In this special series, we chart one secondary teacher’s journey back from rock bottom, sharing the strategies, insights and knowledge she’s gained as she took back control of her mental health and regained a sense of fulfilment in the classroom. Here’s Part 3...

Teachers are not fleeing the profession because there aren’t enough yoga classes factored into their timetable, burnout survivor and teacher Sue Webb is at pains to point out.

Rather, Webb believes too many school wellbeing programs for staff focus on self-care strategies that place the onus on teachers to better ‘look after themselves’ in a system that’s actively working against their mental health.

“Teachers will say, ‘look, I’m staying hydrated, I’m exercising, I’m eating well, I’m getting enough sleep, I’m doing yoga’.

“But those things don’t alleviate the increased complexity and the volume of work that teachers [are up against]. It’s unsustainable.

“So, effective wellbeing strategies recognise that the organisation has got a part to play, too.”

Webb has spent the better part of eight years scouring research studies into teacher burnout and wellbeing in schools.

Every single one to date cites unsustainable workloads as the main factor forcing burnt out people to quit teaching, she says.

“That’s clearly a system issue.”

Teaching has one of the highest rates of burnout of any profession – and in workplaces filled with children, places that should be awash with “energy and hope for the future”, this is simply not OK, Webb argues.

“As a profession, we need to look at what’s going on.

“The fact that so many of our young teachers are describing symptoms of burnout, it is incumbent upon us to start asking why...

“For so many teachers to be in crisis, I don’t think that’s something that we should normalise or accept as ‘how it is’,” Webb urges.

Change is needed at a systemic level, the teacher argues.

Firstly, a bloated bureaucracy is not only wasting teachers’ time, but crushing professional morale along with it.

And this is not just an anecdotal assessment – it’s a reality backed up by a body of research, Webb notes.

“…it’s demoralising,” she says.

“We need to remember that teachers don’t become teachers because they want desk jobs.

"There are too many teachers spending their time pinned to their desks, doing paperwork that they see little value in, and that they know won’t make a scrap of difference to the student experience.”

“Teachers are jumping through unnecessary hoops just to prove that they're actually doing their job," educator Sue Webb says.

For years Australian teachers have lamented the tightening grip of bureaucratic control over their classroom practice.

In 2020, a report by public school advocacy group Save Our Schools (SOS) crunched the data to show the extent to which a ‘bloated bureaucracy’ had spread throughout the public school system, soaking up funding and, by some accounts, reducing teachers’ efficacy in the process.

Trevor Cobbold, SOS national convenor, said the explosion of accountability measures (covering financial management, student wellbeing, behaviour management and safety, teacher appraisal, compliance training, school review processes, curriculum standards, student progress based on standardised test results, workplace health and safety, and auditing) had reached an extreme level.

Widespread teacher attrition had been the result, he said at the time. 

“It’s just gone beyond what’s reasonable,” Cobbold said.

One [principal] told me, ‘sooner or later the emphasis on accountability becomes counterproductive’. And I think that’s what we’re seeing.”

According to Webb, the system’s dogged scrutiny of teachers is also degrading and has left too little room for them to exercise their own professional judgement in the classroom. 

“We need to give teachers back the autonomy to make the decisions that they are qualified to make as professionals [most] who’ve had four years or more training.

“Teachers are jumping through unnecessary hoops just to prove that they’re actually doing their job.”

An overly prescriptive curriculum has not helped the situation, she adds.

 “What I loved about being a teacher, that I think we’re losing now, is the time and the freedom to play with the curriculum, to be curious, to get our students to wonder, to take risks.

“A lot of that now is lost because the curriculum is so prescriptive. And so what we find ourselves doing often, is teaching to the unit plan and making sure that everybody is up to lesson ‘x’ by week ‘y’.

“And it’s just boring teaching,” Webb reflects.

The teacher wants to see staff wellbeing talked about in schools in much the same way learning is.

“We use the language of learning, we talk about pedagogy, and we make learning visible. We can do the same thing with wellbeing,” she says.

School leaders ought to ensure wellbeing programs for their teachers go beyond “tokenistic gestures” too, the teacher flags.  

“However well-intentioned those gestures might be, they need to be authentically embedded in school culture,” she says.

“Otherwise, staff see through them and become sceptical because they see initiatives as compliance measures.

“Effective programs need to acknowledge that staff wellbeing is a shared responsibility between the employer and the employee.”

Despite the room for improvement, Webb says schools have “come a long way” in the last 30 years with regards to better understanding wellbeing in the workplace.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful that we will continue to develop as research emerges in this area.

“And thankfully, there's more Australian research now coming through which we will continue to learn from.”

Don’t miss Part 4 of our series on teacher burnout next week, when we dive into the fourth chapter of Webb’s journey and highlight the impact her book on burnout has had on teachers across the country and beyond. 

Webb’s Instagram page @teacherscrytoo offers a place of support and advocacy for teacher wellbeing. Her book, Teachers Cry Too,  was published in 2022. She also works with schools and teacher training organisations to help teachers recognise the symptoms of burnout and to develop intervention strategies to minimise the risk factors. Webb also facilitates teacher wellbeing and induction programs designed for early career teachers. You can find out more by emailing