RTRL.60: Confronting and Overcoming Music Teacher Burnout (Hanson, 2021)


Hanson, J. (2021). Research-to-resource: Confronting and overcoming music teacher burnout. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/87551233211019999

What did the researcher want to know?

How can we equip music teachers and other educational stakeholders with research-informed definitions, warning signs, and potential remedies for burnout!?

What did the researcher do?

In order to offer suggestions for identifying and remedying music teacher burnout, Hanson conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to teacher burnout.

What did the researcher find?

Burnout is defined as “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity” (Maslach, as cited in Hanson, p. 2). Research shows that the most common sources leading to music teacher burnout are low administrative support and poor working conditions, as well as challenges specific to music teachers (e.g, classroom management, large class sizes, feeling “unprepared for their teaching assignment”). Hanson cites five categories of symptoms of music teacher burnout, according to Sandene (1995): 

  1. Physical symptoms
    • fatigue, sleep disorders, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, headaches, etc.
  2. Intellectual symptoms
    • lack of focus, procrastination, impaired decision making, lowered productivity, apathy, etc.
  3. Social symptoms
    • irritability, feeling isolated, withdrawing from relationships, lacking adequate family time, etc.
  4. Psychological/emotional symptoms
    • anxiety, depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem, coping behaviors such as excessive drinking or eating, etc.
  5. Spiritual symptoms
    • detachment from religious practices or mindfulness habits, changes to one’s values system, etc.

Synthesis of the existing research suggests that “macro-level remedies” can be implemented in response burnout related to working conditions. These include the following:

  • Address issues of time constraints, resource inadequacy, and gaps in preparation. Possible solutions include providing targeted mentoring, course-load adjustments, and altered expectations for performing, traveling, and participating in contests/festival.
  • Provide more support and agency to teachers. Encourage teachers to set and maintain boundaries and help create a culture of open communication and shared decision making.
  • Address burnout prevention in teacher preparation programs and inservice professional development.

While these are not within an individual teacher’s control, teachers can introduce these ideas to administrative decision makers and begin a conversation about burnout.

Existing research suggests that music teachers can try stress-reduction approaches like the following:

  • Practice efficient time management. Set limits on the number of hours of daily work and stick to them. Get comfortable saying “no” to extra tasks.
  • “Seek clarity from supervisors on roles, responsibilities, and the boundaries governing what should and should not be included in teaching duties” (p. 4). If tasks extend beyond teaching, seek additional help, such as parent volunteers.
  • Prioritize health and wellness. Work on healthy sleep, eating, and movement habits. Spend time on a hobby and/or establish a mindfulness/meditation practice.
  • “Remember your ‘why’…. Keep students and the joy of learning in the foreground” (p. 4). However, if work becomes unbearable with no improvement on the horizon, prioritize your well-being by considering job changes: taking a leave of absence, going part-time, or applying for positions in different schools or districts” (p. 4).

What does this mean for my classroom?

We are going through a very stressful time! Teachers should be aware of the symptoms of burnout and consider whether they might be experiencing (or on the road to) burnout. While it is not within the control of individual teachers to make macro-level changes, music teachers can begin a conversation with their administrators regarding burnout and can proactively take steps to reduce stress.

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