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Traditional teaching tires teachers out

Traditional, teacher-centred teaching is more likely to lead to exhaustion than more modern, constructivist methods where students are actively responsible for their own learning, according to a study by Reza Zabihi and Mina Khodabakhsh.

Teacher burnout across all subjects is well-documented. Stress can arise from workload, lack of authority and poor classroom environments. The individual traits of teachers, such as personality type and emotional intelligence, can also contribute.

Zabihi and Khodabakhsh wanted to know whether teachers’ ideas about methodol­ogy could also be a factor. To find out, 79 English language teachers were recruited from institutions across Mashad, Iran to answer two questionnaires.

First the Maslach Burnout Inventory assessed their degree of burnout by asking how much they agreed with statements like: ‘Working directly with people puts too much stress on me’.

The Teaching and Learning Conceptions Questionnaire then assessed whether their ideas about teaching were more traditional with questions such as, ‘It is best if the teachers exercise as much authority as possible in’; or more learner-centred, with questions like, ‘Good teachers always encourage students to think of answers themselves’.

Although the Iranian educa­tion system favours traditional methods, overall these teachers tended towards a constructionist approach. Their average level of burnout was moderate.

Analysis revealed that tradi­tional teaching was significantly positively correlated with burnout, while a constructionist approach was significantly negatively cor­related. Teachers who used a more modern, student-centred ap­proach were less exhausted.

A constructivist approach specifically predicted lower levels of depersonalisation, meaning teachers were “less likely to form a detached and insensitive attitude about teaching and students”.

The results support a move to­wards student-centred education, but there were a couple of ques­tions. The majority of teachers in this study were women (45 women vs 29 men), and they were not randomly selected – they all volunteered. Perhaps exhausted teachers might not be so eager to help?

A more traditional approach may seem more straightforward and less work, but among this group of teachers it also predicted higher levels of exhaustion and reduced feelings of personal accomplishment.


  • Zabihi, R. and Khodabakhsh, M. (2019) ‘L2 Teachers’ Traditional versus Constructivist Teaching/Learning Conceptions and Teacher Burnout.’ Current Psychology 38: 347-353 DOI 10.1007/s12144-017-9610-z
Image courtesy of PXFUEL
Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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