RTRL.67: Predictors of Music Teacher Well-being (Kang & Yoo, 2019)


Kang, S., & Yoo, H. (2019). Music teachers’ psychological needs and work engagement as predictors of their well-being. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 221, 58-71.

What did the researchers want to know?

What are the strongest predictors of music teachers’ well-being, and do these vary career stage?

What did the researchers do?

Kang and Yoo surveyed 330 music teachers in the southeastern United States. In addition to collecting demographic information, the survey included questions to measure teachers’ psychological needs, work engagement, and subjective well-being. Measurement of teachers’ psychological needs included 16 questions focusing on three subfactors: “autonomy (to experience oneself as the originator of one’s behavior), competence (to feel that one can master challenges), and relatedness (to feel a sense of meaningful connectedness within one’s social condition” (p. 62). The nine questions pertaining to work engagement focused on teachers’ energy level, vigor, mental resilience, and willingness to invest effort in their work. Finally, 40 questions asked teachers to rate their well-being in a variety of areas, including general happiness and other emotions, confidence in coping with future challenges, relationships, and health.

Kang and Yoo conducted a stepwise regression to ascertain the strongest predictor of well-being. To investigate whether predictors of well-being vary throughout career stages, Kang and Yoo conducted stepwise regressions for each of five different stages (0-5 years teaching, 6-10 years, 11-20 years, 21-30 years, 31+ years).

What did the researchers find?

The strongest predictor of participants’ well-being was their sense of competence in their work as music educators. While competence was still the strongest predictor of well-being for teachers with 11-30 years of experience, relatedness was the strongest predictor of well-being for teachers with 0-10 years and 31+ years of experience.

What does this mean for my classroom?

“Based on the results of this study, we can conclude that promoting music teachers’ psychological needs, especially competence and relatedness, will ensure higher levels of their well-being” (p. 66). It is especially important for newer teachers and those nearing retirement to feel connected to their colleagues and students. In general, feeling competent in their work is the strongest predictor of a music teacher’s well-being. Thus, music teacher preparation programs and school districts can help teachers’ well-being by assisting them in developing their competence to the greatest extent possible.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has continually posed new and unforeseeable circumstances in schools. From moving to virtual instruction to eliminating key areas of learning and skill development (e.g., avoiding singing due to concern over aerosols) to having their own classes canceled so they can substitute for grade-level teachers, music educators have experienced two years of constant threats to their sense of competence in their work. If you are exhausted and feeling like you are failing as a teacher, you are not alone! There is no way you could have been prepared for this. Just as new teachers go through a period characterized as “survival,” we are all doing the best we can in the circumstances we are facing. To help strengthen well-being among teachers and students alike, now may be the time for scaling back educational goals and focusing on building relationships to the best of our abilities. School administrators should also prioritize teachers’ well-being and provide them with opportunities to build autonomy, relatedness, and competence. “Continuous efforts should be made to understand teachers’ well-being and promote it on an individual and/or case-by-case basis” (p. 69).

RTRL.66: Burnout: A Review of Literature (Nápoles, 2022)


Nápoles, J. (2022). Burnout: A review of literature. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(2), 19-26. doi:10.1177/87551233211037669

What did the researcher want to know?

What is burnout and how can it be prevented?

What did the researcher do?

Nápoles conducted a literature review of existing scholarly resources and research studies pertaining to burnout in order to define the term, discuss factors contributing to burnout, and share possible remedies for burnout.

What did the researcher find?

Although it has been defined in a variety of ways, burnout can be regarded as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal job stressors that is characterized by (a) emotional exhaustion, (b) depersonalization/cynicism, and (c) a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. “Emotional exhaustion was defined as feelings of being overextended and depleted of one’s emotional resources. Depersonalization/cynicism referred to the negative, callous, or excessively detached response to various aspects of the job…. Personal accomplishment was reduced when there were feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity at work” (p. 20).

While some researchers have argued that certain characteristics of individuals make them more susceptible to burnout, it is more widely believed that burnout is predominately the result of external factors. Nápoles reviewed one model for understanding how organizations contribute to burnout, which encompassed six factors that can lead to burnout in employees:

  • work overload
  • lack of control
  • insufficient reward
  • breakdown in community (i.e., loss of positive connection with others)
  • absence of fairness
  • conflicting values

Within music education, numerous factors have been found to be linked to burnout among music teachers:

  • inadequate support
  • non-instructional responsibilities
  • feelings of isolation
  • lack of recognition by others
  • unclear goals from administrators or colleagues
  • too much work
  • low salary
  • not enough equipment, etc.

Burnout can manifest as both physical and psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms of burnout can include exhaustion, insomnia, use of alcohol/drugs, weight loss or gain, high blood pressure, migraines, and increased cholesterol. Psychological symptoms can include detachment, boredom, cynicism, irritability, mental disfunction, sense of impotence, paranoia, disorientation, impatience, crankiness, rigidity, mistrust of others, and worry. One pair of researchers observed a five-stage pattern to burnout, which consists of (1) honeymoon stage, (2) fuel shortage, (3) chronic symptoms, (4) crisis, and (5) hitting the wall.

Researchers have recommended three areas of possible focus for preventing teacher burnout: (a) in-school contexts, (b) out-of-school contexts, and (c) through mentoring/induction programs. One strategy for preventing burnout within in-school contexts is through “job crafting,” which involves making self-initiated changes to one’s job demands and job resources to attain and/or optimize their personal goals. Nurturing positive interpersonal relationships at work is another way to increase job satisfaction.

In addition to shaping one’s in-school experiences, “the majority of suggestions for mitigating burnout related to finding a better balance between work activities and personal activities outside of work. Relaxation, exercise, cutting back on overtime or excessive hours, limiting job spillover, and emphasizing other aspects of life are common strategies suggested by researchers” (p. 23).

What does this mean for my classroom?

The prolonged and intense stress of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic may push even the most skilled and passionate of music educators to experience burnout. Having an awareness of the factors that contribute to burnout, the symptoms of burnout, and the five-stage pattern of burnout can help music teachers assess their own risk of experiencing burnout and take steps to prevent it. It can also be reassuring to know that certain experiences may be associated with burnout. For example, if you’re noticing that you have been feeling cynical about teaching lately, you may wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I used to love this job! Maybe I’m just not a good teacher any more.” If so, you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you! Instead, you might recognize this as a sign of burnout and take steps to alleviate it and prevent further burnout.

As Nápoles stresses, “A burned-out teacher is not as effective as one who has chosen to establish healthy boundaries around work” (p. 24). Teachers should be encouraged to “find avenues for separating from work activities and taking necessary time off to rejuvenate themselves” (p. 24). Music educators might also consider “job crafting”—adjusting aspects of their job to decrease time spent on draining tasks or interactions in favor of experiences that may be more fulfilling. One example Nápoles provides is to reduce the number of performances during the school year and spend class time in a different way, such as inviting a living composer to speak with students or trying a songwriting project.

Finally, it is incumbent upon administrators and school communities to take an active role in preventing teacher burnout. This includes treating teachers with respect, compensating them fairly, providing recognition, and acknowledging that teachers are human beings. “The public perception of the heroic teacher, always willing to work under any condition for the benefit of children, is unhelpful to teachers” (p. 24).