10 - A Psychosocial Interpretation of Teacher Stress and Burnout  pp. 192-201

A Psychosocial Interpretation of Teacher Stress and Burnout

By Willy Lens and Saul Neves De Jesus

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Teacher burnout is a very broad concept with several different aspects. It includes stress, professional dissatisfaction, absenteeism, low professional involvement, and the wish to leave the profession. In more severe cases, it may even lead to emotional exhaustion and depression (Esteve, 1992). Also for Rudow (this volume), “burnout is an overlapping concept … it is overlapping as it unites symptoms of (chronic) stress, fatigue, job dissatisfaction, anxiety”. He notes that the terms “burnout” and “stress” (more specifically “distress”) are used as synonyms. Teachers who have professional problems and who cannot cope in an efficient way with those problems experience distress (Pithers and Fogarty, 1995). Burnout results from continuously experiencing distress (not eu-stress). It is always negative. Maslach (1993; this volume) developed a multidimensional model defining “burnout as a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced accomplishment.”

Woods (this volume) discusses the introduction of the Education Reform Act of 1988 in the school systems of England and Wales and the subsequent steep increase in the number of teachers applying for early retirement because of health reasons. He uses it as a case study that may tell us a lot about “theoretical and conceptual constructions that have common currency” regarding teachers' stress (and burnout).