Special Needs Support: SPED Teacher Burnout: Is it Happening to You?

Teaching can be a lonely job. That sounds counter-intuitive, as others surround you all day. For the most part, though, you're in your classroom alone as ruler of the roost. If you're lucky, you may have an aide, but your aide may not be the helper you need. Managing aides can be a full-time job itself (I'll cover that issue in another article). We don't like to talk about burnout for fear that it makes us appear out of control.

After some months in the classroom with a class load that can exceed what the law recommends, you start to feel frustrated. You've reported that you are out of compliance with your numbers, but no one seems to listen. Your administrators acknowledge your problem, but "budgets," or "it's only temporary," are the responses you get to repeated alarms.

You stay late every night, reviewing student work or staying abreast of IEPs and reports from team meetings. You are a dedicated professional, but there's a nagging feeling that you're not happy in your job. Maybe it is not so nagging—maybe it's shrieking.

Every teacher feels frustrated from time to time. Special Ed teachers are often responsible for medical issues with their students too. This is a huge responsibility. The students we see in our classrooms seem to have more and more complex issues as the years go by. This is not your imagination; it's true. As medical science becomes more sophisticated, more premature children are saved at birth to be placed in public school settings with myriads of health problems. You love your kids, and you know the kids are not the problem; it's always the grownups, and you can also sometimes point the finger at yourself.

These are the first signs of burnout: nagging emotions and feelings, loss of sleep, nervous tension, snapping at family members or teachers and administrators in your school. You've tried to network within your school to muster up some support, but other teachers have their own issues to sort out.

Fortunately, there's help at hand. If your symptoms have grown to include a major problem like drug or alcohol abuse, your district probably has counseling available. Often called "employee assistance programs," they can help to get you going in the right direction. Check out your health insurance policy; it will have other private options for mental health care. If your problems have become physical (stress takes a terrible toll on your body) get help now. You are not alone.

The first step is to sit down with your building principal and let her know you're experiencing some stress-related health issues; can she suggest some ways to fight off burnout? She's probably been there, so she will know what you're talking about. Seek out other SPED teachers; they will be supportive and understand the unique challenges you face.

The Internet has become a rich source of support for many teachers. There are forums where you can anonymously share your stories and receive practical advice from teachers in your field. Some resources

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Although this article is part of a blog series, I'd be happy to hear from you and even share some stories and practical tips for support. I'm a veteran, and I'm sure there is nothing you can say that could shock or offend. Leave a comment below, I'll respond and we can start a dialogue. We are all better when we work together. 

Let me know how you're doing.


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Funded By: Patterson Foundation

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Address: 1031 Mendota Heights Road, St. Paul, MN 55120-1419

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Website: Patterson Foundation

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