George Lucas Educational Foundation

Can a teacher make a comeback?

Can a teacher make a comeback?

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Hello all - new girl here. :) I'll try to make this short and sweet. After five years of teaching high school English and two years of teaching part-time at a community college, I lost my job due to budget cuts. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I realized after the fact that I was so burned out and that my work was suffering because of it. Now, after being out of work for over six months, I am considering going back to the classroom. Yes, part of this is due to feeling like I have to; unfortunately, there are not a lot of people willing to hire an English major groomed solely for the classroom. However, I do genuinely want to return; before I burned out, I enjoyed teaching immensely and it was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my career. I can blame a million things for my burning out and blame plenty of people, including myself, but looking back, I have a pretty good idea of how I could avoid it in the future if I start working now - before I have a job. I have considered going back to school for a MS in counseling so I could become a guidance counselor, but unfortunately, I'm still paying off the student loans for the Masters in English that people kept assuring me would help my education career. I know I want to be in the education field. I know that I love working with high school kids. However, the bottom line is that in close to seven years of teaching, I still have a lot to learn. I was by no means a veteran, but I was still making a lot of newbie mistakes. So, tell me, can this teacher make a comeback? I appreciate the advice!

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sandra's picture

seven years? you were not burn out, you are still questioning if this is for you. after seven years you should be saying I got this and start cruising. It sounds like teaching was something to pass the time until something better came along. If this is not the case then quit complaining and find what it is thats missing in your delivery of instruction to meet the kids at their place in life.

MJ Ewald - 12665's picture

Regardless of the circumstances of your burn out (we all struggle with being overwhelmed at times), if the passion has returned then get back at it as soon as you can. Just remember to keep on learning and modifying your instruction, delivery, assessments, so as not to become stale. You don't have to reinvent the wheel each day, but don't become stuck in a rut. After 17 years, I understand your frustrations. Just keep working and maintaining your sanity by challenging yourself to continue to develop as a teacher. Good luck.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
Still looking for a way to use my credential in secondary math & science

Sandra, That was incredibly harsh. I would hope that Administrators would be more understanding of what teachers are doing and feeling. Often burn-out is caused by some small irritant that gets really big (mine was an administrator, BTW)
I loved teaching English and German, but was a little leery of whether I was teaching the literature end of it appropriately for our students (they did well, despite - or because of - my efforts.)
After the burn-out confrontations, I went out into the "big world" and did a lot of different things. Now I am trying to return - in a completely different subject, math & science, but finding the job market very tight.

Semaj Richard's picture
Semaj Richard
Wisconsin educator at present

My first Edutopia post, and I am feint. Having had numerous professional positions ripped from beneath me vis-a-vis failed referendum,"re-alignment", and superintendent whimsy, I cannot directly relate to burn-out although I have empathy for those who live it. Because the education matrix includes a wide swath of possibilities, I have always pursued aspects of education that intrigued me: at present, educational pursuits in intentional communities, i. e. the Owenites in New Harmony, Indiana, and Upton Sinclair's Helicon Home Community. Don't make a comeback; never go away however how difficult. semaj

Craig Douglas's picture
Craig Douglas
Consultant to schools on use of technology in the classroom

I taught for 40 years and recovered from burnout several times so yes recovery is possible. Generally involved changing age level or subject. If possible take a year off and recharge. But if you don't really love doing it you haven't burned out, you never burned in! Love it or leave it is my advice

Katherine Judd's picture
Katherine Judd
College writing and communications teacher

Lots of variables contribute to teacher burnout. At the risk of sounding like Superwoman, I've never burnt out, and I've been teaching for 15 years. How do I do it? Hmmm....never really thought about it, but I suppose the following may help you.

1)I have BEEN a teacher all my life! Even in grade school, I helped peers with their learning difficulties. In the workplace, I learned jobs quickly and was able to assist those not as quick to learn the same jobs. Once I had children, it was fait accompli. I had to help them with their education. I suppose what I'm trying to say is KNOW whether you are a teacher! Is it what you really want to do? Do new views and techniques excite your imagination? Do you keep up with technology and plan how to use it? Do you have that "I can't wait to get to work" feeling when you wake in the mornings? If all the above are true, you are a teacher! Let's get you back into the classroom!

