Characteristics of educators at risk: *

  • Feels personally responsible for a student’s successes and failures
  • Measures personal success or failure by student behavior and achievement, or by approval from others
  • Has an overwhelming need to avoid conflict and generate approval from others (which can manifest as attention-seeking, maintaining status quo, or even rebelliousness)
  • Willing to compromise student needs to avoid rocking the boat, either with administrators, parents, or other students
  • Believes that the job would be easier to perform if only the students, their parents, the administration, and/or “the system” would change
  • Has difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries with others (students or adults)
  • Has difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries between self and job
  • Has inadequate outlets for dealing with stress in healthy, positive ways
  • Deals with discipline problems more aggressively than necessary (yelling, shaming, or verbally attacking the student), or by blaming, complaining, manipulating, ignoring, or dumping the problem (or student) on someone else
  • Feels threatened by another teacher’s progress or success
  • Feels as though “things would completely fall apart if it weren’t for me.”
  • May swing from neediness, helplessness, and victimization to an attitude of moral superiority and self-righteousness
  • Often rescues or enables students by ignoring misbehavior, offering inappropriate second chances, or using warnings while failing to withdraw privileges when violated
  • Protects a student from failure or negative consequences in an effort to feel successful, valuable, or powerful
  • Over-identifies with, and even adopts, another person’s feelings
  • Appears to be “fine” and “in control” 
  • Probably denies that any of the above are personally relevant

* We’re probably all guilty to some degree of many of the characteristics above from time to time. This list is simply a sample of the ways at risk factors can show up in the classroom. These patterns become problematic when they become typical of a teacher’s feelings and behaviors.

These patterns can ultimately interfere with a teacher’s ability to:

  • Interact with students without compromising the emotional climate of the classroom (violating their self-worth and sense of community)
  • Interact with school staff effectively, maturely, and/or professionally
  • Meet students’ academic and learning-style needs
  • Behave consistently within the framework of his/her own values
  • Feel worthy and successful
  • Enjoy satisfaction and fulfillment from work
  • Detach from the job, particularly with unrelated stress-reducing activities
  • Take care of himself or herself in healthy, constructive ways

Other contributing factors:

  • A tradition of dysfunctionality (which now feels “normal”)
  • A scarcity of healthy, functional role models
  • The lack of a healthy, functional system to support people trying to operate in healthy, functional ways
  • The very human tendency to resist change

Some assumptions on reducing risk factors:

  • It is possible to adopt healthy patterns of behavior, even in unhealthy and unsupportive environments.
  • The “system” is not likely to change all by itself, nor is it likely to take care of (or support) a teacher’s needs regardless of that teacher’s enthusiasm, instructional skills, dedication, or good intentions.
  • Change happens best in supportive environments: teachers tend to function effectively, grow professionally and personally, and avoid stress and burnout when they can create a support network for themselves, either in or out of school (and preferably in both environments).
  • Change is most effective when individuals take responsibility for their own growth, rather than attempting to change or blame others.
  • Change is most effective when encouraged rather than coerced.
  • As individuals change, the system will change.

Originally entitled “Codependency in the Classroom,” listing “Characteristics of Codependent Educators.” In searching for a more generic (and less passé) title, I’ve borrowed the idea of “Educators At Risk” from Orville Dean, educator and consultant, in Medina, Ohio. Excerpted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools , by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2001, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL.

© 1986, 1990, 2001, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

UPDATE 2022: Few people working in the field of education today are immune to the impact of a wide ranging set of stress-producing challenges built into the profession. From paperwork to politics, we have a lot on our respective plates. Beginning teachers are probably the most vulnerable, but throw in the usual aspects of just getting through life, and we can all be juggling more than we can handle at times.

This list was first developed in the 1980s. Many of the teachers I was working with then were struggling with a number of these personal issues, and I continued to see similar patterns in staff members I’ve worked with since that time. This information appeared on earlier versions of my site, and in consideration of the various reasons teachers are leaving the profession, I thought it important to include some of the personal thoughts and beliefs that will only make a challenging job harder to enjoy and do successfully.

Related resources:

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schoolsplus testimonials about this book
Book: The Win-Win Classroom: A Fresh and Positive Look at Classroom Management 
Book: The Beginning Teacher’s Survival Guide: Win-Win Strategies for Success
Book: Managing 21st Century Classrooms: How do I Avoid Ineffective Classroom Management Practices?

Book: The Perfection Deception: Why Striving to Be Perfect Is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage

How to Rewire Your Burned-Out Brain
Perfectionism vs. The Healthy Pursuit of Excellence
Recharging Our Professional Batteries 
Stress-Producing Obstacles in Relationships
Stressful or Painful School Experiences
How to Stay Stressed
Gratitude: More than Just an Attitude
Examples of Some New Ways of Thinking
Does Your Confidence Propel or Sabotage You?
Finding Consistency in an Inconsistent Life
Survey: Is Your School (or Classroom) an Emotionally Safe Place?
Industrial Age Classrooms vs. Information Age Classrooms
Dealing with Difficult Colleagues
Making Someone Wrong: What does that really mean?

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