Teacher burnout is real. I know that I’ve experienced it several times and I’m guessing that you have too.
None of us are immune to teacher burnout – it doesn’t matter if this is your first or fifteenth year in the classroom – we’re all susceptible.
Teaching is actually ranked as one of the top ten most stressful careers in the United States. It can be so stressful in fact, that California Teachers Association started a program offering teachers a five-day retreat in order to de-stress and reconnect with why they decided to become educators in the first place!
If you’re a teacher, you know exactly why this job, amazing as it is, can be so incredibly stressful. Teachers are required to wear about 50 different hats throughout the day while also staying on top of a never-ending list of tasks. Not to mention being responsible for shaping the young minds of our future generations.
In a matter of minutes a teacher may go from being an educator to a parent to a nurse to a negotiator to a disciplinarian to a coach…and so on. Can you think of another career that requires one to take on so many different roles?
Throw lesson planning, conferences, grading, committees, meetings, and evaluations on top of taking on all those roles and it’s no wonder that we teachers get burnt-out!
Sadly, teacher burnout is driving many of the best educators out of their classrooms and into other careers. But it doesn’t have to!
I’ve come up with a list of some of the best tips out there to help you (or a teacher friend you know) in stop teacher burnout before it starts!
Let’s support each other in starting 2017 with a bang, not a burnout!
1. Be an Early Bird
You’re familiar with the age-old saying, ‘the early bird gets the worm,’ right? Well, this little nugget of wisdom is incredibly pertinent to when it comes to avoiding teacher burnout.
I know what you may be thinking, “How is waking up even EARLIER than I already do going to keep me from burning out?”
It may seem counter-intuitive, but bear with me a minute. First of all, in order to keep this tip from backfiring, you’ll need to hit the sack a little bit earlier at night – but if you do it right, I promise getting to school earlier can help you avoid feeling burnt out. Here’s why…
The days that I race into class 2.5 seconds before a gaggle of kids start pouring into my room are guaranteed to be stress-filled days.
For me, there is no better way to start the day than getting to school when all is quiet and I can shut my door and mentally (and physically) prepare for the day ahead of me. I like to put on some ambient lighting, play a little Justin Bieber on my stereo, and gradually ease into my morning.
Even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes that I get alone in my room, it’s worth it. I use the time to pass out papers, write the daily agenda on the board, organize activities or centers, or sometimes just kick my feet up on my desk and take a few deep, cleansing breaths while I sip my coffee.
However you spend this little bit of extra time, I promise that it will help you avoid feeling burnt-out far better than rushing into your classroom, trying to prepare for the day with a steady stream of children following you around. Or worse yet, getting to class after kids are already in your room. Eeek!
Get to bed a bit earlier, wake up a bit earlier, get to school a bit earlier and avoid feeling burnt-out!!
I’ve tried keeping every single type of ‘teacher to-do’ list under the sun in an effort to find the best possible way to stay on top of my responsibilities – a basic notebook full of lists, a fancy numbered list, a categorized list, a whiteboard list, a sticky note list, a color-coded list – you name it, I’ve tried it.
No matter which way you cut it (or should I say, list it), teachers have a never-ending list of various tasks, responsibilities, and things to keep track of during the school year. And staring at a list with 75 different things on it can feel incredibly overwhelming.
Where do you begin? What do you do first? Will you ever get everything done?
First of all, no – you probably will never get everything crossed off your list. Accepting this fact is step one in avoiding teacher burnout.
Next, it’s crucial to figure out how to prioritize your list – otherwise you might as well add ‘teacher burnout’ to it.
For me, one of the most effective ways to prioritize my list is by separating it into sections labeled: MUST, MAYBE, and ONE DAY. (The ONE DAY section should probably be titled KEEP DREAMING or simply, HA, HA, HA – but it’s good to have goals, right?)
Once you create a sectioned list – something that I do daily, but you can certainly do it on a weekly basis instead – figure out what ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY MUST get done today. And put it under the MUST section.
Do you have to change out those black bulletin board letters for the adorable glittery ones today? Is it really the end of the world if you don’t rearrange your students seats before you head home tonight? What about making copies for tomorrow’s math centers – perhaps that must be done tonight?
