KOKOMO, Ind. — Nearly 30 percent of new teachers leave the classroom in the first five years of their careers.
At a time when schools are having difficulty finding teachers to fill vacancies, Indiana University Kokomo’s School of Education is fighting back against the teacher burnout detailed in a report by the Learning Policy Institute.
Dean Leah Nellis and Cheryl Moore-Beyioku, lecturer in special education, launched the School’s Emerging Educator Mentor Network with a self-care and resilience retreat on campus, to bring together alumni and current education students to focus on the importance of taking care of themselves, and finding support among colleagues.
Central Middle International School teacher Nicole McDorman stepped up to serve as a mentor, to provide the kind of encouragement she didn’t receive when starting her career 10 years ago.
“Nobody gets it like another teacher does,” she said. “I hope I can have a good relationship with my mentees, and provide the support they need to begin teaching and stay in the profession. I’d like to build a big network of teachers who support each other.”
Nellis said 14 veteran teachers are participating as mentors, assisting 11 early-career educators. She anticipates adding more participants in the future.
“This is a critical issue for educators, as teaching is rated as one of the most stressful professions, even before the impact of the pandemic,” she said. “It is essential that we support teachers in their own self-care and wellness, so they show up each morning of each day to instruct, nurture, and mentor their students.”
Wallace Elementary kindergarten teacher Laura White looks forward to working with her mentor, and added that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s not had a “normal” school year.
“I’ve seen in the past two years of teaching that burnout is a real thing,” said White, a 2019 graduate. “I’ve seen it in myself, where I get caught up in things, and need to take a step back. I’ve recognized that I need skills in self-regulation and caring for my mental health. This is an opportunity to learn more about that.”
Experienced teachers can understand the struggles, White said, and provide encouragement.
Hannah Bartley, who also earned her degree in 2019, was happy to connect with fellow educators, and learn how to take care of herself in order to be a better teacher for her Clinton Central Elementary students.
“We’re so used to doing what has to get done every day and following the school routine, and we forget to take care of ourselves, too,” she said. “I learned that I need to take time for myself and make that a priority, because it will make me a better teacher and a better person.”
Teachers have to change the mindset that the needs of others always come first, McDorman said.
“Educators don’t participate in self-care because we’re always putting everyone else first,” she said. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves and help others, so we don’t get burned out and leave the profession.”
The Emerging Educator Mentor Network is funded by a grant from Women of the Well House, IU Kokomo’s women’s giving circle, and from IU’s Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Circle.