Burnout in teaching levels of primary and secondary

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In this chapter the previous studies on burnout and its three dimensions are presented. Next, studies that investigated burnout and its connection with working experience are discussed. The chapter also includes a review of the literature on burnout in relation to teaching levels of primary and secondary schools. Finally, the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of the study are discussed.

2.2 Studies Related to Burnout and its Dimensions

Ideally, the teaching profession should be viewed as a labor of love and devotion; however, various studies have shown that today it has been transformed into a quite stressful occupation (Travers & Cooper, 1996; Dunham & Varma, 1998; Kyriacou, 2001; Kyriakides, Campbell & Christofidou, 2002). Moreover, today's teaching job is quite complicated as teachers have to carry out not only teaching but also matters associated with curriculum, students, parents, the school community and departmental initiatives. According to Smylie (1999), "These are tough times to be a teacher" (p. 59). These issues of distress in the teaching profession may be the culprits for increased burnout levels.

Generally, individuals who work face to face with people may experience burnout. Burnout can be a primary cause of an endless list of side-effects, not only on the person who suffers from this syndrome but also on all the people around him or her (Landeche, 2009). Burnout in the teaching profession has frequently been investigated and has globally been well accepted as being problematic for teachers (Cherniss, 1995; Guglielmi & Tatrow, 1998).

Burnout was first introduced by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. It was defined as wearing down or draining out of energy (Freudenberger & North, 1985). Burnout may render people unable to cope with their problems. Those who are unable to cope with their problems of work issues may exhibit a lower level of job performance quality.

Burnout is a sophisticated state of mental strain, the center of which is emotional exhaustion (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). The thought of going to work is a common symptom of emotional exhaustion. Often this can be exacerbated as individuals become frustrated or angry with themselves as they realize they cannot give the same kind of enthusiasm as in the past to the company or administrator. However, New York Magazine stated burnout is "a problem that's both physical and existential, an untidy conglomeration of external symptoms and personal frustrations" (Senior, 2006).

Burnout results from a form of chronic stress associated with the everyday interactions and close contact with others that is required in people's work (Pennington, 1992). Teachers are among the people that are highly exposed to burnout because they entertain their students' every day in school. Teaching line at times can be very dissatisfying and it is a painstaking job (Cikla & Duatepe, 2004).

Most of burnout research that had been done has been limited to the helping profession (e.g., nursing, education, social work); however, the construct is pervasive, cutting across many types of organizations and jobs (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). In conjunction with that, Stoeber and Rennert (2008) conducted research involving different cultures. They found that school teachers have one of the highest levels of work stress. This shows that teachers have stress. Societal changes, increased workload or work tasks, education system transformation, change of moral and normative quality of teachers' work (where teachers are expected to influence students' lives to a greater level than in the past), and multitasking have caused teachers work to increase in intensity and become more complicated (Brante, 2009).

Burnout can develop negative job attitudes, poor professional self concept, and loss of empathic concern for clients (Maslach & Pines, 1984). The burnout syndrome is explained in three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and diminished personal accomplishment (Maslach & Pines, 1984). According to Maslach (1976), people who always have interactions with others can undergo repetitious emotional pressure.

The construct of emotional exhaustion indicates the feelings of over extension and exhaustion caused by every day work pressures, and conflicts with the colleagues. Depersonalization refers to the development of negative attitudes and impersonal responses towards the people with whom one works closely which affect the continual relations among helpers (for example, teachers) and clients (for example, students. Reduced personal accomplishment means a loss of self esteem and work accomplishment as a consequence of limited positive feedback and recognition and competency in personal affairs at work (Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Rowe, 1998).

In line with that, Burke and Greenglass (1995) suggested that burnout which includes three components "that are conceptually diverse but empirically related" (p.188). Schaufeli and Buunk (2002) considered the occurrence of teachers' difficulties is characterized in the three dimensions, including (1) a physical dimension concerning to exhaustion as an external symptom, (2) a mental distancing from regular teacher activities, and (3) a reduced professional effectiveness.

