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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Helping Teachers: Eight Ways to Prevent Burnout

Editor's Note: Katy Farber teaches fifth and sixth graders in the Burlington, VT area. She's also a mother, blogger, and author. The ideas in this post are based on Katy's recent book, Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus

You know the feeling. It happens when you see other people out for walks during their lunch hour (and you just spent 10 minutes "eating" while emailing a passive aggressive parent). Or when you hear how you need to try this new teaching technique, even though you have been doing it for years. Or when you are up all night, sick, and have to crawl to the computer to write your sub plans. You think, "How much longer can I do this?"

We all know that teaching has gotten increasingly more difficult to manage. We're constantly asked to do more with less. And there is no end in sight to the increasing pressure on us from standardized testing, parents and administrators, contentious bargaining sessions, the current anti-teacher climate, and top-down leadership.

Teachers need to band together to support each other and make teaching a more sustainable career. There are several things we can do for each other and for ourselves.

1. Support Teachers in Times of Need. When someone on your staff is going through a difficult time, a thoughtful gift from his or her fellow teachers can mean a lot. A fund can be created at the beginning of the year. Each staff member can bring 20 dollars (or what they can). One person can be in charge of this amount, and select appropriate gifts or support when it is needed. In my school, we call it the Sunshine Fund, and through it we have delivered gift baskets to those recovering from surgery, transportation funds for someone whose family member was seriously injured and in the hospital, and meals to new mothers. This is a meaningful way to support each other, and it builds community and morale.

2. Plan for a Better Work/Life Balance. A small group of teachers can improve the climate and community of the school by planning some activities that support wellness. I don't mean another canvas bag or mug! This could be a weekly running or walking group, monthly get-togethers, weekly treats in the teachers' room, or other meaningful ideas. Wellness funds could be used for weekly yoga classes as well. We need to encourage each other to be involved in activities outside of school.

3. Provide Back Up. Have a meeting with a difficult parent? Plan to take a trusted colleague with you. Is your colleague having a rough day? Do their recess duty for them. These acts of kindness show solidarity, community, and kindness.

4. Support New Mothers. Sleep-deprived breastfeeding new mothers face many challenges as they return to teaching. Support them in helping to find a secure place to pump milk, and work with staff to provide coverage so they can continue to work and provide breast milk for their babies. This can be challenging in a space- and time-strapped school -- but it is essential to creating a family friendly, breastfeeding supportive environment.

5. Seek Leadership Opportunities. Teaching lacks a clear career ladder. Many teachers don't want to become principals, but they want to explore other professionally paid challenges. Seek out opportunities to extend and enrich your profession, such as mentoring, coaching, teaching college courses, or writing.

6. A Change Would Do You Good. When you feel like quitting, it might be that you are simply ready to teach another subject, grade level, or in a different school. I was inspired by a colleague who spent 10 years teaching fifth and sixth grades, and then moved to teaching kindergarten. Changing your position or school might be a better fit and a way to rejuvenate your teaching.

7. Band Together. Teachers can and should work together to forward the interests of public education and teaching. We can meet together and take action on issues of importance such as the environmental health of a school, the leadership, endorsing (or not) school board members, and taking positions on certain policy decisions. Joining your local union, and getting involved directly with supporting schools and public education, can lead to empowerment and further engagement.

8. Create a Positive, Supportive Climate. The last thing teachers need is to feel more isolated! Teachers need to collaborate, problem-solve, and share successes often. This should be regular, planned, in school time. Sometimes administrators need to be reminded of this. If the climate deteriorates for any reason, handle it directly before people are hurt and disenfranchised. This could be through staff meeting discussions, or through a group reading of a book such as Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, and Roger Fisher.

These are just a few ideas that can help teachers stay positive, empowered, and connected to their school communities. In these increasingly challenging times in public education, teaching is harder than ever -- and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. Teachers can support each other to make each day a little brighter. And that's a start.

What are your ideas for how teachers can prevent burning out?

