Yes, you read that title correctly. I, Mrs. Teacher of the Year for my school this 2017 school year, am BURNT OUT! I can’t even explain how it happened, but I know that the term burnt out is something serious that many teachers face within their career. According to Wendi Pillars in her article “Six Signs of- and Solutions for- Teacher Burnout“, burnout can be recognized through these signs:
- Extreme Graveness (not smiling or laughing as much as you used to)
- Being Overwhelmed
- Seeking (losing creativeness, enthusiasm, and patience)
Please be clear: all teachers will feel these things at some point of time in their career. However, the term burnout is used to describe an intense feeling of these things over a long period of time. So how did I go from winning Teacher of the Year to feeling like I may not last for the rest of this year? Let me start from the beginning…
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links but all opinions are my own.
I have been with my current school since I began teaching in 2013, and have definitely grown to love it. I went to this school as a student, and my parents both graduated from this school (it was a high school back then). Being able to work somewhere that I was vested in was a huge deal to me. It also worked in my favor that many of the students that I taught were children of the people that I had grown up with.
However, as the years have worn on I have started to feel burnt out by this place that I love so much. To begin with, I drive 35 minutes each way to school. Dismissal is at 3:36, and if I stay for tutoring or to catch up on work, I am not able to get home until almost 7pm! This may not seem like a huge deal, but I have a husband and 3 children of my own. And as all teachers know, once we make it home we continue to work until bedtime.
So here we are, 19 full days away from summer vacation and facing three weeks of standardized testing and I am all of the things listed above! Not only am I exhausted and overwhelmed, but my students are too!
The internet has diagnosed my condition and now we must do something about IT. That burnt out feeling. That feeling that you cannot get out of bed and contribute what you should to your school. That feeling of not being able to muster enough energy to make the copies for that exciting lesson, better yet actually teach it with enthusiasm. Are you feeling it too? If so, what can we do about that feeling?
First of all, do not give up. We have worked extremely hard to be the teachers that we are. I endured 8+ years of college to earn an educational specialist degree. Some teachers have put in even more time than that- and we have to include the time that our families put forth to help us reach our goals. Giving up is not an option- for me or for you!
Secondly, put teaching on the back burner. I do not mean stop doing our jobs. I mean, only do our jobs for awhile. Let’s not stay after school to tutor. Let’s not take papers home to grade. Let’s not spend our weekends planning our wonderful lessons. These things are what have led to us being burnt out to begin with. Let’s pack up our stuff when the bell rings at the end of the day and go home. And leave all of our work related items at school. We will not think about work once we are home. One of my favorite quotes is “you cannot pour from an empty cup”, and, my fellow burnt out teachers, we are empty cups right now!
Thirdly, relax at home and just be you. We are so much more than teachers, but teaching can easily consume every part of us. Once we get home, let’s just be us! Get a bottle of wine (or 15), run a bubble bath, and catch up on Netflix. We have been dedicating more time to our school and our students than we have to ourselves. While that is definitely one of the wonderful traits of a great teacher, it is also a contributing factor of great teacher burnout. We need to spend a little (or a lot) of time on ourselves. Take a mental health day if you need to…the point is we have to deal with this burnout before it gets any worse.
Fourthly, talk with your team. My team is amazing! When I am having a particularly bad day, or a tough time dealing with a student, my team helps me with solutions. We are also able to laugh about some of the issues that we have faced, and laughter is another remedy for teacher burnout. So we, (my fellow burnt-out friends) must turn to our teams in this time of need! We need laughter and adult conversation, and our teams can help us here!
Fifthly, Exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym and work it out for an hour if you don’t want to. Walking around your neighborhood serves the same purpose. Another teacher and I meet at the track behind the school once a week and really walk it out. I have a Fitbit (y’all have heard me talk about this before) that I use to track my steps and my heartrate. This helps me monitor and keep track of my stress level. So let’s add walking a couple of times each week to our prescription! Preferably with a Fitbit!
Lastly (I know you are tired of the -lys), Be positive. Negativity is contagious. If you are the negative person, you will bring others down. If others are negative, they will bring you down even more. As teachers, we have a bad habit of focusing on the things that we cannot change and letting them become irritants. You have to realize when you are doing that, and work to change your mindset. Focus more on the things that you are able to control, and work to change those. So let’s challenge ourselves to listen as we speak, and change those complaints to something positive.
Most importantly, do not give up! We are facing a serious teacher shortage because so few people recognize or appreciate the struggles faced by classroom teachers. Seasoned teachers are walking away for greener pastures, and green teachers are realizing pretty quickly that teaching is not what they signed up for. But really tap inside and remember why you became a teacher in the first place. Think about that student who felt irrelevant before they met you, or the one who could barely read before you stepped into the picture. If we can touch that 1 kid, our jobs are done! What we do matters!