5 Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout | Edutopia
Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

5 Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

I've read a lot of articles about preventing teacher burnout, so a new list is probably not that unique. However, as I reflected on what causes burnout, on times when I came pretty close to feeling burnout, and on times when I watched my colleagues burn out around me, I realized that many internal and external factors can lead to teacher burnout -- some that teachers themselves can control and some that they can't. Here are five big factors that play a part in teacher burnout, along with tips on how to prevent these factors from burning you out.

1) Maintain Your "Other" Life

It's OK if teaching is your life as long as you have a life outside of your classroom. I see this a lot in new teachers, especially if they are in their early 20s and just starting out. You want to be the best teacher you can. You've been dreaming of this moment for years. Now you're here and determined to launch headfirst into an instantly successful career. You're figuring out lesson planning, grading, managing student behavior, and classroom procedures. You're up until midnight and up at 6:00 AM. Your weekends are spent grading and planning. This is an easy road to burnout. Go for a short weekend trip, get lunch with an old friend, go to the gym during the week, or go for a bike ride. (Exercise relieves stress!) Spend some time when you are not thinking about the classroom, and stay connected to your support group of friends and family.

2) Be a Stakeholder When Changes Are Made

Too much change stretches teachers thin and leads to burnout. Include teachers in conversations about changes, and make changes transparent. I have seen the downside of change in the schools I've worked in over the years. It seems like the administration changes the discipline policy and procedures every week. The school started the year with a new reading program only to find out that they'll be using a different one next year. Lunch procedures are revised and changed with no explanation in what seems like a haphazard way throughout the year. Teachers are moved from grade to grade or subject to subject despite their experience with specific grade levels or subject areas. After enough of these hasty, frequent changes, teachers begin to feel as though they've lost all control over their day-to-day experiences and responsibilities. This leads to unwillingness to go out on a limb, try new things or put in too much effort -- why bother when everything could change on a whim? This takes the passion out of teaching and turns it into a guessing game of what will come next.

If a change needs to be made, be transparent about why this change is happening and, whenever possible, include the affected teachers in the process and avoid sudden changes that appear to come out of nowhere. Always think about how a change will affect teachers and staff and plan accordingly.

3) Find Lessons and Opportunities in Everything

One of the easiest ways to burn out as a teacher is to get stuck in the same routine and practices year after year. Keep it fresh by reading new research on teaching, and by learning, talking, and collaborating with peers inside and outside of your school building. Attend conferences and other structured learning activities. Take on a leadership role in your school through which you can learn new skills or build new connections. Share what you're doing in your classroom with peers, solicit feedback, and revise your lessons. Oh, and read. A lot. Always keep learning. Always keep it fresh.

4) Nurture Peer Connections

Give teachers opportunities to connect with each other about their teaching. When they don't have time or opportunities to connect, share, and plan together during the day, they start feeling isolated. Isolation can easily lead to burnout if you feel like you're all alone, figuring things out by yourself, and having few connections within the building. Feeling part of a team, knowing what others are doing in their classrooms, and seeing how your work fits into the bigger picture is motivating, inspiring, and increases feelings of self-worth. Give teachers across grade levels or subject areas the time they need to share student work, units they're teaching, and ideas they're working on. Give them opportunities to watch each other teach in a non-threatening, collegial way.

5) Keep It Light

Incorporate humor and laughter into your classroom. Putting on a serious face every day, day after day, is hard. There's an old adage that says teachers shouldn't smile until winter break or they'll never be able to manage their class. Sure, it's important to be clear about expectations, and sometimes you need to put your foot down. But who wants to sit in a classroom where no one smiles and everything is super-serious all the time? It's OK to have a good time in the classroom and enjoy yourself. Your students will appreciate your class more, and you will win them over if you seem like you're having a good time! Teachers have bad days just like anyone, and sometimes we need humor to brighten our day. Letting some humor and laughter into your classroom and making it a pleasant place to be will help counteract feelings of burnout.

Does your school take steps to counteract burnout? Please share in the comments section below.

(3)

Comments (31)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Sue Long's picture

Kelley: I, too, obtained my master's while teaching full time, coaching the speech team (at times with up to 40 students on the team with no assistant coach and going to meets most Saturdays for a 4 month period), directing 2 - 3 plays a year, school improvement leader for the Language Arts department but only had 2 children -- in jr. high and high school which meant tons of after school activities -- and my son was on a travel hockey team which meant we were usually out of state most weekends and my daughter was a gymnast and cheerleader as well as a runner during non-cheerleading season! In addition, I was an English teacher which meant tons of papers to grade. Do you get the feeling that there will not be much sympathy offered?
One way I made it through was that because I WAS an English teacher, I could use my papers as proof reading practice. The students LOVED finding mistakes that I had made. I also had a jobs chart posted on my refrigerator at home. There were specific roles that everyone had to automatically do each day. The other jobs rotated each week so no one person had the "bad" job all the time -- and the chart included both my husband and me. There was also a list of "extra" jobs for which the kids could be paid, but the other chores needed to be completed first. (In our house, everyone received an allowance. You were not paid for chores because those were simply being part of a family.) When I had a chance to cook, I made extra and froze it. With dad often working 16 hour days, the kids often ate frozen food. While it was hectic, those were some of the best times of our lives! We had to depend on each other. When we were in the car, that was our time to talk -- no radio, CD, or any type of player the kids may have now. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Have fun! (and take LOTS of deep breaths!!!) Best wishes!