As teachers, we tend to have a do-it-all mentality that can quickly lead us down the road to feeling burnt out.
Now don’t get me wrong – I DO believe that all teachers are a rare breed of super-heroes…but no one, not even super-heroes, can do-it-all.
So, figure out the things that MUST get done today in order for you to have a smooth day tomorrow and focus on only those items. Tomorrow, re-evaluate and re-prioritize your list and do the same thing again.
And if you happen to accomplish everything on your MUST list ahead of schedule, then you might choose to tackle a few things on your MAYBE list.
Or you might choose to pour yourself a glass of wine and spend some quality time catching up with Netflix….
3. Time for YOU
With all the papers to grade, lessons to plan, parents to email, dinner to cook, laundry to wash – when do you find the time to do something just for you?
As teachers, it can be tough to remember to take care of ourselves. Teachers spend all day taking care of other people – students, parents, peers, their own children and families – but they often forget to take care of the most important people…themselves!
If you’re like most teachers, you probably barely have time to go pee during the day, let alone treat yourself to a hot bath or a leisurely stroll in the park.
But in order to avoid dangerous teacher burnout, carving out daily or weekly ‘me-time’ is absolutely crucial.
It can be hard to purposefully take time for yourself, which is why your ‘me-time’ often gets pushed aside in order to make time to check more items off of your to-do list. Don’t do this!! Don’t push your ‘me-time’ to the side – add it to the MUST section of your list if that will help! Make YOU a priority!
I also find planning ahead to be helpful in regularly taking time for myself. Try picking a specific block of 15-30 minutes each day (or a solid hour 2 to 3 times per week) and designate this time to solely focus on YOU. Do something that relaxes you, rejuvenates you, or something that simply brings you joy.
This might be reading a book, coloring in an adult coloring book (awesome de-stressing activity), taking a bubble bath, getting a manicure, taking a jog, or getting a cocktail with a friend.
Whatever it is that you do during your ‘me-time’, make sure that it has nothing to do with work, school, or family responsibilities.
Trust me, I know how difficult it can be to take a break from that ever-growing to-do list and do something for yourself, but this is simply non-negotiable if you want to avoid teacher burnout.
Take the necessary time to focus on you and I promise you that all other areas of your life will flourish as a result!
4. Leave Work at Work
This is one piece of advice that has always been very difficult for me to follow.
There’s always just so much work to do!! How are you supposed to get everything done at school and still make it home at a reasonable hour??
Short answer – you’re not. Remember tip #2 about prioritizing? Yep, that little tip goes hand in hand with this one.
You simply cannot get everything done before heading home to avoid bringing any work home with you. Unless you plan to stay at school until midnight. And doing that is basically asking for a complete burnout.
It’s time to prioritize – get the things done that MUST get done today as soon as those kids leave your room. Then, close your computer, leave that bag full of unfinished work on your desk, and GO HOME!
Now, I understand that it might not be possible to avoid bringing work home 100% of the time. Sometimes bringing work home is simply unavoidable. But the goal should be to keep the instances that you bring work home to a minimum.
It can be helpful to pick one (or two, if you must) days a week that you allow yourself to bring work home. Just as long as it’s not every night!
And if you use that time after the last bell rings wisely, it’s entirely possible to keep work at work.
Personally, I lock my door immediately after that last student leaves my room.
Yes, it may seem slightly antisocial, especially if you have co-workers who like to make the rounds to everyone’s classroom and engage in after-school chit-chat sessions. But those post school day debriefs are a major time-suck! So, I simply don’t engage. And it’s not that I don’t love my co-workers, I DO, they’re some of my best friends!
But I also love my sanity. And getting home before dark without a trunk-load of papers to grade helps keep me sane. And it will do the same for you.
The fact of the matter is that a teachers work is never done. And any teacher who tries to get it all done is headed for a burnout. Taking time to enjoy your home, family, and life outside of your classroom – without a pile of work weighing you down – is your best line of defense against teacher burnout.
