This is often complemented with anger and job depression.
There is also the challenge of extreme mental and physical fatigue. This fatigue does not have an identifiable physiological source. The individual may have a good diet and may sleep well but the awake exhausted and tired. They are not prepared to engage in the task of preparation of class materials or lessons. The mind is tired and it may be difficult to concentrate for even short periods. This is further exacerbated by a lack of motivation and excitement they speak and appear demotivated. These symptoms are usually accompanied by a negative attitude toward the children and the job itself. This may be in stark contrast to the earlier statements of the individual who may have had very positive feelings and attitudes towards their job and the children under their care. From the list of symptoms it is obvious that such a person will often be a source of unnecessary negativity on the staff and may contribute to diminished staff morale.
There is a difference in rates of burnout for urban and rural schools. Teachers in urban schools tend to report higher levels of burnout than those at rural schools (Haberman, 2004 p. 18). In the major source of stress to the teachers was the lack of discipline and motivation among the students. This is combined with a school climate that is less personal and teachers often have an ill defined sense of accomplishments. The role of the teacher is limited and their input is not required for major decision making. Rural teachers however, felt greater stress from the demands placed on their time and the nature of the work environment. It becomes evident that the nature of the stress in the urban environment may be tied to the failure of teachers to experience satisfaction through their work. In the rural situation teachers appear to be more concerned about conditions of work in its variant manifestations and this impacts on the levels of stress.
The prevention and treatment of burnout is a serious challenge that administrators and policy makers need to give attention. Wood (2002) suggests a three tiered approach to burnout prevention, primary, secondary and tertiary approaches to the prevention of burnout. Each tier has different goals and thus the strategies employed reflect the goals of that tier of prevention.
Primary prevention of burnout focuses on organizational practices that give teachers control over the challenges they experience on a regular basis. At this individual level the teacher is able to engage in behaviors that reduce the impact of these daily stressors. Administration is encouraged at this level to engage in consultation with teachers on curriculum development and other activities that will change the classroom activity of the teacher. The teacher also needs to have adequate resources and a physical plant that is designed to support the work of the teacher. This latest consideration is very important for special education. Special education often requires specialized equipment and tools. These require an out lay of capital which, in a climate of inadequate funding means that special education suffers.
At the primary level it is also important to provide teachers with clear job descriptions. Each teacher must understand their specific role and duties. This limits the opportunity for conflict and removes any ambiguity that may be the result of ill-defined roles. Even when this is accomplished there is room for misunderstanding. It is important then that open lines of communication are provided and that teachers have access to administrators. This particular recommendation provides a mechanism to reduce the buildup of stress. The final action at the primary level is the creation of opportunity for professional development. In any endeavor people are benefitted by having opportunities to hone their skills and interact with like-minded professionals. This addresses the stress created by stagnation and a feeling immobility.
The secondary level of prevention is an attempt to capture problems in their infancy. As teachers begin demonstrating the signs of burnout described previously steps must be taken to correct the problem at that stage.
The tertiary level of prevention addresses the concern of what should happen following burnout and how to limit attrition. The burnout moment may be the result of a series of stressful events of a single catastrophic incident (Densten, 2001, p.834). The decision to ultimately leave teaching is a composite of financial and family concerns. If the labor market is bad and an individual has a large debt they may be inclined to tough it out hoping for a change when things get better. In this regard elements such as proximity to retirement also play a role in that the closer an individual is to retirement the less likely they are to want to leave. This however does not address the full scope of burnout, since a teacher remaining on the job does not prevent burnout.
To address burnout some teachers "downshift" that is they may secure a less demanding role at the school. This position may not have the prestige of their prior position but it is not as stressful for the individual. Alternately, teachers may decide to develop other interests as a way to reduce the stress levels or may move to a different school that they perceive as less stressful. Fore (n.d.) suggests that at this stage a salary increase may assist with both burnout and retention. Support staff can be employed to reduce the paperwork the teacher handles and some classroom stress.
Teacher burnout among special educators is a taxing problem. The problem is amplified by the nature of the special education challenge and by stressor on the job. Long-term solutions to teacher burnout must consider a multiplicity of factors to create a comprehensive solution. The future demands that such solutions all consider the nuanced nature of special education.
CEC Launches Initiative on Special Education Teaching Conditions, (1998, February/March).