Sue Long's picture

Good for you. Not only will it help you, but it is also the best for the kids. To teach and teach well, you must go into with your whole heart. I wish a few more people would follow your example. I've been an educator for 42 years. I retired almost 3 years ago because my husband had been retired for 3 years and wanted me to spend more time with him. After about 6 months, he stated that he felt I had done enough redecorating. I have been subbing ever since.

Gia's picture

Hello negritoamericano. What finally brought you to that point? I'm only 5 years in and I'm feeling the burnout big time.

cmeadows's picture

Great tips Mary Beth! I think that one of the key points you wrote, "Maintain your other life" is essential. As educators, we are very passionate people by nature and we want to help others. From what I have seen and experienced myself is that although we want the best for everyone around us, sometimes we forget ourselves and our families. When I began to notice myself slipping into that category, I made a consciousness effort to change. I did not sacrifice my dedication to my students but I realized if I let my personal life falter, I would not be an effective teacher. I made time for my family and friends and would do my best to leave school at school. This was not an easy endeavor but thankfully I have been able to separate my personal life from my professional life and I have been happier for it. I have worked with several educators over the years who have a difficult time doing this. The results have not been positive ranging from divorce to heart attack. Take it from me, your students will benefit more from a happy educator with a positive and social outside life : )

Chris

David Andrade's picture
David Andrade
Educator, EdTech Specialist, Education Administrator

There are some great ideas in the article and comments. Balancing work and life is difficult for many people, and it seems educators can get caught up with this often. Its in our nature - we bring work home, whether it is grading work, working on lessons, or worrying about students who have issues - bad home life, poverty, disease, etc.

For me, spending time with my daughter is always helpful. In addition, my wife and our best friends are all educators so we can support each other and identify with each other's experiences.

David Andrade's picture
David Andrade
Educator, EdTech Specialist, Education Administrator

Gia - it's not unusual for that to happen around 4-5 years. Typically, new teachers are full of energy, enthusiasm and idealism. After a couple of years, you can't keep up the pace or the energy and you start to feel more stressed.

On the other end, you have veteran teachers who are burned out and don't care so it doesn't bother them anymore.

You want to find something in the middle. Try to remember what made you want to be a teacher? What do you enjoy about teaching? Try not to dwell on the negatives. Write down all the good stuff that happens each day to remind you.

Look to others for help and guidance, like you are doing here. We've all been there.

(1)
Snow's picture

Kelly,
Check out the Creative Pulse graduate program at the University of Montana. It is wonderful and very manageable since most of the work is completed during the summer. It is an inspiring program; I would do it every summer if I could!

(1)
DrBarb's picture

This is great! For more support, please check out my book, Secure Your Oxygen Mask First: Strategies to Prevent Burnout in Special Education Practitioners. I truly believe it's transformational! Www.secureyouroxygenmaskfirst.weebly.com

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I love that title, DrBarb! That is exactly the analogy I use when talking about why schools need to make sure their teachers' needs are met -- we can't care for the little ones in our classrooms if we haven't secured our oxygen mask first. We need to take care of our own needs, and, when possible, work to get our colleagues' needs met, too.

Bob Rose's picture

The best way to avoid teacher-burnout is to make sure that all children in K-1 practice handwriting enough so that they can handwrite the whole alphabet in 40 seconds or less. Our teachers claim they have never enjoyed teaching so much, though more than half of American kids finishing two years of school still can't write or name all of the letters, a main reason for school failure.

Snow's picture

Kelly,
Check out the Creative Pulse graduate program at the University of Montana. It is wonderful and very manageable since most of the work is completed during the summer. It is an inspiring program; I would do it every summer if I could!

(1)
David Andrade's picture
David Andrade
Educator, EdTech Specialist, Education Administrator

Gia - it's not unusual for that to happen around 4-5 years. Typically, new teachers are full of energy, enthusiasm and idealism. After a couple of years, you can't keep up the pace or the energy and you start to feel more stressed.

On the other end, you have veteran teachers who are burned out and don't care so it doesn't bother them anymore.

You want to find something in the middle. Try to remember what made you want to be a teacher? What do you enjoy about teaching? Try not to dwell on the negatives. Write down all the good stuff that happens each day to remind you.

Look to others for help and guidance, like you are doing here. We've all been there.

(1)

article School Leadership: Resource Roundup

Last comment 4 months 2 weeks ago in School Leadership

blog The Need for Adaptation in Schools

Last comment 1 day 18 hours ago in Student Engagement

blog How School Leaders Set the Stage for PBL Success

Last comment 3 days 1 hour ago in PBL Planning

blog The Era of the Teacherpreneur

Last comment 3 days 5 hours ago in Technology Integration

blog Spread the Word about Summer Meals for Students

Last comment 4 days 9 hours ago in Health and Wellness

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.