Recharging My Batteries
During episode 68 of The PE Umbrella podcast, Sarah mentioned how she experienced a teaching rut during the fall. After listening to the podcast, Naomi messaged Sarah and said that teacher burnout was a topic she had been wanting to write about for a while. Naomi suggested writing a joint blog post about teacher burnout. When Naomi and Sarah mentioned their idea to the rest of the team, everyone quickly admitted that they were either currently experiencing teacher burnout, had recently gotten over it, or struggled with it in the past. As a group, we have been wanting to write about more serious topics within teaching and we think this is a great place to start. During the next month, you will read each of our stories about teacher burnout. Naomi starts the series with a post about her experience recognizing, coping with, and overcoming teacher burnout.
Three years ago I sat in my seat staring at a convention program and read through all the different sessions I could choose from. I came across a session about teacher wellness and remember laughing at it thinking, “Why on earth would anyone want to go to a teacher wellness session? All you need to do is workout, hang out with friends and leave your work at school. It has been preached to me since I first started teaching. Easy, right?” I wanted a session that could help me with my teaching and help me with my students, not a Zumba session I had to participate in.
Little did I know, the teacher wellness session was the most important session for me at the convention.
I was missing all the signs of burnout. The increasing pressure on my shoulders, the uneasy sick feeling in my stomach, being tired all the time, and the feeling of dread when I would wake up in the morning. This had become my normal as I had been in survivor mode all three years of teaching.
My workload the previous school year took its toll on me. I taught 15 courses that year: physical education 3-9, physical education 30, math 9, math 10 workplace & apprenticeship, math 10 foundations, career guidance 7 & 8, and health education 7 & 8. I was also coaching jr. girls volleyball, jr. girls basketball, badminton, track & field, and was the athletic director for the school. I would be at the school by 7:30am and get home after supper. I would stay up until midnight to make sure I was prepped and ready to go for the next day, just to do it all over again and again and again. I was one stressed out teacher.
I always said teaching was a lifestyle choice, not a career choice. I felt there was no such thing as work-life balance. My life was teaching. I was always on and could never shut myself off from it. Nor did I want to, as I felt I would get too far behind.
In my last four months of teaching, I felt as though I was caring less and less about teaching. My staff and students always called me the Energizer Bunny because I would keep going and going and going, but my battery was being drained. One of my colleagues had even approached me to see if I was doing okay because she noticed I hadn’t been myself. It took all my strength not to break down, cry, and tell her how much I needed help. Instead I just told her I was okay, and I was just going through some things.
The truth was that I wasn’t okay. I loved the idea of teaching, but hated the reality it had become. I was not having fun anymore. I was burnt out. I was still passionate about teaching, but began to recognize that if something didn’t change, I would need to change careers. This was a heartbreaking realization for me.
When I stopped teaching and transitioned into a new position I had a hard go of it internally. I was still in the education field, but my identity was that of a physical education teacher. That was my life. Nothing else. Now that I was not teaching anymore, who was I? I didn’t have any hobbies because I spent all my time teaching, coaching, or talking online about PE.
It has taken the past two years to grasp what I went through, understand what happened and learn who I am in the process. I was so angry, upset, frustrated and confused about burning out that I left all my teaching and coaching resources at my parents place in Canada (I currently live in the United States). At the time my thought was that I would never need them anymore. I am over it. Done. I didn’t want any memory of it and wanted to get as far away from it as I could. Over the past two years I have been slowly working through the anger I have towards burning out. I am working through the anxiety that had come with it as well. When I went back home to Canada for Christmas I looked through all of my teaching and coaching resources and wondered why I ever left them behind… My resources were amazing! But that is what burnout did to me, it made me hate the things that were most important.
I used to read fiction books all the time in high school and university (The Wheel of Time and Harry Potter series were my favorite), but when I began teaching I lost my love for it. I felt guilty if I started to read a book that had no relevancy to teaching. There was so much professional reading or school work that needed to be done, that I could not allow myself to pick up my favorite books. One small win I had this year was being able to finish five books from The Redwall series! So my love for reading fiction is slowly coming back. But I’ll be honest, I still can’t finish a nonfiction book. I have read the first chapter of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell three times and have a stack of ten nonfiction books on my shelf that are collecting dust. Unfortunately, there is a mental block right now that prevents me from being able to focus as I start to read them. One day I will get there. Baby steps.
Another hobby I have taken up is baking. I used to help my mom, or at least watch my mom bake all the time growing up, and I’ve always wanted to try her recipes. Now I am making time to try them out. I have also taken up sewing. I made my very first maxi skirt (long skirt) the other weekend and I am pretty proud of myself for it! You can see some pictures of my new hobbies on my instagram feed.
I am slowly becoming comfortable with putting work down at the end of the day and doing something for me in the evening. I am beginning to realize it is okay to have a life outside of physical education, teaching, and work. I am trying hard not to feel paralyzed with fear when I do something for myself. There is always something professionally I could be doing…but I have learned that if I do not put myself first to light my own match, there is no flame to help light others.
Naomi Hartl (@MissHartl)