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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm burnt out.

I didn't realize I was burning out. I only noticed when it was too late. I've always been the type of teacher who's tired at the end of the school year because I've given my all -- every day -- for the past nine months. I've learned to master that type of tired when May and June roll around. However, being burnt out is something completely different. It is something that needs to be caught as soon as possible so that steps can be taken to put the frazzled teacher back in a good place. In this series of posts, I'm going to share with you the different ways to identify, deal with and prevent Teacher Burnout for you and your staff.

This time, let's talk about calling the problem by its real name. After all, one of the most important things to do with any problem is identify it. Teacher Burnout is actually a sneaky guy. He will creep up out of nowhere and pounce on the most vulnerable of teachers. Following are some key signs to look for in yourself and in other teachers, signs that can help identify when Teacher Burnout has become a problem.

1. Missing in Action

Teachers dealing with Teacher Burnout will often stop attending social gatherings and lunches. They feel overwhelmed and have no desire to be around other people that seem to be doing great. These teachers will also start to take mental health days to try regrouping for the final few weeks of school. They will stop participating in meetings and will no longer join the email exchanges during the school day. Teachers dealing with burnout will cut themselves off from the rest of the world until the end of the school year.

2. The End of Sharing

Sharing is no longer a priority for a teacher dealing with burnout. The emails sharing lessons or ideas for units will stop as all focus turns to just making it through the day. The confidence level drops and the fear of sharing bad lessons is high. These teachers find it hard to talk about new ideas or plans for the next school year. They are mired in funk and can only think about the next 24 hours. Even that is tiring for them.

3. Complaint Department

A teacher who is dealing with burnout will rarely talk with peers. However, when he or she does talk, it is nothing but complaints. These complaints will be about students, parents, staff and people in the room. Everything is wrong, and nothing is going to be fixed, so why bother? This attitude will persist for the rest of the meeting and the rest of the school year. Teacher Burnout is a dark place, and only complaints can live there.

4. The Spark is Gone

This is one of those things that only educators can really see. When you have The Spark, you can see it in others -- and you can tell when it is gone. The Spark is something in a teacher's smile when he or she greets students. The Spark is there when a teacher high-fives a student who does well on a test. The Spark is in those tear-filled eyes when a graduate returns to thank that special teacher for caring. There is nothing worse than seeing a teacher who has lost The Spark. The Spark is the driving force in everything we do as teachers. It carries us through the bad times and the darkest times. When The Spark is gone, it's up to other teachers to reach out and help as soon as possible before it's too late.

These are not the only symptoms of Teacher Burnout, but they are the most glaring warning signs that teachers can use to identify colleagues who might be dealing with burnout. In future posts, I will share with you the different ways that teachers and administrators can help combat burnout. The most important thing I want to leave you with is that you are not alone. Educators around the world are dealing with burnout -- and it can be overcome!

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi Misciel! I totally know what you mean. I find that when I'm struggling, I do best if I get away completely- even if only for a few hours. I draw hard boundaries between work and home- I turn off my email on my phone, acknowledge that I can't possibly do everything that's being asked of me, prioritize what I'm doing when I'm *at work* so I can get the most important stuff done, and I let myself be okay with not getting it all done. I know that we all want to be the absolute best we can be, but being your best self (personally and professionally) requires that you take care of yourself. Step away from everything you can- and you can absolutely step away from more than you think you can. Take honest stock of the situation and select only the most vital things to give your precious energy to.

There's some good stuff at the end of this Forbes article. (I think the plethora of articles on this topic right now speaks to our shared exhaustion and overwhelm.)


Good luck!

Mrs. R's picture
Mrs. R
Online health and pe teacher in minnesota

I wish I had had this information years ago. I think it might have helped me with my burnout but I don't know. Because of state funding issues (or lack of) so many Health and PE teachers in my urban district were cut in the spring and then rehired in the fall but never in the same place. I was placed in 9 schools in 7 years. Being certified K-12 I never knew where, let alone what or what age I would be teaching. I had to learn new curriculum just about every year. I had always loved my job and my students but I found myself building walls around myself. Not healthy for my students and not healthy for me. That's when I decided I needed to retire from the classroom. Luckily I found a new zest for teaching when I accepted a position teaching online. I love it, the staff, and the kids and feel I have my "spark" back. Knowing what to look for and how to deal with it can make a big difference for our mental health so we can take care of ourselves.

Bruce Newcomer, M. Ed's picture
Bruce Newcomer, M. Ed
K-5 ELL Teacher

The last couple of months of the school year can be nerve-wrecking. The pressure to finish the curriculum and standards for the year are enough pressure in itself. Add to the mix updating student records, end-of-year assessments, inventory of classroom/grade level materials, awards ceremonies, and closing out after-school and extracurricular activities for the year. For the teachers who like to give their all, that's a lot to give one's all to in a few weeks.

Throughout the school year, including the last couple of months, teachers need to self-reflect, keeping ourselves from burning out. Thank you for this post.

