George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

How to Get Over the October Slump

Teachers are dealing with a lot of responsibilities at this time of year, but there are ways to stay grounded through the inevitable challenges.

October 9, 2023
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

I love fall. The colors and changing of the leaves, the comfort food, football season, and Halloween—things that are staples in our American culture. Looking at the grocery store shelves and seeing all the pumpkin spice items is exciting! But what I don’t love about the season is the way I feel as reality hits me. Let’s be real—as fall approaches, teachers’ workloads keep increasing: from planning to grading to committee work to whatever grad courses we are taking.

This is when we start to see students become more comfortable in our classrooms (as we would want them to), and behaviors start to become more evident. This leads to relationship struggles with parents and even colleagues. For teachers, “the Octobers” aren’t easy and definitely not something to ignore. In this blog post, I share some advice with you on how to nurse “the Octobers” and have a successful first half of the school year.

We know that systems aren’t always working in our favor, and no school or district is perfect. We can’t always control what is around us, but we can control how we react to it.

Signs You Might Be Struggling

One of the biggest signs that I notice when a teacher struggles is that they start to check out. They take more days off because they “just need the day off.” They struggle to wake up in the morning and get ready to go to work.

These are some other signs you might be struggling:

  • You’re having a hard time sleeping regularly.
  • Addictions (substances, gambling, shopping, electronics, etc.) are starting to take over to help you deal with pain.
  • You find yourself overly involved in workplace conflict that doesn’t concern you. It’s to the point where you take on the emotions of others in situations you aren’t even involved in.
  • Your work-life balance isn’t what it should be. Your family and friends are struggling with your absence and lack of presence. 

When you feel like this is happening, ask yourself what you can do to get support. There are helpful ways to move forward and enjoy your school year.

Prioritizing and Time Management

Prioritizing and time management are what keep teachers going. Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve been the person who was willing to dive into any new project or committee. When we choose what we’re passionate about, that can benefit our school.

Your prep periods are for you to get work done, so use them wisely. I typically make a prep-time to-do list when I get to school early in the morning. When you finish all the things on that prep-time to-do list, celebrate when you cross them off. I try to ensure that my time is mine. If you have the choice not to, don’t sub during your prep time. 

Try as much as possible to allow yourself a sitting lunchtime. It’s so hard to give yourself that time and space with some of the limitations we have, but it’s necessary. Also, it’s OK to say no. Give yourself boundaries between yourself and work. If this means saying that you can’t work on a project that isn’t in your job description, then do it. I know it’s hard to do this because you care, but you also have to care about yourself in order to be there for your students.

One of the reasons that I think teachers burn out more quickly now than teachers of the past is because we’re too electronically connected to our schools. Sometimes, there are things we have to do in our off hours, but we need to work hard to shut down.

Choose Your School Friends Wisely

Socialize with peers, but watch your time around negativity. There are people in your building who may just like having problems. If people are negative in your teachers’ lounge, try to use your voice to find ways to make the teachers’ lounge more positive. Positive voices drown out the negative ones. 

School climates can be rough, and it’s OK to vent when we’re with our teacher friends, but if that’s all you’re doing, it’s time for a temperature check. Staying out of the lounge when you feel negative might be a good idea unless it’s a positive space that can uplift you. 

Also, don’t allow your colleagues at school to bully or disrespect you. This actually happens. If you feel like you’re in this situation, here are a few things you can do: 

  • Have direct conversations with people about why their words or actions are harmful. 
  • Find ways to keep relationships solely professional. Make your boundaries clear—your colleagues don’t need to know everything about your personal life or be the only friends you have outside of school.
  • If needed, seek support in your school building or district for dealing with the bullying and disrespect. 

Find Joy In the Classroom and Season

The reason we became teachers is in our classroom. We love learning and teaching. My way of finding joy is by working with my students on passion projects in class. Sometimes, we have to go back to our core values and remember what’s important to us in this profession.

Here are some other things that can help:

  • Getting to the point where you’re ahead in lesson planning so that you can enjoy time at home. I strive for a three-week lead, but do whatever works for you.
  • Taking on a fun project either at home or at school.
  • Enjoying the season. There are so many fun things about fall! 

There are some things to consider if you need advising beyond what I’ve shared. Many districts have started mental health assistance programs for their staff. You can also seek out a professional learning community with like-minded people whom you can lean on outside of school. Whatever you do this fall, try to enjoy the leaves, the nice weather, family, and friends.

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