That pile of work will still be waiting there for you tomorrow. And you’ll probably be able to tackle it even better thanks to allowing yourself to enjoy a work-free night at home.
5. Stay a Student
Learning new things can be exciting – energizing even. Yes, usually we are the ones teaching our students, but it’s also really helpful for us to be a student sometimes!
Attending workshops, seminars, or other types of professional development events offer the chance for you to become the student and help rejuvenate your teacher-self. Learning new techniques or skills while collaborating with peers can really rekindle your teaching fire and keep you from feeling burnt out!
But you don’t necessarily have to attend professional development seminars in order to take on the role of a student and effectively beat burnout by learning new things! It’s easy to become a student in your own classroom by letting your students take over your role as the teacher!
I love engaging in a little role reversal in my classroom. I simply assign my students a topic and give them some time to plan a lesson. I try not to give them too much structure and try to really let them run with it…and they do!
Not only is this tons of fun for them, but it also helps them internalize the curriculum in a new way. Plus, I get to learn all kinds of things about how them and how they learn best. It’s a win-win!
The simple act of learning, whether it takes place at workshops and seminars or right in your own classroom from your actual students, can be a great way to keep your teaching motivation alive and avoid teacher burnout.
6. Keep a Gratitude Journal
With all that we have on our plates as teachers, it can be easy to feel bogged down by negativity.
That to-do list that just won’t quit, that one parent who keeps clogging up your inbox with daily email rants, your most recent less-than-perfect observation by the principal, that one student who you just can’t get through to…it’s enough to crush even the most optimistic person’s spirit.
Focusing on the negative aspects of teaching can quickly lead to feeling extremely burnt-out. Fight back against all that negativity by refocusing your attention on the positive aspects of your job rather than the negative.
A perfect way to do just that is by keeping a gratitude journal.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a journal or diary either. It can simply be a list that you keep in a notebook or a pad of paper hanging on your fridge. All you need is a place where you can record at least one thing that you are grateful for each day…preferably related to teaching.
And some days you’ll really have to search for that one thing to feel positive about – but it’s there.
Even on my worst teaching days, I can still come up with at least one positive thing that happened. Maybe my lesson went exactly as I hoped it would for once.
Or maybe I witnessed several of my students being especially kind to one another at recess.
Even something small like finding my favorite pad of sticky notes that I was sure I had lost is an acceptable thing to feel grateful for.
And on those especially hard days, reading back over your list will remind you why you wake up fulfill your role of being the best teacher that you can be.
Another great alternative to a personal gratitude journal is creating a gratitude board. Simply designate an area of your bulletin board and place a pile of sticky notes and pencils nearby. Allow students to add notes (they can be anonymous) to the board stating things that they are grateful for whenever they feel so inclined.
Seeing all the ways that your students experience gratitude will surely help refocus your energy towards the positive and away from the negative – and also keep you from feeling burnt-out!
7. Lean on Peers
Sometimes asking for help can be hard for teachers. After all, it’s a teacher’s job to help others – not the other way around…right?
Having that type of mindset can make you feel as if you need to do everything on your own. Which is a surefire way to suffer from teacher burnout.
Leaning on co-workers and peers is crucial to surviving the school year. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it – it can significantly lower your stress and make your day to day life in the classroom more manageable.
Whether it be collaborating on lesson plans, sharing resources, troubleshooting behavioral concerns, or simply venting over a cup of coffee – turning to your fellow teachers on a regular basis can help you avoid feeling burnt-out.
And this tip works both ways – if you notice that a coworker seems overwhelmed or excessively stressed-out, ask how you can help! There will certainly come a time when they will remember you reaching out and return the favor.
8. Avoid the Sunday Blues
Sunday nights are the worst!! Ever since I was a kid, I dreaded Sunday nights. The fun from the weekend has subsided and your mind starts racing with all the things that you must accomplish in the coming week.
And for teachers, Sundays can be especially hard. Teachers can’t just watlz into the classroom Monday morning, shut the door, and plan out their week over a cup of coffee for a few hours before really starting the day.
Noooo…we have to walk into our classroom on Monday armed with solid lesson plans for the week, worksheet and homework copies made, centers set up, ready to go! And that takes ample time and planning – preferably prior to Sunday night.
