Let me put it pretty simply…the truth about teacher burnout is that it’s real and unless teachers begin actively seeking a different solution for themselves, it could get progressively worse. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, 15 % of teachers leave their position within the first year and 50 % leave within the first five years. This is not a good statistic for our health, our students’ learning, our schools, our communities. And the unfortunate part is this is not a new statistic. So if nothing changes, nothing changes…
It would be great if the systems would change, it would be great if there was more support, it would be great if the test scores weren’t perceived as so important but none of those things are going to be changed immediately. Please know that I am in no way advocating staying in terrible working conditions or continuing to work at a job that you know in your heart isn’t going to ever work.
But what if part of the solution could be found within ourselves? What if the change could come from within? What if we start to change and the rest follow our lead?
So what changes can a teacher try who is feeling overwhelmed, on the brink of burnout and doesn’t know where to turn? Here are some quick tips that may help alleviate teacher burnout and help you rediscover your love of the classroom, helping you rekindle the spark that prompted you to enter the profession in the first place…
Why did you decide to be a teacher in the first place? More than likely it was your love of working with children, rather than your love of federally mandated testing. Try writing down all the reasons you decided to become a teacher and make a commitment to those things. Yes, we all have parts of our job we have to do, but can you keep those things that inspired you to teach in the forefront of your mind? Pull out some of those cards, gifts or little drawings that previous students have given you and make them visible so that you don’t forget why you are doing this job. Take time to look at these things and remember what is really important…it’s the relationships we build in the classroom that students are really going to remember! So when you shut your classroom door, remember the things that got you here and what has made you stay. Remember your basic desire to help students, do what you can and let yourself off the hook when it’s not perfect. Seriously, you don’t have to be perfect!
Which leads to the next way to help alleviate teacher burnout…self-care! Now, for as nurturing as teachers are to their students, it is sometimes rather challenging for teachers to take the time to care for themselves. You might be thinking that self care=selfish, but I can’t stress enough how creating opportunities for self care are so important for a healthy quality of life (both inside and outside the classroom). So you choose what self care means to you, but promise me that you’ll start doing some things to start taking care of you first!
If you’re stuck for some ideas, here are a few ideas for what self care could look like:
-Take a bath
-Spend some time outside
-Call a friend
-Write it all out in a journal
-Exhaust yourself physically…yoga, running, biking
-Take a drive
-Read a good book
-Take time for a hobby you’ve forgotten
-Get a massage
-Take a mental health day
-Take a tech-free day, afternoon or hour
-Do nothing…seriously, schedule a time to absolutely do nothing
-Make a gratitude list
-Take a walk during your lunch break
-Get away from your desk, stretch and do some breathing exercises
Make a list of self care activities that you can begin incorporating into your week and schedule those moments with yourself. The activities don’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Just mindfully implementing some moments when you are caring for yourself will go a long way in reducing burnout.
Saying “yes” to every request, staying late at work and taking work home consistently are sure-fire ways to increase teacher burnout. This can be alleviated by creating boundaries with your time. So creating boundaries is all about saying no when we need to and answering yes when we can (and trying not to feel bad about it!). Creating boundaries means that we make a promise to ourselves to leave work at a reasonable time. Creating boundaries means that we don’t take work home every night, even if that means students may not get their work back the next day. Creating boundaries means that we check in with ourselves when we are asked to serve on another committee, and don’t just say yes immediately. Creating boundaries means that we make a commitment to ourselves and our families that we are available to them, rather than allowing our work life to bleed into our personal time.
If you’re having problems with this, at the beginning of the week, decide what time you are going to leave each evening and stick to it. Amazingly when we treat our commitments to ourselves as we would a commitment to a friend, we seem to figure out how to prioritize, get the work done and leave on time. And if it doesn’t get done, there’s always tomorrow! Try making these commitments to yourself and see if it doesn’t all work itself out.
So I know this list won’t alleviate teacher burnout completely, but perhaps it can be a place to start for teachers who are feeling frustrated, cynical and doubting. And even if you aren’t experiencing what you feel to be teacher burnout, these suggestions can be implemented preventatively so that you may never have to come to that place.
What about you? Do you have any preventative strategies for avoiding teacher burnout and supporting teacher wellness? We’d love to hear from you! Please add a comment below!
And as always, if you are interested in being a part of the Teaching Well community where we focus on building teacher wellness and balance both inside and outside the classroom, please consider signing up for our newsletter. We’d love to support you on your journey to teaching well!