Teachers on Fire : Existential-Phenomenological A nalysis of Teachers’ Burnout

Existential – Phenomenological Analysis of Teachers’ burnout in Israel

People often start their new careers with high hopes, idealism, expectations and great motivation. However, as soon as we feel that our work is meaningless; if we think our work makes no difference to others nor to the world; if we start to feel stressed, tired or disappointed; if we feel we have failed, then the process of burnout begins. (Brock and Grady 2000, Malach-Pines 2002a; 2004).

This project looks at the experiences of eight Israeli women who chose to become teachers and started their teaching careers both enthusiastic and highly motivated, yet decided to leave those careers after several years at school.
Almost 40 years have passed since Freudenberger (1974) identified the phenomenon of burnout. Since then, thousands of pieces of research, involving thousands of participants of almost every sector of workers have been conducted. This research has identified the symptoms and the causes of burnout, suggested ways to measure it and listed its most significant characteristics.

Teachers were the largest homogenous occupational group that researchers have investigated in their attempts to understand the phenomenon of burnout (Malach-Pines 2002b).
The high rate of teacher burnout indicates that this is a serious problem that needs proper attention. However, despite extensive research on the phenomenon of teachers’ burnout (see eg.: Anderson and Iwanicki 1984, Farber 1991, Farber and Miller 1981, Fives, Hamman and Olivárez 2007, Langle 2003, Malach-Pines 2002a; 2002b, Schaufeli, Bakker, Hoodguin, Schaap and Kladler 2001, Tomic, Evers and Brouwers 2004, Tomic and Tomic 2008, Weisberg and Sagie 1999), most studies only focus on the physical, psychological and emotional symptoms of burnout. The majority of these studies were not conducted in a way that gave voice to the subjective experience of the individual teacher.

Among the studies of teacher burnout that included Israeli participants, some pointed out that this group suffer significant burnout (Weisberg and Sagie 1999), whilst other showed the opposite (Malach-Pines 1984; 2004; 2011). Previous research, however, did not focus on teachers who left their jobs.
Furthermore, looking at burnout from an existential phenomenological perspective is rather rare. A small number of studies included existential aspects, but these researches focused on a specific aspect, and did not look at burnout as a reflection of ontological aspects of existence.

In this project, I therefore aim to explore and describe the subjective experience of eight individual Israeli women who initially chose to become teachers in Israeli public schools but decided to leave their jobs after less than 10 years. In order to voice the subjective experience of these eight women and to ensure an existential-phenomenological framework, I used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and the four existential dimensions of existence as a framework.

According to the data published by the Israeli Ministry of Education (2012), 76% of the Israeli students between the ages 6 to 18 are studying in public schools. Almost 81% of the teachers in Israel, according to the Israeli central bureau of statistics (2005) are women. All eight participants of this study are therefore Israeli women who chose to teach in Israeli public schools.

Their initial choice to become teachers in public schools in Israel led them into a specific environment, a system with its own conditions, rules and givens, over which they had no control. Using Heidegger’s (1962) terminology, their initial choice “threw” them into certain context which had limitations, over which they had no control.
For example, the basic framework of teachers in the Israeli educational system is fixed by the regulations published by the Israeli Ministry of Education (2011). Under these, full time teachers at elementary, secondary and high schools are expected to spend 36 hours at school during each 5-day week during term time, with their duties including group and face-to-face meetings with students and others as well as front-line teaching.

Official “at school” working hours depend on individual circumstances (such as full-time or part-time employment, being employed at elementary school or high school, the details of collective agreements between teachers’ unions and schools and so on), but the concept is always the same. Full-time teachers in Israel spend a significant time at school each week, but they are also expected to dedicate a great deal of out-of-school time to school-related activities like trips, holiday celebrations with the children and their parents, phone calls, lesson preparation and marking.

With their work occupying so much of their lives, both in thought and time, it is safe to say that school can be seen as the teachers’ significant environment where they live and through which they experience the world.
This study therefore describes the experience of eight Israeli women in this significant environment. It starts with a literature review describing the developments in the study of burnout throughout the last 40 years, as well as the symptoms and causes of it. It presents the four existential dimensions of existence that were used as a framework in this study.

It then presents the methodology and my choice to use IPA in this study, as well as the way IPA was used in order to analyse the data collected.
The next section, the findings, then presents the participants’ accounts of their school teaching experiences, grouped according to four superordinate themes and emergent sub-themes. This section is followed by a discussion and analysis chapter that discusses the participants’ accounts of their experience as seen through an existential phenomenological lens as well as through other theoretical frames. The discussion and analysis section presents the existential anxieties experienced in each superordinate theme, proposing that burnout is an existential phenomenon that reflects the way employees experience certain ontological limitations.

The conclusion chapter summarises the project and includes reflections on the strength and weakness of this project, clinical implications and suggestion for further studies.

 

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Teachers on Fire- Existential Phenomenological Analysis of Teachers Burnout in Israel- Gideon Menda – February 2014

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If you wish to quote this article or use it as a source, please quote:
Menda, Gideon (2014). Teachers on Fire: Existential Phenomenological Analysis of Teachers’ Burnout in Israel. London: Middlesex University.

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