Q&A: Burnout among teachers


Research by Filip Van Droogenbroeck of the Free University of Brussels (VUB) explored why burnout is so prevalent among teachers over 45, examining relationships, autonomy and workload

Preventing demotivation

Filip Van Droogenbroeck, a researcher at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), examined the causes of burnout among Flemish teachers who are older than 45.

How common is burnout in teachers over the age of 45?
Previous research by our team showed that a large group of teachers end their careers before the regular retirement age and that in many cases, burnout is the main reason for this decision. We were interested in finding out the reasons for this prevalence of burnout and how it could be prevented. We focused on four aspects in our survey among 1,878 older teachers: the role of interpersonal relationships, autonomy, teaching-related workload and non-teaching-related workload.

How do interpersonal relationships affect teachers’ work?
We found that the relationship with the students is of major importance. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; earlier research shows that most teachers have chosen the profession to help youngsters in their development, and this gives them the most satisfaction if it goes well.

Solidarity between colleagues can also protect teachers against emotional exhaustion, since it’s essential to feel like you are part of a team working towards the same goals. It’s a little surprising that the relationship with parents seems to have no effect at all, but it is true that teachers only have contact with parents a few times a year.

What did you conclude concerning autonomy?
Teachers definitely need to feel like they’re involved in the decision-making process at a school and that they have the freedom to use their own initiative. We found that the role of the director in this respect is crucial.

Is there a lot of work for teachers outside the classroom?
More and more, we believe. Teachers increasingly have to justify their methods, and many teachers feel too much emphasis is put on paperwork. The role of the director is again essential, as they must translate policy decisions to the day-to-day school context and should protect teachers against unrealistic demands and expectations.

What is your advice towards policymakers?
Decision-makers should make sure that accountability demands and paperwork have a clear added value, so teachers don’t become demotivated by this workload. We also propose to pay more attention to the non-teaching-related workload in teacher training so that the new generation of teachers is better prepared. We also want to see an additional training programme for school directors, to ensure they don’t overload their teachers.

Photo: Ingimage

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.

million school-going children in 2013


million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013


percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma