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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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10 Steps for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

"Why did I want to be a teacher?" We all face burnout, sometimes on a daily basis, and in my case, especially after fourth period. Most of the time, we can pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and go back to the drawing board to try another strategy to find success with student learning. I have to admit that it is getting more and more difficult to make that transition back to a willingness to try again. I can't help to think students are more difficult than they used to be a few years ago, and pressures from accountability are becoming more oppressive. And of course, the pay for teachers is inadequate. With all of this we may ask, is it worth it?

Rather than provide a list of things to avoid, I would like to take a more proactive stance by sharing things that will help diminish burnout feelings and help you answer, yep, it is worth it.

Step #1) Have Fun Daily with Your Students

Share jokes, brief stories, puzzles, brain teasers, etc. This keeps it interesting for you and for your students. It only takes a minute and they are easy to align to the topic of the day.

Step #2) Take Care of Your Health

The physical status of your body affects your emotional responses, so never feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Skipping lunch or breakfast are bad ideas. Make sure you get enough sleep each day. Take a rejuvenating micro-nap when you get home. Get some better shoes to put a spring in your step. I used to think that I was an active teacher and did not need exercise, but I realized that I need cardio-vascular and upper body exercise, too. Thirty minutes on a treadmill, two days a week will do wonders. Simple pushups strengthen your abdomen, back, and arms. You will be surprised at how much it helps you not be worn out at the end of the day.

Step #3) Learn Something New and Share It with Your Students

Read an interesting book -- education or non-education related. I have been reading, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way from Amanda Ripley. It is interesting and education related, so I don't feel guilty about taking time away from lesson planning and grading. Read a classic that you have always wanted to read but never got around to reading. Watch a TED Talk or go to Iuniversity and find something interesting about brain research (that's what I like to explore anyway).

Step #4) Help Another Teacher

Share your motivating experiences locally or online. Edutopia is always here for that. If you take the time to respond to a blog, you may be surprised at the response. Start your own uplifting blog to help beginning teachers or nearly burned out ones. Be active in your professional organization by volunteering to teach, facilitate, or prepare workshops. Mentor another teacher, either formally or informally. We can all use as much help as we can get.

Step #5) Make Someone's Day

Call a parent and tell them how good their student is. Find a student that is struggling and sincerely complement him or her on something they are doing well. Show gratitude for an administrator, or fellow teacher by sending them an appreciative note, giving them a hug, or presenting to them a small gift.

Step #6) Lighten Up

Smile (it's after Christmas and it's ok). Try looking in the mirror, putting on a smile and then try not smiling for real. It is nearly impossible. So try smiling when you do not feel like smiling. When you greet your students at the door, smile at them and a miracle happens: They will smile back.

Step #7) Be a Scientist

Experiment with new strategies and become an expert in them. Ask your students to help. Do a control group and an experimental group. Document your results and share them at a faculty meeting or a conference. Celebrate success.

Step #8) Look for the Positive

Be a voice for positive thinking, even in the staff lounge. It won't change the situations, but you will feel better and others might be uplifted too. While teaching is hard, it is not all bad. Half empty glasses are not nearly as exciting as half full ones.

Step #9) Redecorate

Switch out the bulletin boards, move the desks, and adjust the lighting. Add your favorite smells or be adventurous with new ones. I found interesting ones: rhubarb, teak wood, and Hawaiian breeze (usually spray, or solid.) Check with your schools policy about bringing plug-in oil or scented wax warmers.

Step #10) Trust Students More

Let the students know that you will be trusting them more and give them opportunities to earn your trust. Try some project-based learning. Develop strong rubrics, share them with students, and then let them learn as you facilitate and coach.

Turning Things Around

It seems it is easier to fall into the trap of pessimism and negativity because of all the (okay, I will say it) "garbage" teachers have to endure, but that does not have to be our choice. We can choose our attitude, and choosing to do proactive things like those I listed above will go a long way in helping us keep our sanity and avoiding burnout. What helps you keep plugging away? Please share in the comments section below.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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