By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Richard Luevano was suffering from burnout and stress until CTA's Survive and Thrive program helped him to rediscover the joy of teaching. He now feels rejuvenated and is enjoying his students at Del Rey Elementary School in Victorville.
Richard Luevano never expected to experience teacher burnout, but it struck in 2008. After 20 years of teaching, the Victor Elementary Teachers Association member no longer looked forward to going to work, and he did not enjoy his students. During lunchtime he sought refuge in his car. It had been a difficult year; he underwent double bypass surgery, and shortly after his recuperation, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes he experienced bouts of anxiety in his K-1 classroom at Del Rey Elementary School in Victorville.
His administrator realized Luevano needed help, and referred him to CTA’s Survive and Thrive, a weeklong intervention program designed to save teachers’ careers and humanely deal with educators suffering from job-related burnout.
Luevano isn’t alone. Annually, thousands of California teachers suffer from stress and job burnout. The number one cause for teacher disability is job-related stress, according to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). If job-related stress could be reduced or eliminated, then teachers, the students they serve and the entire public school system would benefit substantially. This was the inspiration for the Survive and Thrive Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program, designed to assist teachers needing coping skills to thrive professionally and personally in today’s changing classroom. The program developed out of planning discussions in 1996-97.
The workshop is conducted by CTA staff members and Dr. Byron Greenberg, a licensed clinical psychologist at Virginia State University. School districts typically contribute between $2,000 and $2,500 per teacher for food and housing during the retreat, and CTA pays for workshop facilitators and materials. It is cost-effective, since an individual dismissal hearing can cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to Robin Devitt, a CTA staff member who teaches the program in Southern California.
Those referred to the program are veteran teachers who, at some point, experienced success in the classroom before burnout took over. Many of those who enter Survive and Thrive say they feel they have lost their personal power and that administration is out to get them, says Devitt. “They feel they are under a microscope, that everything has to be perfect, that they are constantly criticized, and that nothing they ever do is praised by the media, parents or their administration. They feel everyone is beating up on them.”
These teachers need a break. The retreat, held in Big Bear, is a time of reflection, soul-searching, and bolstering skills in areas such as time management, stress management, health and nutrition, and building productive relationships. The intervention curriculum is divided into areas around four core questions:
- Where am I?
- Why am I there?
- Where do I want to be?
- How do I get there and stay there?
Participants are counseled to the point where they can be successful once again, or they are encouraged to exit the profession.
“They live with us, and are completely immersed in the experience from 7 in the morning until 9 at night,” says Devitt. “It’s a very intense, aggressive curriculum.”
At first, Luevano was apprehensive and fearful of going through the program. Soon, he realized he wasn’t the only one facing a crisis; other teachers expressed similar feelings and shared them freely with one another and the staff. Enveloped in support and understanding, Luevano decided to let down his guard.
“I tried to be open-minded,” says Luevano. “There were workshops, seminars and exercises that made me think about goal setting and what I wanted to accomplish. I realized I was human and could only accomplish so much.”
Because most participants are dealing with personal issues as well, the program’s focus is on regaining confidence and perspective, rather than on specific teaching strategies.
“We talk about the differences of being assertive, aggressive and passive, and how they can get their needs met while respecting the needs of others. We give them the skills and the tools to look at themselves and help them remember why they went into teaching. We tell participants to focus on what gives them joy.”
Greenberg, the clinical psychologist in the program, says that many teaching careers have been salvaged through Survive and Thrive. “Most climb their way out,” he says. “These people have given so much to others, and it’s wonderful to give back to them.” He is presently collecting data to determine the program’s success rate.
After leaving the program, there are follow-up sessions at intervals of three, six and nine months. Sometimes participants feel better right away, become depressed again, and then slowly recover.
“It’s not a quick fix, and it wasn’t quick damage,” says Greenberg. “It took a while to get there, and it takes a while to get out.”
Luevano is extremely glad to be out of the black hole he once felt himself sinking into. During Survive and Thrive he began writing in his journal to keep in touch with his feelings. He continues to journal regularly about the positive things on the job and things he can do better. “It gave me a new outlook on life,” says Luevano. “I was reinvigorated. I would recommend this program to any teacher who feels depressed or downtrodden, because it’s a wonderful opportunity for change.”
For more information about the Survive and Thrive program, contact Robin Devitt, firstname.lastname@example.org, (562) 478-1355.
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