Don’t Forget to Fertilize

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. Jorge continues the series with a post about his experience recognizing, coping with, and overcoming teacher burnout.

It’s February in Houston. It’s about 80 degrees outside, hot and humid, and all I want to do is sleep. The problem is, part of my formula for being an effective teacher includes being active on social media. So, I pull out my phone and reluctantly check Twitter, Voxer and Facebook. I see the same old videos that have “gone viral,” and I think about the hard week I had at school. I think about my “crazy” students who seem to be plotting against me, I think about all those deadlines….all those deadlines, and I think “I don’t want to do it anymore.”  There has to be an easier way to change the world. Right? There must be greener grass out there. Right?

I feel like I’m still maintaining a pretty good level at school but ALL the extras seem to be weighing heavily on me. I know this will have to take some self-reflection. I know a few things about myself: I over commit sometimes, I rarely make time for things I really enjoy, and when I get stressed I typically do the opposite of what I know will help me. So, how do I steer myself out of this rut?

I love to help out, but that sometimes puts me in this weird place where I over commit. It’s hard for me to say no, partly because I love to help, and partly because I don’t want to pass Journal_Product_Shot_13_006up a great experience. Either way, I have to figure out a system, and I really don’t want the system to be “just start saying no more.” So,
 one night, I was checking Twitter,
uninspired, and I saw the
Self Journal. I remember seeing Jarrod Robinson talk about his experience with this journal and I had just read a section of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haight, where he discussed Benjamin Franklin’s written system of becoming a more virtuous individual. The goal setting process in the Self Journal looked very similar to Franklin’s system. I thought to myself, “I want to become more virtuous too,” so, I ordered the journal. I’m three weeks into it and I finally feel like daily planning and reflections of gratitude throughout my day are starting to make a difference. I have read that we are biologically predisposed to get a release of dopamine when we show gratitude. I suggest everyone tries this. It feels weird at first, but undeniably good.

Sometimes, especially when I’m stressed, I tend to hit the autopilot button. I go through my day in a bit of a funk. I’m not happy or sad or mad, just blah. So I looked at my daily schedule, and I realized I was not doing anything for Me. I remembered the #PhysEdSummit session, “Nourish the Teacher with Evening Self-Care Tools for Deep Sleep and More Energy,” which I accidentally had to moderate over the summer (a story for another time). I remembered some of the tips Krista Strayer suggested, and decided to try them out. I needed a physical recharge. I was eating poorly, not drinking enough water and not getting enough sleep. I had to make some changes. My family and I got back into cooking and planning meals, I dusted off my Jump Rope for Heart water bottle and made it a goal to drink 78 ounces a day, and I set up alerts on my phone to remind me to start getting ready for bed, turned off the blue light after sundown, and set a goal to get at least seven hours of sleep a night.  This had a huge and immediate effect on me. My mood was better, my patience was higher, and my creativity increased.


I finally felt like I was taking care of myself again. For the enjoyment part, I decided I needed a longboard. You see, we have a weimaraner and if he doesn’t get a 2 mile walk every day, he can be a handful. I usually take him for a walk on my bike, but I thought a longboard would be so much more fun. I got the idea from Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” and how he lets his dogs pull him on his rollerblades to give them a little extra exercise. Another inspiration for getting a longboard was Eric Davolt posting videos of himself riding his skateboard. The first time I took my dog was a little scary, but my dog and I learned quickly. Now we both look forward to our daily walks again. In addition, Dr. John Ratey suggests in his book Go Wild, that just being outside and reconnecting with nature can do wonders for your health and well-being.

As we all know, there are a ton a research articles and books written on the various benefits that come with exercise and meditation; however, when stress starts creeping in, it seems my body tries to sabotage my mind. I love to exercise, it make me feel great, and exercising with my wife is even better.  We recently became members of the YMCA, and while my wife was going consistently I would find an excuse not to go. That had to change. We found some classes we could do together and I started making exercise a daily goal in my journal. I included aerobics, weights, and yoga in the regimen. Working out again has made a huge difference in my daily energy and motivation, and exercising with my wife has added a new excitement to our relationship and has increased our overall happiness.

41htb+l6KEL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Temporary burnout is real. I have felt it and I know many people have been unable to steer out of it.  It can become more permanent if we let it take over. That’s why it so important to be aware of what your body is telling you and fight to stop it before it’s too late. In his book Flow, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi suggests three conditions to help achieve a “flow” state:

  1.    A clear set of goals and progress (my daily journal)
  2.    Clear and immediate feedback (exercise)
  3.    Balance between the challenges and skills (my longboard experiment)

I feel that if we can balance our lives by giving ourselves the opportunities we need to find our “flow” state, then we can effectively steer out of any state of burnout. My remedy was journaling, exercise, rest and fun. Your formula might be different. The important part is to realize that burnout is happening and that we can make incremental changes in our life to maximize our potential. The truth is, changing the world is hard work, and it starts with fertilizing our own grass first.  

Jorge Rodriguez (@PhysEdNow)

3 Comments on “Don’t Forget to Fertilize

  1. Pingback: Thank You – #slowchathealth

  2. This sounds a lot like how I feel. Especially this time of year. Our first semester is only 79 days with lots of days off. Our 2nd semester is 101 days with hardly any breaks. The students also get in a funk which makes it hard to keep up the good fight of teaching and not just throwing out the ball. Thanks for the encouragement!

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