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

E. Jamerson's picture
E. Jamerson
Career College Instructor - Chesapeake, VA

I currently work at a for-profit college and burn out is common in my industry. Teacher turn over is high and I frequently run into new faces as I have been teaching adults for five years. I receive little pay and I am expected to work miracles for students who seek careers. Overall, the job is rewarding but requires "pouring out" to the student and making sure they attend classes. If I cannot "keep the student", I could possibly lose my job for missing quarterly goals. This is where the burn out occurs. Some students have a real desire to attend classes, while others may have been court ordered and don't care.
I believe in education and I know it breeds opportunity. I am a life changer. My skills are very valuable, and just as precious as my students. I cannot perform well if I am not taken care of, my students are affected. All teachers need the proper support and resources in order to do the job. So I say thank you Katy for your creativity, I will be sure to check out your book and share it with my peers!

Sacha Luria's picture
Sacha Luria
Teacher and mother of three children

Fantastic ideas, Katy! With the seemingly incessant flow of things to do and keep track of, most teachers do tend to forget that we also have our limits. I agree with the other readers here that we teachers must take care of ourselves in order for us to perform well on the job.

I firmly advocate life/work balance in my team, and I'm happy to see that we're already doing a couple of things listed here. One thing I would like to add to these great suggestions is our team's "feel-good" board. We set up a corkboard in one part of the room, where we post anything and everything that reminds us why we chose to become teachers. Newspaper clippings of inspirational teacher stories, a particularly funny classroom joke, or heartwarming letters from our students find their way to the board.

Sacha
http://luria-learning.blogspot.com/

dgburris's picture
dgburris
High School Math Teacher and Instructional Coach

Supporting new fathers is crucial as well.

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger
Blogger

Hi Sacha,

I love your idea of an inspiration board! I think every teacher's room (um, who has time to lounge?) should have one. I think I may take over one of the boring and very unread bulletin boards in ours.

Thanks for commenting and sharing that stellar idea!

Katy

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger
Blogger

Mostly I am commenting on finding the time and place to express milk in schools which is currently very challenging for many new mamas. But you are right, new fathers need support has well!

Katy

Katy Farber's picture
Katy Farber
Sixth Grade Teacher, Author, and Blogger
Blogger

I'm glad you enjoyed the post and I hope the book will be helpful to you and your colleagues.

Kristin919's picture
Kristin919
2nd grade teacher

Katy,
I really enjoyed reading your blog. I have only been teaching for three years and I can feel that many of my colleagues are burnt out or have just had enough of the way things are. Some of that has been rubbing off on me and I need to make sure it doesn't take me down the road to burnout. However my school does have some things in place to help prevent teacher burnout. One thing that my school has been doing that goes along with your number two is having monthly birthday celebrations. Each grade level or school group is in charge of a month (sometimes two) and they bring birthday treats to celebrate everyone who has a birthday in that month. It is great for everyone because there are yummy treats and we get to celebrate birthdays. Another thing my school has is a social committee. Each year school faculty contributes money and the committee uses that money to provide treats for yearly parties and flowers for those in need. Thanks for sharing your ideas and tips!

Nicole's picture
Nicole
Teacher,Georgia

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I have only been teaching at my current school a few years and I have seen first-hand a few teachers leave the teaching profession because of burnout. It can be quite challenging to find a balance between work and family life. I think it is important to remember that we are only human; we can only absorb so much before burnout sets in. I think that you have some wonderful ideas on ways to prevent burnout. We need to set a side time to focus on ourselves.

Jamie's picture
Jamie
Family and Consumer Science and Read 180 High School Teacher

I enjoyed reading this blog very much. I am currently pursuing a MSED, and a few weeks ago we examined teacher burnout. I "assumed" that this blog would have similar information, and I almost did not read it, but I decided to compare and contrast for fun. As I read through your blog, it immediately captured my attention because I feel like your eight ways to prevent burnout are a bit more specific than the ideas offered through the class that I am taking. I am also newly pregnant with my first child and breastfeeding is important to me. I have already had mild anxiety about when I will find the time and place to express milk during school hours. I was so delightfully surprised to see some of my very specific concerns being addressed through this blog. This is my first time blogging, but I will explore and blog more often. I feel that I could really learn a lot from others. Thank you Katy!

Jamie

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