Mr. AC's picture

Hello, there.
I'm an English teacher in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have been teaching in language institutes for about 6 years now and just wanted to share my feelings.
When studying English at the best English Institute in Brazil I thought that was the one thing I wanted to work with, I've always loved the English language, really enjoyed going to class and thought my teachers were so brilliant I wanted to be one of them. After 6 years in this line of work I find myself exhausted... Institutes just taking money from students, not giving them enough during courses, giving students extra points just so they pass, re-enroll and keep paying.
I know I (most of the time) spend too much time preparing classes and worrying about my students (who are +17yo). Interestingly enough, last week while checking the institute numbers I found out the teacher who doesn't teach English in English, but in Portuguese instead, who shows up late for classes, who schedules with students and leave them waiting/cancel, is actually the one who did better (in numbers) last semester.
Truth here is: 1, people come and pay to learn English but they don't want to study, they don't even do their homework; 2, the institute doesn't care if you are teaching, they want you to keep students no matter what.
It's just a company, they are not worried about improving the material, teaching teachers how to teach, acquiring new techniques...

I've tried teaching what they tell me to and students don't learn, after 2 semesters they can't speak about the past; I've tried teaching it my way, students love it, they learn but it's time demanding, I have to twist the course, the schedule and bring a lot of extra material.

I've worked in Santiago, Chile, as well and found the same problems. Maybe it's time to leave, work as a tourist guide or something...

Thanks for reading.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi Mr AC!
I'm not sure you need to get out of the field all together, but perhaps you need a new professional home? Could you go into private practice as a tutor or move to another school or center? I hate to see committed people leave the profession.

Chandrani Mukherjee's picture

Hi Everyone,

I am a new member but I am quite impressed with some of the articles I have read. So I thought of seeking advice from members of this forum.

I first realized that I have had a burnout around 18 months ago when I started slipping up and failing to do things I was very good at. Now, I am distracted, lazy, detached and discontented. Despite loving teaching I dislike walking into a classroom, teaching and doing all that a teacher loves and does!

Even 2 summers ago I would spend hours researching on bettering myself professionally. Now, I just sleep!

I have tried everything - planning, vacationing, new hobbies, new workplace....

But that emptiness is now a wide chasm. I now do not feel I am of any service. Instead my passion and zeal for teaching has nosedived into the deepest bed of the ocean while I am mechanically trudging my way. From being the first to meet deadlines, I am now the last. From being the most creative teacher in the department, I am now the least! And I feel no urge to de any better!

15 years of committed teaching, and I feel I have had enough!

Any suggestions?

Thanking you all in advance for any helpful insights!


Mr. AC's picture

Hello, again!
Well, I've realized that work can't take that much from me. I'm still at the same Institute, I'm not the worst, but I don't give my best any longer. I try to focus on other things in life. I go to work so I can do what I want when I have free time. Now I just listen to everyone and if, and only if, anyone asks then I say what I think.

I've just relaxed. I'm a teacher, I can't do much to change the whole scene. I do anything my coordinator tells me to, even when I don't agree, she's my boss. But I do tell her that.

These things happen in every field I imagine. Lots of people work at companies they don't trust.

Thinking like that makes me feel less frustrated and makes me enjoy more my free time, disconnecting.

Work does not suck my energy anymore. Or it's me, I don't give them my energy anymore.

taja_tt's picture
TAJA TT® a paradigm changing teaching system

my next week's project is for students to raise edu concerns with teachers throughout the school in an effort to not only develop students communication skills, self expression, boldness and confidence, negotiation skills etc but also to start a grassroot student/teacher awareness around basic edu system problems. this is just early steps toward the root of the problem, because Burnout is part of a very basic problem. addressing also the root gives me added spark, thus being preventing burnout.

Burnout is a system issue, an education system issue, but also a fundamental problem with our socio-economic value system, where one of the most important professions of mankind is given little to no creative license and control and is financially belittled as the altruistic heart of teachers are taken advantage of. see table 2.2 in this article http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-05-07/presenting-best-and-worst-colle...

Burnout happens in any profession good or bad, loved or not, but in the current education and economic conditions it happens much easier. As I work personally to get TAJA's 2 teacher system rolling I am going to another school myself as i have found a down to earth, sincere, hard working supervisor in this new school that I see I will be able to work with, and that will make a big difference for me, but, in all honesty, the system is still basically the same, so in effect I am just putting a band aid on and keeping burn out an arms length away rather than pulling it out from the root. TAJA T2 goes to the root, changing schools and people will have to do for now though.

my only advice to continue the spirit of the proactive stance would be campaign in some way to alter the fundamental education system defects. it's a long-hual approach but just as with a physical dis-ease, if we don't also solve the root cause of the dis-ease it's potential to arise will always be there. same goes for e.d.u.

sincerely wishing you all the power to create the career you want,
peace and prosperity

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Matthew, that first year is brutal no matter how you slice it. Are you getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water, and making sure you don't stay at school too late? Teaching is a marathon not a sprint. If you really feel like you can't go on Teaching you might consider talking to your mentor or another trusted colleague. Hang in there. It really does get easier

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