Teacher burnout is a real thing and it can change the way you feel about the classroom. In this post, I will be sharing tips for dealing with the stress in a productive way and signs to watch for.
Types of Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout is often spoken about as one all-consuming beast that affects every teacher in the same way. The truth is that different teachers feel burnout in different ways and need different strategies for combatting it. In this post, I will be sharing personal experience. This is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all list of things that will magically cure your ails. Instead, I want to speak honestly about what helped me and what didn’t.
My fourth year of teaching I had a year. You know the kind I am talking about. My class was challenging. I loved them, but the combination of students in my room meant I had to be at 115% all day every day. With equal parts engaging performer, police officer, and counselor taking turns throughout the day I was done.
By the end of the year, I was exhausted beyond anything I had felt before and I wasn’t sure it would ever get better. The saving grace this year was that my team and admin were awesome. They saw me struggling and did everything they could to help. Most days there wasn’t a lot to be done, but they knew how to step in and make sure we all made it through the year.
At no point did I think I was done with teaching. I just thought I was done with the year and knew the next year would be different. This type of burnout is temporary and while hard, it has an end.
My next year in the classroom was amazing. My class, not without its own challenges, was awesome and the year, while still tiring, was fantastic from top to bottom.
It is important to be able to recognize a bad year and know the difference from a bad fit for you. Check out this post with ideas for how to handle a bad day.
My sixth year in the classroom was different. Once again the combination of students in my classroom led me to question if the school was trying to get rid of me. (To be real, I don’t really think this. Although it was hard to not feel personally tagged based on the number of challenges placed in one classroom.)
Many of these students had been together for several years and before the year even began I was approached by several parents with concerns that their student was once again in a classroom with so and so. The thing is, I would have understood if they all had the same student concern in mind, but instead it was a tangled web. I assured everyone I was going to do everything within my power to make sure everyone had a great year.
The year started out innocently enough, but in October the proverbial stuff hit the fan. MANY large behaviors started to rear their ugly heads and I felt powerless and unsupported. One student was removed from my room because it was thought he would be a better fit with a male teacher. This absolutely devastated me. I wanted what was best for him, but it hurt and it felt like I wasn’t doing my job.
Meanwhile, other students leveled up to fill in any spots left by the vacancy of the student who moved. Without going into any details the classroom became unsafe for my students and me. Our admin was doing what they could, but their hands were as tied as mine.
I Knew I Was Done
Going to school every day felt like a punishment. I was done. I kept going each day and tried to remind myself that my students needed me. The majority wanted to be there and were also doing their best in a challenging situation and they are why I made it through.
This year turned out to be my last in the classroom, for the moment anyway. I was fortunate enough to have the option to work for myself, a privilege I recognize isn’t available to everyone.
The difference between the first situation and the second was I saw no way out the second time. I didn’t see a way to fight through the burnout and start fresh with a new year. I had been pounded by parents who wanted more from me, paperwork that filed up after every school day no matter how much I seemed to complete, and the politics that tied my hands as well as others’ trying to support students not allowing us to do what we knew was right.
What To Do About Burnout
In both of my burnout situations, there is more I could have done to help myself. Instead of waiting like a damsel in distress I should have been more proactive, particularly in the second case. I should have reached out earlier and asked for more help. Had I not have tried to handle it myself for as long as I did, I probably wouldn’t have been in the same situation.
Sometimes you are too far into it, and there is nothing that can be done but to keep charging on. With this being said, there are ways to help yourself and those around you when you recognize burnout setting in.
Sometimes one of the biggest culprits when it comes to teacher burnout is trying to fit more into a day than does. We have a finite number of hours in the day, and while it would be great to fit everything into every day it just isn’t going to happen.
Make yourself a list of must-dos and get them done. Then, give yourself grace when it comes to everything else. Don’t shirk your responsibilities, but there is no reason to go above and beyond when you are barely holding it together.
There is a season for everything including perfection, but when you are feeling burnt out now is not the time.
Set a Schedule
When you are feeling teacher burnout things seem to take longer than they should because your brain is fried and thinking of far too many things at once.
Instead of allowing yourself to stay at school late into the evening or arrive too early in the morning set a pre-made schedule for the week of when you will arrive and leave.
For me, this looking something like arriving a few minutes (we’re talking 5 minutes) before I needed to be at school and then staying until about 4-4:30 (contract hours ended at 3:40) Monday through Wednesday, 5:30-6 on Thursday, and leaving ASAP on Friday.
Having a schedule set ahead of time allowed me to make the most of my time instead of wandering around the classroom. I would set a timer and hold myself to it. This went a long way to ensure I had time to get home, workout, and eat a good dinner before going to bed at a reasonable hour.
Put Yourself First
This one may just be the hardest. As teachers, we are trained to give and give without taking, but that only leads to madness. At some point, we have to stop and take care of ourselves for just a little while.
This looks different for every person so I won’t even begin to tell you how to take care of yourself. You do you.
I will say you shouldn’t feel guilty about needing to take a personal day. Even if all you do is sleep. The trick here is to not leave anyone else in a lurch because you need time. Make sure your classroom and plans are prepared and you aren’t asking someone to cover for you at the last minute. I prefer to reserve this special kind of favor for emergencies.
Make a Change
Sometimes the only thing that will help with burnout is a change.
I am not advocating for everyone to quit their jobs, but sometimes that is the answer. Instead, look at what changes you can make. Can you transfer to another position or school within your school or district? Is there a district you’ve heard great things about? Give it a try!
Make a plan for a change and carry it out. Sometimes the exercise of looking for something different is enough to show you the grass isn’t always greener. Don’t think all problems will automatically be solved with a school change, but sometimes it is the breath of fresh air you need.
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