Diary of a burned-out teacher: coping with the overwhelming wave of technological change

Author: Amber Harper, host of the Burned-In Teacher Podcast and Author of the book Hacking Teacher Burnout.

Over the past 15 years that I have been in education, technology has transformed classrooms into digital landscapes, opening new avenues for learning and engagement. While it offers incredible opportunities, this influx of technology brings forth a host of challenges, leaving many teachers like me feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.

The drowning effect

Gone are the days when a chalkboard and textbooks were the primary tools in our arsenal. (When I started teaching, I was still using an overhead projector!). Today, teachers are expected to be tech-savvy, integrating various devices, platforms, and apps into their lessons. Keeping up with the innovations in artificial intelligence, the plagiarism checkers, the constant updates and mastering new software can feel like trying to swim against a relentless tide.

In its latest report, “Technology in Education: A tool on whose terms”? , the 2023 GEM Report highlights the dizzying speed of change, with EdTech products changing every 36 months on average, and teachers training under pressure. The need to stay relevant and deliver engaging content while juggling the demands of a fast-paced digital environment can be suffocating. As we struggle to keep up with technological innovations, we need to remember that, whilst technology can support education, it cannot supplant it. Nothing should ever replace the human face in the education we give our children. In the United States where I work, an analysis of over 2 million students found that learning gaps widened with remote instruction exclusively. Teachers, in other words, are critical no matter the technology you put in.

The battle for attention

The allure of smartphones and tablets has captured the attention of our students, making it challenging to maintain their focus during class. Today, despite the distraction they cause, less than a quarter of countries ban smartphone use in schools. With social media, games, and a plethora of distractions at their fingertips, our students’ attention spans have suffered. The GEM report found that even just the presence of a mobile device in the near vicinity was enough to distract children and impact their learning. It often feels like a never-ending battle, trying to compete with the enticing world of digital entertainment.

The digital divide

While technology promises to bridge gaps and enhance inclusivity, it also exposes a stark reality — the digital divide. This became particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. A rapid shift to online learning almost overnight left out at least half a billion students worldwide. Most of the students affected came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those in rural areas, who lacked access to reliable internet connections or personal devices. As a result, teachers must navigate the delicate balance of incorporating technology into their classrooms while ensuring no student is left behind. Bridging this gap requires creative thinking and collaborative efforts, which can add further strain to an already overwhelmed teacher.

The erosion of human connection

Technology has undeniably transformed the way we communicate and interact. The rise of online education options has changed the way the teacher-student connection happens. And while online education has its benefits, it can also erode the vital human connection between teachers and students. The personal touch, the subtle nuances, and the empathy that can only be conveyed through face-to-face interaction often get lost in the virtual realm. Building relationships with students becomes a challenge when much of our communication is reduced to emails and virtual meetings.

Finding the silver lining

Amidst the chaos and burnout, it is crucial to remember that technology is a tool, not the ultimate goal of education. As teachers, we must adapt and find ways to harness its potential without compromising the core values that underpin our profession. Here are a few strategies to help navigate the challenges:

  1. Embrace professional development: Seek out workshops, conferences, and online courses that focus on integrating technology effectively. Building your digital skills will not only boost your confidence but also make you better equipped to support your students. As the new GEM Report shows, governments need to ensure that the teaching community is offered appropriate training to use the tools being bought.
  2. Collaborate with colleagues: Share your experiences, challenges, and triumphs with fellow teachers. Collaboration fosters a sense of camaraderie and helps discover innovative ways to tackle common obstacles. Teachers often feel unprepared and lack confidence teaching with technology, they need support yet only half of countries have ICT standards for developing their skills.
  3. Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. It’s easy to get consumed by the demands of technology, but remember that self-care is essential to prevent burnout. Dedicate time to recharge and unplug from the digital world. One simple way to practice self-care and set a technology boundary is to take your work email off of your phone. We must also remember that screen time weighs heavily on children’s wellbeing including lower well-being, less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability, higher anxiety or depression diagnosis.
  4. Focus on pedagogy: Instead of getting caught up in the latest trends and gadgets, concentrate on the pedagogical aspects of teaching. Identify how technology can enhance learning outcomes and use it purposefully, rather than for the sake of novelty. This can be a difficult task as there is a lack of good quality evidence on which technology to use. As illustrated in the GEM report, a survey of teachers and administrators in 17 US states showed that only 11% requested peer-reviewed evidence prior to adoption.
  5. Tailor instruction to student needs: Recognize the diversity of your students’ backgrounds and ensure that technology integration is inclusive. Provide alternative methods of learning for students without access, so no one is left behind. We need to remember that technology improves access for millions of students but excludes millions more.

Closing Thoughts:

The diary of a burned-out teacher may be filled with frustration and exhaustion, but it also holds glimpses of hope and resilience. By examining the risks and opportunities that technology presents in education and adopting proactive strategies, teachers can harness the benefits of technology, limit its downfall and overcome burnout to continue to inspire their students. Let us remember that technology should enhance education, not replace the human touch that makes teaching truly impactful.


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