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How substitutes alleviate teacher burnout

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Creating specialized curricula, managing a classroom full of unique learners, juggling administrative tasks—the job of a teacher is full of significant work and challenges. Couple it with struggles managing student behavior, covering for other teacher absences, and the pressure to keep learning on track. With teachers now working 54 hours per week, on average, it’s no wonder teachers are hitting their limits.

Over half of teachers consider quitting the profession, naming stress as a primary cause. According to a survey conducted by RAND in June 2022, teachers are more than twice as likely as other working adults to be stressed. 

To address the resulting teacher shortage, administrative leaders must build supportive teaching environments to retain educators (and preserve their mental wellbeing).

Free lunches and casual Fridays just don’t cut it anymore. Rather than push teachers to the point of leaving the profession, here’s how schools can effectively help ease the burden of today’s educators.

What is teacher burnout?

The National Education Association describes teacher burnout as “a condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to do the job.” 

People become teachers in order to have a positive impact, as they’re educating the next generation of thinkers. But low pay, high emotional demands, and excessively high workloads detract from what they truly love about their profession: teaching.

Educators are often forced to sacrifice their own well-being to take on extra work to ensure their students are taken care of. Without relief, teachers may feel there’s no other option but to press on until they reach burnout.

Symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, lack of motivation, cynicism, and even the inability to complete tasks. Rather than call for teachers to push through the workload, it is important to understand what leads to burnout and how to proactively solve for it.

Root causes of burnout (and how to fix it)

Schools that protect their teachers’ time and support their mental health see higher levels of retention and satisfaction. One way to do this? Incorporate substitute teachers into your educator pool to address:

  • The teacher shortage: Many schools have hundreds of vacant positions, stretching resident teachers far too thin. With a reliable pool of classroom-ready subs, you can augment your workforce and allow teachers a day (or week) off from classroom duty. 
  • High emotional demands: In addition to fostering their learning, teachers can be burdened with supporting their students emotionally. Teachers can experience second-hand trauma while their students are navigating difficult times. Schools can support teachers’ mental health by encouraging breaks or time off—which can be made possible by bringing in reliable substitute teachers. 
  • Insufficient preparation: Due to short staffing, schools frequently require teachers to take on additional work that falls outside their domain. Whether that’s teaching an extra class or taking on students with learning challenges, teachers are unable to focus on their actual job functions in order to pick up the slack somewhere else. To address this, schools can bring in substitutes to provide more coverage or enable more PD time for teachers to contribute to their development.

Finding relief in substitutes

Supplementing your teaching staff with substitutes not only creates job opportunities for those wanting to break into teaching, but can also vastly improve the careers (and well-being) of your resident teachers. Substitutes can function as both a replacement and an aid. Even alleviating just some of the weight from your resident teachers can make all the difference in their mental health and job satisfaction.

Creating a proactive teaching strategy that leverages substitute teachers as a heavily utilized resource allows teachers to comfortably take time off knowing that their classrooms are left in trusted and capable hands. As a result, their time off is more restorative, reducing potential burnout and increasing the likelihood of retention.

Partnering with an organization like Swing helps ensure that every classroom is staffed by qualified and fully vetted substitute teachers. With Swing, it’s easy to find and hire subs so you can focus on the needs of your full-time staff.

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Class coverage made easy

A proactive approach to your sub pool can help your district recruit, hire, and retain substitute teachers so you are better prepared for unexpected teacher vacancies.