This is not my first rodeo. This was my 33rd year in the classroom. And I can assure you that this was the hardest year of my career.
Our last day of school was a last week. I literally sat on the couch for 2 solid days. I took naps and snacked. That’s all I could do for 2 days. Then came 2 days of mild productivity. I did a load of laundry (still unfolded in a laundry basket) and I washed some dishes. I went to the farmers market and bought some groceries. But I needed a nap after all that exertion. I feel like I’ve been through a trauma and need to recover. I have no energy or interest in anything at all.
This is not normal. This is burnout, and teachers all over the world are experiencing it, some for the first time.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is a temporary condition resulting from having exhausted the personal and professional resources you need to do your job.
Signs of Burnout
Teachers experiencing burnout might have these symptoms:
- Sleep issues – too much or too little.
- Periods of forgetfulness, difficulty retrieving words and thoughts.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Appetite issues – too much or too little.
What causes Burnout?
- Demoralizing behaviors:
- Lack of recognition from administrators causes teachers to feel unappreciated.
- Teachers feel demoralized when their professional opinions are not considered. Examples: a science classroom that is being rebuilt without input from the science teacher; a homework policy that is handed down from above without input; assemblies that are not meaningful to our students.
- Salaries that don’t meet the 8% inflation rate this year or the increase in demands on our time.
- Lack of support in student discipline matters and parent conflicts leave teachers feeling hung out to dry.
- Increased demands:
- Administrators who don’t respect teachers’ time and professionalism contribute to burnout far more than most people are aware. The best example we’re all familiar with is meetings that could have been emails. Please don’t make me sit through a meeting for an hour when I could have read the email in 4 minutes.
- Increased accountability to collect data on learning loss from quarantine and remote schooling.
- Students who are functionally below grade level due to illness, quarantine, home schooling, or virtual schooling can not meet standards without extensive remediation by teachers who are already overworked.
- Parents who expect their students to earn As without supporting the child’s education increase the work load of teachers who must work harder to keep these students up to par.
- Teacher shortages caused by quarantining teachers or teachers leaving the profession have increased the work load for those of us still in the trenches.
- Decrease in planning time to make up for the learning losses, teacher shortages, and increased data collection.
- Type “A” behaviors
- Teachers are typically high achievers who strive to do the best job for their students. When you’re always looking for ways to improve, and don’t get the support or recognition that you deserve but instead get additional work piled on, you reach your breaking point. Overworking is not a virtue.
How can you combat burnout?
The “staff wellness” professional development, lunch time massages, Starbucks gift cards, and candy in our mailboxes are fine, but they absolutely do not prevent or cure burnout. Here are some ideas that you can do to help yourself if you’re feeling burned out:
- Take a mental health day. There is absolutely no shame in using your personal time off for your own mental health.
- Stop taking work home. If it’s not done during the school day, then it’s not done. If deadlines need to be moved to accommodate increased workload, then deadlines will be moved.
- Get some exercise. Go for a walk, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Cut yourself some slack. There’s no need to make every worksheet or slide show perfect. Done is better than perfect.
- Go to bed early. On school days, I’m in bed by 10. In June, it’s closer to 9.
- Seek out friends and mentors. Ask for help from trusted colleagues.
- Reward yourself. My mother always told me that wearing a new outfit makes the day better. She was right, so I treat myself to something new when I’m feeling down.
- Reread your “love me” file. I have a file of cards from students throughout the years. Whenever a student or parent writes me a note thanking me for something, I save it for a rainy day.
- Remind yourself why you teach. I became a teacher to touch the future. There are lots of reasons to love being a teacher, and I remind myself of them a lot.
Help each other. Comment below with your favorite ways to prevent and combat burnout!