Some studies indicate stress can occur due to the workload increment, mischievous students, parent-teacher relationship issues, misunderstandings among colleagues, no support or very poor school leadership and lack of autonomy (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007). The longer a teacher works, the less job satisfaction they exhibit. This paves the way to an increase in emotional exhaustion (EE) and a reduction in personal accomplishment (PA).

Most recognized that teaching profession has one of the largest occupational pressures. Burnout influences most of the teachers at some point of their teaching profession (Cheek, Bradley, Parr & Lan, 2003; Dorman, 2003; Schwab & Iwanicki, 1982). Teachers' burnout can have consequences for their professions (Wood & McCarthy, 2002). Moreover, when burnout increases in teachers' profession, it makes them hate their career and it affects their students' achievement (Dworkin, 1985). Farber and Miller (1981) noted that teachers who experience symptoms of burnout might:

be less sympathetic with their students

have low tolerance for frustration

not plan often or carefully

consider or plan to leave the profession all together

report feelings of emotional or physical exhaustion on a frequent basis

be depressed, irritable, and anxious

From the professional point of view, burnout can lead to a significant fall in teaching performance, frequent absenteeism due to illness and early retirement. Teachers who suffer from burnout may behave rigidly towards their students, and have negative and low expectations of students, and they may feel exhausted emotionally and physically, and show low levels of involvement in teaching or concern for their students (Maslach, 1976; Spaniol & Caputo, 1979; Farber & Miller, 1981).

In the United States, teacher burnout has become a topic receiving national attention (Blase, 1986; Huston 1989). A survey of American literature by Farber (1991) showed that approximately 5-20 percent of all teachers in the United States will be burned out at a given moment in their career.

In Malaysia, the unease over job-related stress, experienced by school teachers, has been raised to a great extent by the National Union of the Teaching Profession or NUTP (Abdul Muin Sapidin, 2005). As it can be observed from the findings of the local research in both primary and secondary schools a considerable proportion of teachers suffer from stress. The teachers who experienced high levels of stress, in each research, included 17.5% (Mokhtar Ahmad, 1998), 21.3% (Mohd Razali Othman & Abd. Mat Abg. Masagus, 1998) and 36.8% (Malakolunthu, 1994). These researchers have reported various factors as the sources of stress in their samples, including students' attitude, workload, and having to teach poorly motivated students. A research by Mukundan and Khandehroo (2009) found that burnout was evident among Malaysian English teachers at high levels in all dimensions. However, there is a lack of attempt to measure the burnout level involved in ESL teaching in the country.

2.3 Studies Related to Working Experience and Burnout

Teacher development is a dynamic journey. The occurrence of work stress of teachers has increased in recent years. While educators were a strong element in shaping educational decisions and supported by the society until 30-40 years ago, this started to change particularly from the mid-70s (Iwanicki, 1983; Gunduz, 2005). Until now, more than 1,000 studies on burnout done by the researchers and it can be considered the "gold standard" research where teachers who have spent many years in the profession also been involved (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).

The demographics variables that may cause burnout include the teacher's age, gender, marital status, education level, length of work, time spent in the last workplace, experience, teachers' perception of their job, and their self perceptions about their effectiveness of their teaching (Johnson, Gold & Knepper, 1984; Qtd. in Aksoy, 2007, p. 20).

Researchers have found that age and teaching experience are related to teacher stress level (Yahaya, Hashim, & Kim, 2005). Moreover, studies carried out in Malaysia identified several factors contributing to stress and burnt out at work among teachers, such as years of experience in teaching (Mokhtar, 1998), the feelings of responsibility and working environment (Ismail, 1998), the school type and perceptions of inadequate school facilities (Chan, 2006) and use of information technology (Hanizah, 2003).

