burnout has become in primary education more oppressive since the start of the pandemic.

A 2021 one union research of 4,000 educators revealed that 73% planned to leave the industry within the next three years due to excessive workload, stress, low pay and status, lack of professional development and career advancement.

It also found 82% felt rushed ‘always’ or ‘often’ when performing important care tasks in the past month.

From 2022 there were vacancies for teachers doubled since the pandemic.

Read more: COVID chaos has shed light on many issues in Australia’s child care sector. Here are 4

What is a burnout?

Burnout is complex and can include many things, including:

Burnout is important, because it is harmful the well-being of educatorsthe quality of the upbringing of children, leads to educators leave and then the ability of parents to work (especially women) and businesses to thrive.

Early educators report feeling rushed and stressed in their work.

Our new study

We wanted to understand what causes teacher burnout, with the aim of helping policymakers and governments plan better support for the sector.

To do this, we reviewed 39 studies on the causes of early childhood educator burnout from 13 countries, including Australia.

This type of study – a “systematic review— is a powerful way for researchers to provide a complete and clear summary of what we know about a topic.

What leads to burnout?

We found that teacher burnout can be caused by several factors.

Due to certain personal circumstances, an educator is more likely to get burned out. For example, people with a lower family income, or those with more family responsibilities, report more feelings of burnout. This category includes those who are single, widowed, divorced or divorced.

Younger, less experienced teachers were particularly vulnerable to depersonalization. Male teachers were more likely to experience burnout than their female colleagues.

Teachers said poor mental health (particularly depression and mental distress) played a critical role in their burnout. More socially connected teachers who are supported by friends, family and/or their faith were less likely to experience burnout.

How services treat staff is important

Teachers of services where little or no attention was paid to well-being reported burnout more often.

This included services with sparse emotional support strategies, such as the ability to debrief with colleagues, or access counseling or coaching. These services also showed a lack of respect for teachers’ work-life balance – for example, they required them to work extra unpaid hours or were inflexible with family leave.

Teachers discussed the fatigue caused by ‘surface acting’, where they had to pretend or not experience certain emotions in order to please children, staff and parents. For example, an educator may feel exhausted and overwhelmed by his workload, but he had to pretend to feel energized and enthusiastic when interacting with children and families.

Bad professional relationships were accompanied by feelings of stress. Think of undermining by parents, teaching children with behavioral problems and negative relationships with colleagues and directors.

Read more: How a Canadian program that helps educators ‘bloom’ rather than just ‘survive’ could help tackle Australia’s childcare shortage

Finance and status

Our research showed that teachers experienced stress when they had it few resourcesbut very high expectations to produce”qualitylearning environments and experiences for children.

Some work was more likely cause exhaustionlike constantly trying evidence to the authorities they offered a “quality” service collecting data.

Insufficient income may prompt teachers to leave their positions. It can also lead to a decrease in motivation and an increase in the number of sick days.

Teachers’ feelings of burnout were also linked to a belief they held low status in society. This was more pronounced if they were teaching younger children, or if they had been in the industry for a long time.

Both groups reported experiencing a lack of professional development and promotion opportunities.

A woman reads to a baby.
Teachers who taught younger children felt more like they had a lower status in society.
Lina Kivaka/Pexels

How can we reduce burnout?

Our research found that there are some effective ways to improve teacher well-being, prevent burnout and prevent them from quitting their jobs.

These include coaching so teachers can get feedback and develop their careers, peer mentoring so they know they are not alone and counseling so they have an emotional outlet to reflect on their work.

If we want to keep educators in this vital roles we must actively support them to stay.

The author acknowledges the work of Joanne Ng (principal investigator) and Courtney McNamara for their research on the systematic review.

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