Burnout of Ontario Teachers: Why the Education System is in a Crisis

By Cristina Santos
May 28, 2024

Main Highlights

  • Teachers in Ontario are experiencing an increase in ‘burnout’ at an alarming rate, which takes an immense emotional toll on both their professional and personal lives.
  • The spike in violent acts committed by students within schools and classrooms calls for further and ongoing support from school principals, the Board of Directors, the Ford government, and the Ministry of Education to help protect teachers.
  • Minimal supports are set in place to aid the mental well-being of teachers who are struggling or may come to struggle, due to the increasing stressors imposed within the teaching profession.
Introduction: 

The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. This can include feelings of exhaustion and depleted energy, lack of motivation and optimism in one’s career, and reduced professional success. The million-dollar question is, why are teachers experiencing such high levels of burnout? Focusing on teachers in the province of Ontario, it is evident that their jobs reach far beyond the scope of only educating students. They are expected to use their free time for volunteering and staff meetings, plan engaging lessons and mark assignments outside of contractual hours, deal with violence in the classroom, and fill in the gaps in understaffed schools. Teachers are required to not only fulfill the duties set out in their contractual agreements but also a plethora of other responsibilities inside and outside of their classrooms.

When Does Work Begin And When Does It End?

As outlined in the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s collective agreement, teachers are paid for eight hours each workday, five days a week. However, this salary does not include the hours a teacher works outside of their contractual obligations. Planning and marking schoolwork, extra-curricular volunteering, parent-teacher conferences, and other administrative tasks are not listed as being financially compensated by the government and have been normalized as a part of the teaching profession. Teachers’ responsibilities extend far beyond start and dismissal times and delve into their personal time. It is hard to maintain a work-life balance and practice self-care when you are consumed by so many different obligations and feel pressured to perform other tasks outside of work hours.

Decrease in Staffing, Increase in Sick Days

The emotional implications that job burnout has placed on teachers have increased absenteeism, sick leave, or has caused many to leave the profession entirely. Sick days are being used more now than in the last decade, with time taken off by elementary teachers climbing by 60%. Many attribute these absences to teachers being overwhelmed, a lack of necessary supports and resources within the classroom, and issues caused by understaffing. The inability of school boards to fill staff vacancies, or increase hiring, means that other teachers and staff members are now responsible for taking on a larger workload. Staffing shortages continue to add more job tasks for teachers, which can include extra recess and lunch duties, losing planning time to fill in for absent teachers, having to combine classes, and filing the role of educational assistants. This will go on to affect the quality of the education students receive, particularly those who require more support. However, the Ford government’s budget cuts for the 2023-2024 school year will consequently further increase the challenges teachers and other staff members face, due to this shortage.

Increase in Classroom Violence

A 2023 survey conducted by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario highlights that 77% of teachers have seen or experienced violence in their schools and classrooms. Media outlets and news reports have disclosed details on some of the severe attacks teachers and other staff members have faced while on the job and the long-lasting physical and psychological implications of these experiences. Teachers continue to call on more resources and funding to help deal with this pressing concern. Anti-violence training programs and mental health support for staff may help reduce the burnout that teachers face due to violence in and around their classrooms. The Ontario teacher shortage reported by the Ontario College of Teachers also emphasizes the urgent need for more teachers and support staff in the Ontario education system, that can help alleviate this violence.

Lack of Support for Mental Health

It is not enough to have mental wellness videos with soft music playing in the background or motivational quotes plastered on the staff room bulletin board telling teachers to “keep calm and carry on”. The increase in burnout has caused an ever-growing concern for the mental health and well-being of Ontario teachers. These concerns, although intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, remain unaffected even after the pandemic according to an Annual Ontario School Survey taken from 2021-2022. The survey illustrates the prevalence and urgency of mental health advocacy and support for teachers and school staff. Only 35% of principals agreed or strongly agreed that their schools had the proper resources set in place to support the mental health of their staff. Further policies, programs, and services need to be adopted within the education system to address the ongoing demands for mental health support.

Towards a Better Future

 The teaching profession is emotionally and mentally burdensome with high stakes and responsibility. Teachers are working tirelessly to ensure that students in their care are not only well educated and safe, but supported emotionally, mentally, and physically at school. These responsibilities, coupled with their own work schedules and personal lives make it almost impossible to have a healthy work-life balance. Understaffing and absenteeism are at an all-time high, affecting not only the education system in Ontario but also the well-being and academic success of students. If we want to see a change in the right direction, we must first advocate that proper mental health supports, in-depth safety planning, and sufficient staffing and funding be put into place that enable teachers to effectively do their jobs, without stretching themselves too thin.

Cristina Santos

Cristina Santos

Cristina Santos is a Masters (M.A) candidate at the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. Having completed her Bachelor of Education at Trent University in 2019, Cristina has a personal connection to the teaching profession and a passion for educating youth. Cristina looks to further investigate the vital importance of unionization and collective bargaining, as well as the potential changes that can be made to positively impact those in non-unionized professions.

1 Comment

  1. Kalpa Jayanetti

    Hi, Cristiana,

    Excellent eye-opener and point of view of bunt-out factors for Teachers in Ontario. Heavy workloads, behavior management, and understaffing heavily impact our professionalism.

    Reply

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