Issue: April-June 2011
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15 Years ago in Bandworld
Kaleid Self-Inflicted Burnout

by Phillip C. Wise Bio
Vol. 11, #4, p.13 (March - April, 1986)

Recent statistics show that music educators stay in the profession an average of four and one half years before leaving to enter another field. Is it possible that burnout can transpire that quickly? Sure enough, stress, related to discipline problems, lack of respect, professional injustices, unrealistic expectations, and a host of other concerns is taking its toll.

Simply put, burnout occurs when you no longer find personal or professional satisfaction in your work. The obligations are controlling your life, and you are consumed with the negative aspects of teaching. To some degree, all educators experience these symptoms during their career. Let's be honest: being a music educator is one of the most stressful and demanding jobs in the education field.

Is burnout inevitable? There are reasons why burnout occurs; however, rest assured that it does not have to control your life. Perhaps your career is advancing nicely and you wish to keep it on track; or maybe you are browning around the edges or burning to a crisp. I have designed a rather unconventional guide with steps that will assist you in precluding burnout and help rekindle your love for teaching.

An Understanding

Stress, both mental and physical, is one of the primary reasons burnout occurs. You must reduce your stress level to avoid burnout. Music educators seem to be the un-sung heroes of self-induced burnout. Stop shooting yourself in the foot and then frantically looking around for the guilty party!

Understand that you are ultimately responsible for the way you feel - no one else. External sources don't often help matters, but there will always be complicating exterior factions. Stress is about you, not them. Unfortunately, you cannot will these situations to go away; therefore, your goal becomes to deal effectively with the conditions that cause stress.

Hold Others Accountable

Hold your administration responsible for the job they were hired to do. So often they seem to be masters of placing guilt and blame on the faculty. Follow all of the district's policies and expect their support for upholding these procedures, especially with regard to discipline. I was once privileged to work for an administrator who clearly defined the educators' role as "presenting learnable information to their students." You must have a clear understanding of your job description and adhere to those parameters.

You must also hold your students accountable for their actions. Don't take their responsibilities and make them your own! Unfortunately, I have seen hundreds of occasions where teachers take on their student's academic and personal dilemmas. This doesn't mean that you cannot care for your students, for you should. However, there is a big difference between caring and taking on student problems.

I recall attending a lecture by a national teacher of the year who had a wonderful philosophy on student account-ability. When a student approached her in class stating he had no pencil, she responded, "What are you going to do about that?"\ or, "How are you going to solve your problem?" The accountability question holds learners responsible for their situation or action, teaches problem solving skills, and reduces your stress level.

The same concept applies to parents of students. Parents will soon realize that you hold them accountable to be a part of the educational process, and that their child will be held accountable in your class. Memorize and use these responses and you will reduce your stress level. Now .... walk your talk!

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