The pandemic has brought on a new, online form to teaching as well as to learning. Students and teachers are using the virtual classroom with varying degrees of readiness. The mix of positive and negative effects of the “new normal” that is online learning creates a challenging environment that can set the stage for a major issue for teachers that must be dealt with in a timely manner – virtual teaching burnout.
What is virtual teaching burnout and how to recognize it
Most learning habits and classroom time-management strategies have been in place for decades of face-to-face school teaching. However, these strategies tend to fail in the recently established and now widely adopted model of virtual teaching. Another issue on the rise is the elevated stress levels due to all of the changes engendered by the pandemic. These are the reasons that many teaching professionals run the risk of under-performance and burnout in this new and extremely demanding online environment.
According to a definition found in Psychology Today:
“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
Stress can easily become chronic if one’s responsibilities are ever increasing and constantly expanding. Moreover, it can be augmented by the never-before-encountered challenges that come with the implementation of virtual teaching and learning. With remote classes becoming a reality for more and more students and teachers every day, it is crucial to recognize the warning signs of burnout so as to effectively prevent it.
Here are some of the most common early signs of impending burnout that are generally experienced by teachers:
- Frequent dizziness and headaches
- Making unexpected and uncharacteristic mistakes
- Frequent exhaustion even with enough sleep
- Inability to focus and maintain interest
- Mounting pressure and frustration leading to tension in communication and a lack of self-esteem
- Lack of motivation and a fear of experimenting with new approaches
- Reduced creativity leading to monotony and apathy
What are the most common causes of virtual teaching burnout?
Virtual teaching has added new functions to the standard teaching duties. This includes the responsibilities of social workers and counselors combined with IT and technical support activities that must now be carried out by online teachers. Expanding the scope of the teachers’ responsibilities adds to the time they must dedicate to student-oriented tasks. This situation brings the professionals in virtual teaching to a state of exhaustion and leads to a decline in their performance. Often, the teachers’ concern for and devotion to their students comes at a cost to themselves.
Non-classroom-related duties, such as after-school supervision, are among the leading causes of low teacher morale and professional burnout. Both parents and students tend to expect that virtual teaching will also include many other types of assistance. They expect teachers to be available around the clock, even at times that are outside of their official hours dedicated to classes and counseling activities. Also, all too often parents tend to transfer all responsibility to teachers by putting the blame on them when students do other things instead of classwork.
Another major concern for most teachers is that when there is no constant visual connection with their students, this compromises the feedback on and engagement in virtual teaching. Lack of a visual connection in online communication usually increases stress. Also, it often alters the tutors’ self-confidence and can easily lead to burnout. In the virtual classroom it is crucial for teachers to keep their students involved, interested, and with their cameras on. An uninterrupted visual connection between teachers and students will guarantee the closest-to-real virtual teaching experience to both sides of the online education process.
Strategies to avoid or reduce virtual teaching burnout
Before the situation becomes critical for the teacher, it is recommended to consider several simple and easy-to-take actions to prevent possible virtual teaching burnout. These could include the following:
- Listening to your colleagues, your students’ parents, or other people if they suggest that you might be experiencing burnout.
- Participating in teacher learning communities and reaching out to your colleagues.
- Avoiding comparing yourself with others – remember that you are a skilled teacher in your own right.
- Concentrating on quality instead of quantity – remind yourself of the reasons why you became a teacher.
- Focusing on fewer resources – do not try to implement everything all at once.
- Finding and implementing already available materials that have been proven to be effective.
- Creating prerecorded lessons and FAQs on better time management for your students.
- Leaning on the student leaders in your class for team-building games or hand check practices.
- Recognizing and reducing potential physical, mental, or professional hazards.
- Taking time for yourself – take breaks, refresh, meditate – anything that may help boost your mood, improve your mental clarity, and relieve stress.
- Setting limits and stepping away – plan your work hours and stick to the plan.
- Curtailing your emotional investment and dedication – make yourself a priority over your students as they will benefit from a teacher who is mentally and physically balanced and healthy.
When virtual teaching burnout is detected at its early stages there is a high chance that a remedy can be successfully applied. Thus, the potential harmful consequences can be entirely prevented. Even in the case of advanced stages of burnout, the situation can be controlled by the teachers themselves, as well as through the help and guidance of their professional communities.
Beneficial interaction is the key to solving virtual teaching burnout
Since online education has started to become the main form of interaction between teachers and students, it is crucial that virtual teaching should maintain high-quality teacher-student contact that is beneficial to both sides. It is not only the teacher’s confidence in the knowledge and skills they deliver to their students, but also the positive feedback they receive from students that gives meaning to the educational process. When direct in-person contact is reduced to online substitutes, many teachers miss the emotional charge that comes from face-to-face interactions which in the past kept them passionate about the job.
Nevertheless, the energy boost that a teacher gets from participating in their students’ success is a main source of teacher motivation. To ensure that this happens during virtual teaching, it is imperative that students are engaged in the process. Their commitment to and involvement in the educational process is not only a way to keep them satisfied, but is also key to the teacher gratification, mental and professional balance, and, finally, is an effective cure for virtual teaching fatigue and burnout.