Burnout Calculus

Last summer I wrote a satirical piece about the teacher shortage crisis, wherein high profile comedy tours resorted to the same pale budgetary excuses that are used in education (—the only thing that was not satire in that story: the numbers).

I think about this analogy often—that is, the idea of other professionals being subjected to burn out, budget cuts, and blows to their rapport. They’re tired topics, really. No one wants to hear about the exhausted teacher. Can’t you just feel the eye roll from online readers already? What the public wants to hear is the heartwarming testimony of the teacher who just loves her job and her kids and is so okay with the thought of not being rich that she sometimes brings homemade cookies to work.

Well, spoiler alert: I’m that teacher too.

Oooh, that got too real. Let’s return to comedy.

In Jerry Seinfeld’s opening season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, he interviews several SNL heavyweights: Jimmy Fallon, Alec Baldwin, Kristin Wig, and Tina Fey. When the conversations naturally shift to the slightly serious side, all four comedians mentioned burnout. But how? They looked like they were having so much fun!

The problem? The syndicated scheduling is mentally exhausting. Having to practice new lines and skits all week and then bring their A-game every Saturday night wears them out. Kristin Wig, on performing characters full force every week, asked Jerry, “what else was I supposed to do with my voice and still be funny?”

So I think about this when I think about high school teachers—the ones who bring their A-game five days a week, six times a day. If an SNL actor who gets the money and the ratings and the support burns out, what happens to the Calculus teacher living on a $39,000 salary with 154 students and an inbox full of parent complaints?

Too serious again? Good. Let’s stay here.

At what point in time will districts and politicians start to consider the idea that syndicated scheduling eats students and teachers alive? When Betsy DeVos bizarrely attacked teachers for rows, she foolishly overlooked a number of linchpin educational issues that are manifested in that seating chart: overcrowding, understaffing, and overscheduling.

The public seems pretty concerned with caged-free chickens, but how do they feel about caged-free people? Did you know sixteen states have more people in prison than college? The Washington Post analyzed the numbers and realized we have more prisons than colleges. The rates of incarceration are not only alarming, they are accelerating. And it starts somewhere.

So back to the issue at hand. As election seasons near, I worry pundits will do the thing where they say schools have plenty of money and teachers are paid just fine for the jobs they do. I wonder if as teacher-leaders and advocates we can help call attention to the fact that yes, money is an issue, but it’s not just salaries, it’s also class sizes and materials. It’s the unrealistic expectations placed on teachers and students considering their physical and mental learning environments.

Business professionals often cite the platitude “every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets.” This is probably because the phrase “when the system is broken, blame the factory workers and products until they quit or are injured and are replaced with new ones” is too long.



Angela Buzan

Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has thirteen years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

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