By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Teresa Lasley has a passion for teaching and loves the bond that’s associated with watching kids evolve, however, approaching the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the veteran D.C. public charter and high school teacher knew things were off. The passion that drove her was wavering for the second time in her 15 year career as signs of burnout were settling in.
Lasley’s signs of burnout are a major reason the District experiences one of the highest turnover rates among public and high school teachers in the nation. She recognized the problems that she and many of her peers were facing, which have led many to leave the profession altogether.
Western Governors University defines teacher burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” This can be an issue for educators at any point in their career and inherently affects the student’s learning experience.
“The crisis of turnover is not just a teacher problem, it’s a community problem,” Lasley said. “The presence of teacher burnout perpetuates a constant questioning for educators of their life work and passion to impact future generations.”
She found her mission as a catalyst to combat teacher burnout by developing a focused, intentional and tailored (FIT) instruction program for academic leaders created by the Instructional Gym. Lasley, who has worked in both charter and public schools in D.C. for over a decade, created the FIT approach which debuted at Audi Field on Aug. 15 as part of the company’s launch. The event gave educators the opportunity to gain resources, guided instruction and prioritize themselves and their needs in order to successfully perform.
The program was developed by Lasley’s Instructional Gym organization featuring components to help alleviate stressors in a teacher’s personal life. A Teacher’s Wellness Box is designed to help them set boundaries that offset the impact of personal habits that promote excellence in the classroom, but may be detrimental to their overall quality of life. Those resources and content includes a membership portal that promotes resilience, self-efficacy and collaboration with peers. Instructional Gym operates as a private organization and independent from the state or lobbying groups.
“There’s been no approach to help reconnect teachers to their inner why,” Lasley said. “As servant leaders, not only does the ‘why’ become muddled, but the need to recalibrate and prioritize self is overlooked.”
According to D.C. State Board of Education, the average annual turnover rate of teachers across public schools and charter schools is 25 percent, while the national average is 16 percent. It is the effects of “teacher burnout” that causes many educators to leave their profession. In Washington, D.C. alone, 80 percent of middle and high school educators and 67 percent of elementary school teachers leave the profession within five years despite having one of the most competitive salaries in the region.
“The cost of living in the District still makes it difficult for ends to meet,” Lasley said. “It’s not like you can pay off your student loans or take a vacation on your down time to reboot. You seem to be constantly maintaining, but never getting ahead.”