Moreover, studies have shown that teachers' burnout often experiences an aggravated phase at some point in the middle of their teaching experience that is about teaching after 15 years or so. This is when teachers may feel frustrated with teaching or working to meet the level of step-down. As a result, they often feel helplessness and fatigue. In American and Australian study found that newer teachers were more likely to experience higher burnout than more experienced ones (Crane & Iwanicki, 1986; Pierce & Molloy, 1990). The relationship between the level of burnout and teaching experience may be explained by the intention that feeling burnout could be reduced as a result of trained maturity.

Attention to the teacher's experience is also given by Konert (1997). She suggests that better coping skills with students have been developed by more experienced teachers than less experienced teachers, and they might have acquired more realistic expectations over the time about their profession.

Generally, teachers who are less experienced are in need of help from their seniors or experienced teachers. The experienced teachers will try to solve the problem by themselves. However, these teachers also need to sacrifice their time. This indicates experience could also be a crucial factor that can influence burnout. Leong (1995) stated that development of effective methodology to cope with various factors that lead to stress may be handled more effectively by the teacher with more experience.

Studies showed that a teacher without experience is more likely to be an 'interventionist' than a highly experienced teacher (Martin et al., 2002). On the other hand, another study shows that an experienced teacher is more likely to be an 'interventionist' (Martin et al., 2002). Here the 'interventionist' refers to the teachers' beliefs and attitudes toward classroom management in three broad dimensions which are instructional management, people management, and behavior management with reference to working experience. More research is required to resolve such inconsistencies in previous research findings.

Less experienced teachers may suffer from burnout as a result of a feeling of powerlessness. A teacher who experiences low self-esteem and out-of-the-way from students will not be able to perform well. Shukla and Trivedi (2008) state that, "Burnout is not a trivial problem but it is an important parameter of a major social dysfunction in the work place" (p. 324).

In addition to that, teacher burnout has been shown to have negative effects on teacher and student performance (Huberman & Vandenberghe, 1999; Maslach & Leiter, 1999). Teachers who are confused on their job specifications will develop feelings of depersonalization. Dissatisfaction and increases in tiredness, increases with work pressures, and role conflict (Viswesvaran et al., 1999). Again, less experienced teachers may feel high levels of burnout as they have to cope with the changes in a new environment. Less experienced teachers are more likely to experience burnout and conflict-inducing attitudes towards the students (Sava, 2001).

In a study in southwest United States, 51 elementary school teachers were involved in the study using music therapy techniques to treat teacher burnout (Cheek, Bradley, Parr & Lan, 2003). The results showed that burnout also influences most teachers at some point in their working experiences (Cheek et. al., 2003). A study on the age and years of teaching experience of the agriculture teacher are related to depersonalization scores and no significant relationships were found between years of teaching experience and emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment (Croom, 2003). Obviously, as teachers grow older and more experienced, they will alleviate coping skills in tendency to treat students in an impersonal manner.

In line with that, teaching competency is an additional determining stressor for less experienced teachers with limited training, as research shows significant differences between the novice and the experienced, the trained and untrained, as well as those with and without full qualifications (Chan & Juriani, 2010). In other words, teaching capability is a factor which causes the teachers who lack training and experience to feel more stressful than the other teachers.

In Malaysia, a study by Mukundan and Khandehroo (2009) indicated less experienced ESL teachers had a higher level of emotional exhaustion as compared to experienced teachers. Such findings imply that less experienced teachers are more responsive to their students than the experienced ones.

In contrast, Hong Kong studies found that no significant difference has been found among teachers with different years of teaching experience in perceived stress level (Alan, Chan, Chen, Elaine & Chong, 2010).

However, connection can be seen from previous study in Turkey. It involves 523 teachers from 50 primary public schools. The researcher sought to find out to what extent teaching experience variables predict burnout among primary school teachers. The results of the study indicated that working experience can be considered as significant predictors of emotional exhaustion dimension of burnout (Yalçın Ozdemir, 2007).

