What “Teacher Burnout” Really Is
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. Jonathan continues the series with a post about his experience recognizing, coping with, and overcoming teacher burnout.
As I passed my school, I looked toward the back field and saw my third graders engaged in an activity with my long-term sub. I am fortunate to be on leave because of the birth of my second daughter, yet I cannot help but miss my students. I love teaching and most everything that comes with it. I especially love the relationships a teacher is able to build with their students.
Even in this appreciative state, it doesn’t take much effort to think of a time or three when I felt…how should I say it…
In this state, called “teacher burnout” by many, the feelings about teaching are the exact opposite of what I described in the first paragraph. When the sun rises in the morning, dread comes as thoughts of a long and exhausting day fill your brain. At school, the first sight of a child makes your head hurt. The lessons you haphazardly put together are going predictably bad. Your day is also filled with meetings, parent phone calls/emails, entering grades, and other duties that have nothing to do with teaching P.E. No relief comes when the kids go home. Even on the weekends you are stuck doing school tasks that take away from your leisure time.
Oh yes, I know it well. During my decade of teaching this has happened to me at least a dozen times; however, I suspect the rosier times have caused me to forget many more.
Now, back to being positive. There is a reason I referred to both appreciative moments and teacher burnout as “states.” Just like in our regular life we go through peaks and valleys. The good times don’t last, but neither do the bad times. But one thing is for sure, you can count on them playing recurring roles.
It is also important to note that teacher burnout signifies the lowest valley. To me, the fact that a person reaches the “burnout state” shows they persevered a pretty stressful descent to get to their low point. What usually happens in time is that a person begins to ascend out of the low point of the valley (burnout state). Sadly, many people do not stick around for this to happen.
Below are three strategies that helped me come out of the teacher burnout state:
- Take a Day — Not for the reason you think. Being overwhelmed with teacher duties (lesson planning, grades, etc) is a big reason teachers begin to descend into the valley. Take a day off from school to catch up on that work. Not only will the overwhelmed feeling relax, but this will free time after school and during the weekend to do things that make you happy.
- Unplug (mobily) — One of the best things I ever did was to remove my work email from my cell phone. Since my cell phone followed me everywhere, so did my work. Removing my work email freed me of that burden (I could actually feel it, too!).
- Try Something New — In the fall of 2010, I remember feeling close to done. I was on track to receive my master’s degree in early 2011. This set in motion other job opportunities other than teaching. I felt so drained by teaching that the thought of switching careers actually excited me. Then, the music teacher asked me if I wanted to co-teach ballroom dance to the fifth graders. The unique experience we presented to our students reinvigorated my love for my profession. This culminated in a district ballroom dance championship, still one of the highlights of my career.
I have been there many times.
If I hadn’t found that low point and began to ascend, I would not be driving past my school, missing my students, counting the days until I return to school.
Jonathan Jones (@J_JonesPE)