George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Leadership

10 Steps for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

"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.

About the Author
Share This Story

Comments Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Conversations on Edutopia (0) Sign in or register to comment

Jay Burcham's picture
Jay Burcham
Co-Founder & Author of Leaps by The Life Excelerator

EduWeek Teachers just posted a blog about how researchers are prescribing suggestions to retain teachers also. This rampant dissatisfaction and burnout of our educators is a huge threat to the success of our education system, but more importantly it underserves our students.

"Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that 'Intelligence plus character is the goal of a true education'. Mandates have replaced that with 'a high standardized test score is the goal of a true education'. Yet while testing is important and the United States must be the standard bearer for academic performance and ability, teaching to a test is not an education."

Annette Alvarez's picture

These are really useful tips, especially #4! I know I greatly appreciated when teachers offered their help and resources to me. Why start from scratch when veterans have the experience to kickstart newly minted educators?
I'm so grateful to a former colleague and current friend for all the lessons, advice, and encouragement she gave me, and now I'd like to pass some of it on to other teachers. Her teacher blog,, has tons of useful tips and even free lessons and presentations. She is on a mission to prevent English teacher burnout by sharing the wealth of knowledge she's amassed over the years. Check it out!

Brian Starling's picture

Being able to truly be myself has prevented me from the burnout that I had in previous years.
Worst advice I ever got as a beginning teacher: Don't smile before Christmas.
Best advice I ever got that changed things around: Smile from day one.

KMorash's picture

I struggled with deep depression and pessimism all throughout adolescence and worked very hard to get out of it. I've learned to overtly tell yourself to be positive and look for it in even the worst parts of your day.
I recently had a temp job working for a very critical boss. It kept weighing me down, but it didn't break me because I kept reacting professionally which made me happy to accomplish as a 20-something.
Smiling, even when you don't have anything about which to smile, helps you think positive.

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

Very insightful KMorash, thanks for sharing. It must have been stressful to be under such intense scrutiny by your supervisor, good for you for keeping a brave face. I once had a teacher in high school who heavily pushed the "smiling for no reason" mentality. He claimed that awakening the facial muscles used when smiling also triggered a small release of endorphins & serotonin, hence "tricking" your body and improving your mood. Interesting stuff.

Owen M. Griffith's picture
Owen M. Griffith
Student Mentor, Author-Gratitude: A Way of Teaching, Guitar Instructor, and Blogger

I really like these ideas. Even implementing one or two can change the classroom. One thing I would add under suggestion #8-"Be More Positive" is to do a gratitude list about something positive happening in your classroom. We can find it if we look for it and then create more positive by focusing on it

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

It's a system issue, 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
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 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

Shafattack's picture

When I'm in the middle of everything and I want to blow I take a deep breath in then hum (sometimes quite loudly) a Christmas song or what ever pops into my head. This immediately puts me in a better frame of mind and the kids are so surprised at my reaction I've often been asked (with amazement) Ma'am, do yiu enjoy teaching? I say, I love it and that's it's a beautiful, beautiful thing! Works a treat. Lol.

Jack's picture

This may or may not be good advice for avoiding burnout, but I am almost certain this advice will aid in perpetuating a broken public education system in which functionally illiterate students "earn" high school diplomas and enter college or the workforce staggeringly unprepared for the realities of life. For the love of God, man, can we please start a conversation about what's wrong with public education.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.