From the literature it may be seen that burnout is a complex issue that should be addressed in reference to working experience. In the present study, another variable which is teaching level and the literature related to it will be discussed.

2.4 Studies Related to Teaching Level and Burnout

Studying on the issue of burnout among primary and secondary school teachers is important for the administration and teachers to work together to improve the working environment and reduce the burnout.

In Malaysia, a survey conducted among 9,000 primary, secondary and technical school teachers revealed that 67% of Malaysian teachers suffer from stress (NUTP, 2005).

From a few existing studies in the literature, researchers found primary and secondary school teachers in Hong Kong perceived different levels of stress. Teachers of primary schools perceived a significantly higher level of stress than those in secondary schools. Issues of class cuts and teachers' career instability could be the main reasons for such results (Alan, Chan, Chen, Elaine & Chong, 2010).

A study on the relationship between primary school teachers' burnout and some of their demographic variables in Turkish cities found that burnout levels of the teachers are low (Cikla & Duatepe, 2004). By contrast, a study in Antalya, Turkey by Ali (2009) considers the relationship between teachers' burnout and organizational health in primary schools. The findings show that teachers' burnout level is low in emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment and high in depersonalization.

Based on a study conducted on emotion regulation ability, burnout and job satisfaction among British secondary school teachers it was found that a significant relationship exists between emotion regulation ability and a component of burnout, personal accomplishment (Brackett, Palomera, Mojsa, Reyes & Salovey, 2010). However, a study on emotional intelligence and locus of control as predictors of burnout among secondary school teachers in Ondo State, Nigeria indicated that both emotional intelligence and locus of control significantly could predict burnout among secondary school teachers (Akomolafe & Popoola, 2011).

In Malaysia, it was found that English teachers (n=184) teaching in Malaysian primary and secondary schools in Malacca experience burnout at high levels in all three dimensions of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment (Mukundan & Khandehroo, 2009). In addition, in a research project conducted by Segumpan and Bahari (2006) among 1209 teachers from 14 secondary schools in Malacca, it was found that 57.2% of the respondents had high stress levels because of the students' misbehavior. In contrast, in a study on stress among teachers in secondary schools in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia, it was found that 74% of secondary school teachers experienced low levels of stress (Azlihanis, Nyi Nyi, Aziah, Rusli, & Mohd Rahim, 2009).

Moreover, a study showed that role conflict, role ambiguity, role overload, and lack of administrative support significantly predict burnout among girls' secondary school teachers in Kinta, Perak (Leong, 1995). In line with that, another study in Kinta, Perak showed that burnout among teachers are significantly related to social support, working environment and role overload. The boys' secondary school teachers were experience higher level of burnout and teachers from girls' secondary schools experience low level of burnout (Mohd Puat, 1998).

As it can be seen from the reviewed literature, there is very little research on burnout and the teaching level and hence a need for further studies.

DP2.5 Theoretical and Conceptual Framework of the Study

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Figure 1: Theoretical framework

Figure 1 shows the theoretical framework for this study. Basically, emotional exhaustion plus depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment will influence burnout. In specific terms, a high score on the emotional exhaustion subscale and a high score on depersonalization subscale and a low score on personal accomplishment subscale will indicate a high level of burnout: (EE + DP) - PA = BURNOUT.

Based on this theoretical framework, the following conceptual framework was proposed (Figure 2):

Emotional Exhaustion


Personal Accomplishment

â- Working experience

â- Teaching level



English as a Second Language (Teaching) DV


Figure 2: Conceptual framework

As the figure shows, the independent variables (IV) are working experience of ESL teachers (>10 years and <10 years) and their teaching level (primary and secondary schools). The dependent variables (DV) are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment which may identify the burnout level among primary and secondary schools ESL teachers in Putrajaya (Figure 2).