If you put off all your prep work for the upcoming week until Sunday night at 5pm, your weekend will be ending on an incredibly stressful note.
Trust me, I know how tempting it is to practically run out of the building to your car as soon as that bell rings on Friday afternoon. But in an effort to enjoy your weekend down to the very last minute on Sunday night – avoid rushing home on Friday afternoon. At least for an hour.
When I stay at school for a little while on Friday and prep my room and lesson plans for the following week, I have a MUCH more enjoyable weekend.
I can spend my Sunday walking the dogs, cooking dinner, or watching HBO rather than frantically scrambling to come up with plans for Monday and stressing about how early I will have to get to school to fix up my room.
Even if you don’t want to stay and prep for the following week on Friday afternoon, don’t wait until Sunday night. Maybe wake up early on Saturday and spend a few hours getting all of your planning done. Or even Saturday afternoon before heading out on the town for the night.
Either way, those dreaded Sunday blues can really add to feelings of being burnt out. So, do your best to avoid them by planning ahead and ending your weekend on a high note with a Sunday a fun-day, not a Sunday work-day.
9. Health & Nutrition
Finding time to eat healthfully and exercise can be tough as a teacher. Let[s be honest, finding time to use the bathroom during the day can be tough as a teacher!!
But paying attention to what you put in your body, staying active, and getting enough sleep are all crucial components when it comes to avoiding teacher burnout.
It can be easy to just grab a tray of french fries or pizza from the lunch line because you didn’t have time to pack your lunch this morning. Or after a long day followed by after-school meetings, it might be tempting to swing by Wendy’s before plopping down on your couch for the night.
And once in awhile, this type of indulgence is perfectly okay.
As long as the majority of the time you make a concerted effort to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals, get your body moving for at least 30 minutes a day, and get a solid 6-8 hours of sleep.
Personally, I make my lunches for the week on Sunday. That way, I am never in danger of running out of time to pack my lunch – I just grab my pre-made Tupperware out of the fridge, and go. I also love these organic, frozen breakfast sandwiches in the morning. They’re quick, nutritious, and get my day off to a healthy start.
And as far as exercising, this has always tough for me, as I think it might be for many teachers.
Teaching usually has you on your feet for 8+ hours a day and come 3pm, all you want to do is crash. What works for me is working out in my classroom with a few fellow teachers. We all keep workout clothes at school and when that last bell rings, we change and do a workout video, no questions asked, no excuses. We help keep each other accountable and we have fun!!
Keeping your body and mind healthy with nutritious food, exercise, and plenty of sleep is one of the best lines of defense against teacher burnout!
10. Mental Health Day (or two!)
If you are feeling burnt out, stressed, and like you might be heading towards a breakdown…take a mental health day.
And staying home when you are actually sick doesn’t count.
A mental health day is a day that you can spend doing any and everything that you want.
Catch a movie solo? Sure! Go get a mani pedi? Why not!
A mental health day should be spent doing the things that help make you feel human again. Because we all know that when teaching starts to burn you out, it’s easy to feel more like a creature from another planet rather than a human being.
I have a teacher friend who used to say she felt too guilty to just take a day and play hooky. That was when she was a first-year teacher, we both were actually. Fast-forward three years and I am happy to say that she un-apologetically takes a day off when she knows that she needs it. And so should you.
Sometimes you can do more good for your students by staying home for a day. By doing so, you can give yourself the time you need and come back to school the next day feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to face the world!
Teaching is hard. Give yourself a break when you need it and avoid battling with teacher burnout.
Guest post by Margot Carmichael from Carmichael’s Class
“Teaching 4th grade for four years has helped shape me as a teacher who is passionate about creating a classroom that engages and inspires my students, integrates technology-driven learning, offers real-world experiences, and breeds creativity. I have taught highly diverse classes with high populations of ESL learners, Special Ed learners, and behavior challenges–granting me a deep understanding on the importance of personalizing learning for each and every student. As a teacher, I am constantly learning and evolving, but the one constant is always putting my students first!”