Promoted – now I’m burnt out!

A promotion at work led to stress and fatigue for this teacher. 

The path to happiness is doing what you enjoy, says our elder. Why not go back to the classroom?


Dear EWC

So, I’ve come to a bit of a crossroads in life recently, reading many books has always shown me the importance of a man’s purpose and working on it before all else in life. I pursued my goal as a teacher immediately after graduating from university four years ago. Initially I found it very hard but quickly got more and more reward as I put more effort in. I have since been promoted to a managerial position second in charge of the department, which has less teaching involved and focuses on pedagogy and more data analysis and training of staff instead. While the pay is more, I am not feeling the reward from the job I once did. I have pondered about leaving especially when I got signed off with stress and was borderline suicidal a few months ago due to burnout and fatigue. I feel it has affected all aspects of my life and feel the only way out is to change jobs, but I do not know what else to do. All other jobs would come with a serious pay cut, and then there is the worry that they may not be right either and I’d have thrown it all in for nothing. Any advice is much appreciated!


Ketchman replies

Thank you for contacting us. I’ll try to offer something useful.

Many years ago, a book was published called “The Peter Principle” by Laurence Peter. It was a bit of dark satire but, like all good satire, had a kernel of embedded truth. His premise was that in most large organizations employees who do a good job get promoted. If they do a great job in the new position they get promoted again and so on until they get promoted into a position in which they’re, at best, mediocre. Not good enough to get promoted but not bad enough to get fired. There they remain until retirement or death. Eventually, all large organizations end up being run by mediocre managers. Peter called the process that of “being promoted into your level of incompetence”. 

I can relate. I had a military career; much of it spent as part of a crew doing hands-on technical work. I enjoyed it very much and was, at least perceived as being, competent enough to be promoted into a relatively high management position. The pay increase was good, but the actual work consisted of completing reams of paperwork and ensuring that my subordinates completed their reams of paperwork correctly. Mind numbingly boring. According to Peter, I had reached my level of incompetence. That sounds a bit like what you’ve described (I’m not suggesting that you’re incompetent).

Peter’s solution was to avoid the “terminal promotion” by acting as if you were, in fact, at your “level of incompetence”. Not bad enough to be fired but not good enough to be on any promotion lists. That’s, obviously, tongue in cheek advice but the kernel of truth is that you know what you’re good at – that is being in front of a classroom – and what bores you: management of a teaching staff. The path to happiness is to keep doing what you enjoy, even if that means you’ll be making a little less money.

Would it be possible to meet with your management, explain your dilemma, and see if your current job duties could be modified to include more platform time and less management details – even for a lesser paycheck? Or even a return to your original teaching duties? Granted, the pay and prestige might be less but, it seems to me, that would be a cheap price to relieve the mental anguish you’ve been experiencing. Highly skilled teachers are a rare and valuable resource. Where I live, we have a few educators designated as “Master Teachers” who are well paid to teach and serve as mentors to new teachers. I hope you’ll stay in that career. Somewhere in the U.K. there are schools who will pay decently to secure a skilled and dedicated teaching professional like yourself. Perhaps you could remain as a teacher, in your current institution while seeking a better teaching position elsewhere.

My point is that if you’ve found your purpose in life to be a classroom teacher it makes little sense to leave that profession as long as it pays enough to live a reasonably comfortable and self-sufficient life. On the other hand, if you’ve found that classroom teaching is no longer giving you the satisfaction it used to then it might be time to seek other opportunities. As you’ve said, that would be a bit of a risky endeavor and I would seek some professional help in the form of a Career Counseling Service before making that leap. They can be pricey, but a good one can help you translate your current skills and preferences into alternative career paths that could work for you. Here’s a link to an article about finding a good career coach:

This world is in ever increasing need of skilled and dedicated educators who can give generations of students the tools they’ll need to address the many problems of mine, and preceding generations have, sadly, saddled them with. For that reason, I hope you find a way to stay on as an educator. Whatever you choose, I wish you great luck and success. Please take us along with you as a resource for anytime you’d like a bit of advice or second opinion on ‘most anything. Thank you for giving me a chance to help. I hope I have.

Article #: 478868

Category: Career

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