George Lucas Educational Foundation
School Leadership

5 Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Edutopia blogger Mary Beth Hertz addresses teacher burnout with suggestions for both educators and administrators. Her tips include an ongoing attitude of professional development, including all stakeholders when things change, and maintaining a personal life.
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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.

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MotivatedTeacher's picture

I find your points very refreshing and as a reminder that being a teacher doesn't have to mean to not have a personal life. I remember when I first started teaching that my nights and weekends were an extended school time that got in the way of having family time and "me" time. Once I learned how to create a balance and use my time efficiently at work I realized that I didn't have to bring too much home with me. My husband and child also appreciate not having to see piles of essays and papers to grade covering the dining room table.

CandySnacker16's picture
Making Differences One Child at a Time

Hi Mary
I really enjoyed reading the 5 tips of this article to avoid burnout. I think since I will be a beginning teacher that #1 would be my main concern. I already tend to know that if I am really excited about something (teaching) then I pour everything I have in it, and I could foresee myself getting burned out because the level of energy is so high and then of course there's the crash after. But I think #1 and #3 go hand in hand in order to prevent #1, #3 should be used. Thank you for this list and as I become a teacher I will keep this list in mind.

Jessica Ann's picture

Hello Ms. Hertz!
Thank you so much for sharing! This article provides wonderful advice that I wish I would have heard as a new teacher. My first year, I was the teacher you described, first in and last out, not to mention weekends. I poured all my energy into my students and it paid off at school, but not as much at home. There were many times that my administrator told me to remember myself, but then the expectations didn't seem to fit that statement. What advice do you have for new teachers that receive mixed messages regarding home and work life? Thank you for your time and thoughts.

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

Hi Jessica Ann! I can sure relate... I love to remind teachers to set boundaries and take care of themselves, yet I am the first to blur the boundaries and work, work, work when I should be exercising, reading, relaxing... It's a never-ending battle! I think one problem is that for some of us, we have a hard time differentiating between the work we have to do and the work we feel like we need to do. Our lessons are never quite good enough, right? So we keep revising them, we keep looking for better resources, we are forever trying to be the best teacher we can. And while that's honorable, it also leads to burnout and resentment. A valuable mentor in my early career told me to make a list of work tasks I knew I HAD to do, and then another list of work tasks I would LIKE to do. And from that list, I could better organize my time. It's really frustrating to let go of some of the "want to" tasks, but it can lead to better self-care, which can lead to more energy for the work. We have to learn to say "no" to expectations that push us to work too hard.

LucyHasMyHeart's picture

Hi Mary,

I really enjoyed this article on how to avoid the teacher burnout. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and I am really excited I am getting close to my dream job, but I have heard of teacher's who have so much passion for teaching and children that get burnt out or end up changing their career because it is too much and that worries me. I have always been the type to get overly excited about something and plan a ton, whether it's a party, vacation, or a new school semester and end up doing nothing but that until I accomplished it (which can be hard because I have been know to be a perfectionist). I can see myself making teaching my life and losing my "other" life so I will have to remember to maintain my "other" life! I also love #2 and #3 about being a team leader and keeping people informed. I have always been known to lead so I will remember to use that tip too. Thanks so much for helping all of us avoid the burnout!

A.Tello's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this. As a future teacher I can take all the advice possible. I really would not want to burn myself out because it has been my dream to be a teacher ever since I was six years old. I would hate to have worked so hard all my life in school just to end up burning myself out the first year I teach. Your tips are really helpful especially the first one because I can see myself trying to be the best teacher I can be and making it my whole life, which I know would cause me to burnout pretty fast. I appreciate all your tips and will definitely keep them in mind when I start teaching!

iris's picture

I enjoy reading about teacher burnout it was wonderful article that I will consider in my teaching career.

billitsa's picture

Hello everyone!
Those tips are so helpfull!!! I should have noticed them earlier this year when I was having a hard time at school. It is my first year teaching after all ; )

Aliyu Nurudeen's picture

When teachers teach in an environment that's not conducive for learning ,they experience burnout and become less productive. Teachers could also be helped in the area of counseling and sharing their problems thereby creating an enabling environment between the teacher, managers, proprietors and all stakeholders.

Jas Bryan's picture

I am a future teacher, and I appreciate this post because it reassures me that teachers are human, too. There is a certain expectation that teachers have to abide by, so thank you for disclosing that teachers have to have a life outside of work, just as all other professions. Also, the point you made about having peer connections is significant. Working together with your peers toward the same goal is better than doing it alone. Lastly, your fifth tip, the old adage about smiling and classroom management, touched base as well. I worked for an after school program and I smiled a lot, so it was pretty difficult to maintain, initially; but I learned and I am still learning to be stern and sweet.

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