How do you keep going

One in five Dutch teachers has burnout complaints. How do you prevent that? Tips from teachers, a supervisor and a researcher.

  1. Listen

    Almost three years ago, Ellen Kusters came to sit at home with a burnout. It was a complete surprise to her. For twenty years she was a steady force in the primary school where she herself had attended as a child. A second home, says Kusters. 'Ellen, will you do group 8 again next year', the director asked her. And he added, "You can, you are always so flexible." And there Kusters went again. Looking back, she says: “I was able to do a lot and everyone was always satisfied: teachers, management and parents. But you were never really asked what you wanted, what you preferred, how you envisioned it. ”

    In addition, the organization of the school changed during those twenty years. More and more often something was not possible. It was precisely the things that Kusters liked that were crossed out. “I was good at organizing dance performances and other crazy things. I like playfulness. This resulted in close-knit classes. ” Increasingly, the classes also consisted of difficult students. And more often she had to run lessons according to a fixed plan. More often Kusters didn't like it anymore.
    Kusters wrote an experience book about her burnout: Once upon a time… a teacher! Her tip is aimed at school management: Make sure everyone is seen and heard at school. “If a teacher says: 'It is a bit much all', then as a school leader you should not try to assign an additional task. Listen to what a teacher might want to change, but is afraid to say. ”

    Once upon a time… a teacher !, Ellen Kusters, Publisher Lecturium, ISBN 9789048442386, € 18,95

  2. Rate yourself

    Trainer-coach Thitia Kollen (right in the photo) and Rolien Dijksterhuis (left) saw many fellow teachers drop out. Dijksterhuis herself, a chemistry teacher, also began to notice that her energy was running out. Time for the pair to investigate what was going on in schools. But especially to look for a positive sound. “We all started out with a lot of love for our profession,” says Kollen, “we wanted to find that starting fire again.”

    In the book Educational fire, they explain together how you can regain your love for the profession. Kollen: "You can only improve your own situation if you are aware of it."
    So they advise: Put five chairs in a row, give them a number from 1 to 5, and sit on the chair with the number of how happy you feel at work. And then, according to the duo, you sit on the chair next to it, so one step higher and you start thinking about what it takes to get there. "Start feeling real, take your time for this."

    Because awareness is an important part of change. "Only when you know why you are giving yourself a 4 and with which improvements you can work towards a 5, do you focus on what you enjoy in your work instead of floating around in dissatisfaction."
    Solutions to help you become happier at work might include: I want to review at home instead of at school until five. I don't want another schedule with so many intermediate hours. I want to do some training to grow. Kollen: "Now is the time to discuss all these, sometimes difficult, things with managers."

    Educational fire. With energy and fun for the class, Rolien Dijksterhuis and Thitia Kollen, Publisher Onderwijs van Nu, ISBN 9789491757587, € 22,50

  3. Take teachers seriously

    Just walk into the class to show that you are involved. Marianne Zegers, deputy director of the Achthoek primary school in Amsterdam, a large school with 65 teachers and support staff, tries to do this regularly. "I would like to see and hear how the teacher and a group are doing."

    Sometimes a teacher drops out at primary school De Achthoek, but not that often. And if that's the case, they'll usually be back soon. The management team therefore gives teachers, support staff and students a lot of personal attention. Zegers: "It fits with the philosophy of our school, it is in our genes, I sometimes say."

    When a teacher has a hard time in private, Zegers asks how things are going. Sometimes she also sends an app. If necessary, task relief or classroom support is provided. “Not all teachers are the same, so not everyone is equally open about how they are doing, but we all try to keep everyone in their sights. In good and bad times. When there is something to celebrate at school, we do it. That too is part of positive attention and creating a positive atmosphere. ”

    The team also has course days in which they practice conversation techniques. “Name what you see and feel. We learn to listen with an open attitude. We take the teacher seriously. ”
    Moments later, when she bumps into the janitor in the hallway, he promptly asks about her accident on the racing bike. Marianne Zegers later: “It works both ways. If you give attention, you get it too. ”

  4. Write down what you need

    “Working on reducing work pressure is hard work,” says Roos Schelvis, researcher at TNO. Last year she obtained her PhD at VU University Amsterdam on reducing work stress among teachers. If you want to reduce work pressure and thus work stress, everyone must point in the same direction. School leaders and employees must want to work together. And that is immediately a difficult one, Schelvis noticed during her research. “Sometimes there is a lack of mutual trust. School management and employees do not know whether the other person wants the best for them. Sometimes they don't think so. This is due to previous unsuccessful experiences. ”

    Work pressure is experienced when the job demands are too much or too difficult, in combination with the degree to which someone has influence on the performance of the work. If you have no say whatsoever in how you do your job, the workload increases. If the workload becomes too great, it can lead to work stress. Work stress can lead to burnout complaints.

    When teachers experience work pressure because, for example, the printing paper has just run out when they want to print something before class, the school has to work hard to solve these kinds of daily inconveniences. For the deeper problems, Schelvis recommends that teachers and managers look together at the workload signpost, a handbook by research agency TNO. Schelvis: "Teachers have to learn to formulate what they need, it seems as if they have forgotten this after the accumulation of structural changes that they have had to choose." Because only when you can formulate what you need can things change.

    The workload guide can be found on the TNO website: go to and search for 'workload signpost'