Burned-In, Not Burned Out: A Theory of How Excellent Urban Educators Shift Mindsets and Continue to Teach

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teacher retention
urban education
positive psychology
Other Psychology
Teacher Education and Professional Development
Theory and Philosophy
Urban Education
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The need for teacher well-being is a given. Even so, teaching is tied with nursing as the most stressful profession and teacher turnover is at an all-time high, especially in urban schools. Both students and schools suffer as a result. Three states of being characterize teacher burnout: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and lowered self-efficacy. In this paper, however, we study why some teachers do not burn out or leave their jobs; indeed, they excel in their profession and find great fulfillment in it. We postulate that there is an opposite of teacher burnout, what we have termed teacher “burn-in.” We isolate its three characteristics: a sense of energy, optimism, and self-efficacy. The tripartite typology of both burnout and burn-in, hence, is Energy, Outlook, and Self-Evaluation. We use this typology to chart transformations of burnout to burn-in. Interviews with 20 excellent urban educators, all of whom taught through or beyond the five-year mark, interestingly illustrated that the burned-in teacher was also - to lesser or greater degrees - burned out. Sometimes burnout led to burn-in. In the end, we found that teacher burn-in is a blend of both teacher burnout and burn-in. The study also charts the mindset shifts in each portion of the typology that activates this blending process: (1) in Energy, the burned-in teachers shifted mindset from “school only” to “school-plus-me”; (2) in Outlook, from “I am solely responsible, I am solely to blame” to “I rely on collective action” and “I rely on complex measures of success;” and (3) in Self-Evaluation, from “a prescribed practice” to “a preferred practice.” Because our research is limited to data collected from these 20 educators only, it suggests the need for further study of what it means to be and how to become a teacher who is “burned-in.”

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