Pandemic Burnout Is Real

06 Oct 2021 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Susan Nolan, STP President

Is anyone else feeling burned out as we enter the 20th month since most of our world went into lockdown? University instructors have always been at high risk for getting burned out, as documented, for example, in a review of the literature between 2005 and 2020 (Fernández-Suárez et al. 2021). Other studies show similar trends among secondary school instructors (Molero et al., 2019). And burnout among instructors has been exacerbated during the pandemic. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a combination of three factors – exhaustion, job-related cynicism, and decreased effectiveness at work. Teaching during the pandemic? Check, check, and check.

I know I’m not alone. Beth McMurtrie (2020) wrote the aptly titled article, “The pandemic is dragging on. Professors are burning out” for the Chronicle of Higher Education. As she describes it, “the problem [for some] has been a crushing workload combined with child-care challenges. For others, it’s a feeling that their institution expects them to be counselors and ed-tech experts on top of their regular responsibilities, even if it means working seven days a week.” She also highlights the additional challenges faced by Black and Latino professors who are often expected to support students of color, join committees on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and take on other similar roles. And she notes the added stress faced by contingent faculty members whose already precarious positions might be even more threatened by pandemic cost-cutting measures.

And there are distinct stressors for those teaching online, particularly if we had not done so before the pandemic. We have had to learn new technology at record speed, continually adapt to changes in technology, and then teach our students what we just learned (e.g., Mheidly et al., 2020). One professor colorfully described these challenges: “I needed a motor scooter, and they gave me a 747 without an instruction manual” (McMurtry, 2020). In line with the WHO definition of burnout, these challenges can be exhausting, cynicism-inducing, and productivity-sapping.  

Research on preventing burnout, which is easier than recovering once you have slammed against the proverbial burnout wall, suggests that awareness of the risk of burnout is a first step (Mheidly et al., 2020). A number of suggestions relate to actions that an institution can take to increase awareness and implement interventions. But there also are steps we can take on our own. Notice when exhaustion and cynicism are setting in, and work to break the cycle. Take breaks, especially if you’re working online. Engage in exercise, meditation, and other healthful practices. McMurtrie (2020) and Mheidly and colleagues (2020) both strongly recommend actively seeking social support. Create virtual networks of supportive colleagues, even if it means one more Zoom meeting; elicit support on social media by sharing your struggles; and check in on each other even if it’s just a quick email to see if a colleague is doing OK. (May I also suggest writing a blog post on burnout? It’s been surprisingly therapeutic!)

Or maybe fight your burnout by joining me and our supportive network of STP colleagues at the virtual Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT), coming up on October 14 and 15! It will be the largest ACT yet, with several hundred attendees, live programming on both days, and dozens of asynchronous offerings available starting on October 14. And just $25 USD for members. (The $50 cost for nonmembers includes membership.) See you there?

The latest introduction in my ongoing series of “meet the EC” features Gabrielle Smith, our Interim Vice President for Diversity and International Relations. When our previous VP, Kelley Haynes-Mendez, took a full-time position at APA this past spring, Gabrielle applied to take on the role, and we have been lucky to have someone with her talents and experience shepherding STP’s work in diversity, equity, inclusion, and internationalization. Gabrielle had been serving on (and continues to serve on) the 2021 presidential task force on diversity, equity, inclusion, and internationalization, so was already involved in this important work for STP. We look forward to her continued contributions in the years to come! As always, check out STP’s Get Involved page to see where you might fit within our organization!

What would you like STP members to know about your position?

I serve as The Interim Vice President for Diversity and International Relations. The Vice President for Diversity and International Relations is responsible for collaborating and consulting with the other four VPs, the Chairs of the Diversity Committee and the International Relations Committee, the Task Force on the Integration of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and International Initiatives across STP, and other Executive Committee members to ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, and international relations are considered in all Society’s activities. The Vice President oversees and works closely with the chairs of the Diversity Committee, International Relations Committee, the Task Force on the Integration of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and International Initiatives across STP, and International Twitter Poster Conference Committee to advance diversity and international issues within STP. Additionally, I consult with Presidential task forces and our journal editor to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. As an interim VP, I am also charged with maintaining the position, continuing the work of the previous VP, and ensuring that the incoming VP has a solid base to start her term. Presently, I am continuing the work of Kelley Haynes-Mendez in coordinating an organizational self-assessment for diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am also consulting with the current Presidential task force on diversity, equity, and inclusion alongside chairs and members of the Diversity and International Relations committees. I hope to spend the remainder of my time in the VP role engaging communities that have traditionally not been as visible at STP, set the foundation for the next VP to conduct a DEI related needs assessment, and enhance access to DEI related resources.

What do you most value about STP?

As someone who is still reasonably new to STP, I value the community feel of STP. I appreciate how quickly I was welcomed into the fold and put to work! The sense of community that exists in STP is present because when you enter the space you are not a spectator for long! STP is a community, and your mere presence will ensure that you will get integrated into the fabric of the community at some level. My process of becoming involved with the organization has been an interesting whirlwind, and I can attest to the meaningfulness of the extra layer of engagement with STP. I fell into STP during the virtual ACT conference of 2020. Many of my graduate school colleagues from the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE!) always raved about STP and told me to join. I finally decided to listen, and in 2020 I decided to submit a presentation on faculty identity and teaching. I titled the presentation Teaching While Black, and it was well-received, and I thought, “Great. That was fun!”, not expecting anything beyond that talk. Afterward, so many people contacted me about the presentation. Many presentation attendees directed me to seek a position with the Task Force on the Integration of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and International Initiatives across STP to address the issues explored in my talk. I was also contacted to write an essay related to my STP talk for the STP E-xcellence in Teaching blog (it should be live sometime in October). I was enjoying my taskforce position and working diligently with the committee on several meaningful initiatives when Kelley Hayes-Mendez announced that she was transitioning to a role at APA. I was then contacted as a possible candidate to serve as interim VP of Diversity and International Relations, and the rest, as they say, is history. STP has many opportunities for leadership and meaningful engagement, and it is easy to connect and get involved with the organization in a meaningful way. Once my interim term ends, I am sure that I will stay involved with the STP community for years to come. 

References

Fernández-Suárez, I., García-González, M. A., Torrano, F., & García-González, G. (2021). Study of the prevalence of burnout in university professors in the period 2005–2020. Education Research International, 2021, Article ID 7810659. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/7810659

Mheidly, N., Fares, M. Y., & Fares, J. (2020). Coping with stress and burnout associated with telecommunication and online learning. Frontiers in Public Health, 8, 672. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.574969

Molero Jurado, M. D. M., Pérez-Fuentes, M. D. C., Atria, L., Oropesa Ruiz, N. F., & Gázquez Linares, J. J. (2019). Burnout, perceived efficacy, and job satisfaction: Perception of the educational context in high school teachers. BioMed Research International, 2019, Article ID 1021408. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/1021408

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