podcast for teachers episode cover Grace Stevens at mic talking about teacher burnout versus teacher compassion fatigue

The Science Behind Teacher Burnout versus Compassion Fatigue for Teachers

podcast Nov 22, 2023

With heavy workloads, lack of resources, and exposure to student trauma, educators are at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout. In this post, I’ll explore the differences between these two issues, bust misconceptions, and provide actionable strategies to overcome them.

What's the Difference Between Compassion Fatigue and Burnout for Teachers?

While compassion fatigue and burnout share some common symptoms, they stem from very different causes.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, comes from absorbing the trauma and stress of students without proper training or support. Teachers with compassion fatigue can experience:

  • Emotional/physical exhaustion
  • Anxiety, dread, and feelings of helplessness
  • Decreased ability to empathize
  • Difficulty connecting with certain students

Compassion fatigue can arise suddenly after repeated exposure to student trauma. As teachers, we absorb the pain and stress of our students’ lives, which takes an emotional toll.


Teacher burnout typically stems from chronic workplace stress. Some common causes include:

  • Heavy workloads and lack of resources
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Lack of support from administrators
  • Feeling like the “system is broken”

Symptoms of burnout include cynicism, irritability, feelings of ineffectiveness, and exhaustion. It tends to develop gradually over time as prolonged stress builds up.

While compassion fatigue relates to student trauma, burnout originates from issues within the educational system and environment. Both can negatively impact teachers' well-being and performance.

Busting Myths Around Teacher Burnout

There are a few common misconceptions when it comes to compassion fatigue and burnout:

Myth: It will just go away on its own eventually.

Truth: Without taking action, burnout and compassion fatigue tend to worsen over time. While a vacation can provide temporary relief, the issues need to be addressed at their roots.

Myth: It's my fault, or I'm just not cut out for teaching.

Truth: Teacher burnout is not a personal failure – it's an occupational hazard. The teaching profession is inherently demanding. Feeling teacher burnout or compassion fatigue does not mean you are deficient as an educator.

Myth: I just need to practice more self-care.

Truth: While self-care is crucial, it's often not enough on its own, especially for compassion fatigue. Seeking professional help and institutional changes are key.

Recognizing teacher burnout as a systemic issue versus a personal weakness is an important first step. No need to tough it out alone - support is available.

Actionable Strategies to Overcome Compassion Fatigue and Educator Burnout

If you're struggling with burnout or compassion fatigue, know that recovery is possible. Here are some proactive strategies:

Seek Out Support Systems

  • Talk to colleagues - they can relate and may have valuable advice. Don't isolate yourself!
  • Employee Assistance Programs - many districts offer free counseling services.
  • Therapy - meet regularly with a licensed mental health professional.
  • Support groups - connect with other educators facing similar issues.

Learn Key Skills

  • Boundary setting - get clear on what you will/won't accept from students, parents, admins.
  • Work-life balance - set limits on grading over weekends, answering emails after hours, etc.
  • Stress management - yoga, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness help calm the nervous system.
  • Coping ahead - plan how you'll handle challenging student behaviors or triggers.

Leverage School Mental Health Resources

Get to know the counselors, psychologists, social workers, and behavior specialists in your district. Develop a referral system so students with trauma can get additional support. You don't have to shoulder it all yourself.

And remember - compassion fatigue and burnout are temporary states. With the right support and strategies, you can recover and prevent future recurrence. 

I have plenty of resources to help you set healthier boundaries, which is the first step in overcoming teacher burnout and compassion fatigue. You could start with my The Art of Saying "No" for Teachers self study mini-course. You can learn more at the link below.

Educator Friend, are you ready to take back control of your time and energy? Do you need a CRASH COURSE in:

  • Overcoming your blocks setting healthy boundaries?
  • The exact steps and scripts needed to "say" no in a student-focused way to demanding administrators and parents?
  • How to set boundaries with your teacher besties who interrupt your prep time?
  • The ULTIMATE boundary playbook with scripts for every situation in your educator life?

I GOT YOU! Give me 90 minutes - I'll give you results!


Learn More About the Self-Paced Mini Course