2) Having been through the "burn out," it's understandable you feel outdated and a bit trepidatious about entering the room again. So....DON'T. Look for a position in a writing center or a tutoring lab. You will still work with students, AND you will be able to catch up on all the technology you feel you've missed. On top of that, you will see, via the assignment sheets students bring with them, how other teachers design and construct their classrooms and assignments. Study what you see. If you don't understand, ASK the teacher. Most of us are garrulous by nature and love to talk about what we do. If the teacher is amenable, borrow the assignment or syllabus to study. What do you see that you feel will work for you? What would you do differently? How would you word the assignment? What parameters might you use? Get the idea? :)

3) Keep a close eye on possible positions. You may want to begin as an adjunct instructor. They normally carry only about 3-4 classes per semester. If you feel even this might be a bit much, ask for 1-2. Whatever you feel you can handle without feeling pressured.

4) Public school...hmmm...this could be a bit tricky due to all the budget cuts and reformation going on. Try being a substitute for a while. Or, contact a community college and see if they endorse dual-credit enrollment for high school seniors. This is ideal for getting the best of both worlds, public and college education. Personally, I love it!

A final note: You say you only taught for seven years. Well, a lot HAS happened in the last seven years. Even the last six MONTHS has delivered some savory and not-so-savory changes that you will have to deal with. Time is not really relevent here. It's attitute and committment. As with any job, one MUST recognize the good with the bad and be flexible! Though I wouldn't recommend it for anyone else, I learned the true meaning of flexibility when I was getting my MA in English while managing a retail store and raising four children! The point is flexibility! Always remember, the world needs us! We may be down-trodden, underpaid, misunderstood, and harassed on a daily basis, but the world NEEDS us! If you can carve out a niche for yourself, grab that educational ax and jump back in! :)

Suzan Hyndman's picture
Suzan Hyndman
High School SPED teacher from Western Massachusetts

Well, hello. I am a life skills teacher for secondary level students at a high school in western Massachusetts. I have taught here for nine years. Mine is a substantially separate classroom for 8th, 9th and 10th graders. I teach core academics and I am very interested in adding more technology into my curriculum. This year I received a Smartboard for my classroom and I have affectionately named him Walli as he has become my best friend and I am in love with his technology! I am looking for lesson plans utilizing smartboards. I am aware of the Smart Exchange but was wondering what else may be out there that Walli and I can explore. I have a class web page that I use and I'm always looking to add to it.

Suzan Hyndman's picture
Suzan Hyndman
High School SPED teacher from Western Massachusetts

Well said. I agree and I hope it helps her.

Ralph Schraven's picture

This comment is directed at sandra's post of 3/28/2010, 5:55 AM. The "reply" functionality of this website appears broken, thus I included this header.

A burn-out is diagnostically equivalent to clinical depression. The only difference is that a burn-out is usually called as such when the depression one is going through is mainly caused by the stress one experiences from the work he (she) is doing. As almost all instances of perception of stress, work-related stress is a highly subjective and inter-personally variable experience. Much less trivial is that it tends to vary between similar jobs for the same person. As an example, someone I know very well has been burned out from doing a voluntary job as a treasurer. Even though this person has worked a finance-related job around 25 hours per week for over 30 years, she is incapable of handling the pressure of being so directly involved with the finances of an association and dealing with the workload that comes with that.

This is not an example of burning out, but it is an example of how poor a parameter "job duration" is for measuring the occurrences and severity of the clinical depressions certain individuals 'get' from their job.

My apologies for conditioning my argument on a personal anecdote. However, the alternative was to say "you have no evidence" and call it a day, since after all you have the burden of proof. However, I thought it would be more convincing to directly refute it as far as that is possible.

TL;DR You are right to be skeptical of every next person claiming they have a burn-out, as the conditions for that are very, very strict. Most people who claim they have a burn-out most likely are experiencing symptoms of too little a severity to meet the standards required by, say, DSM 5. However, job duration has nothing to do with any of this. That's not a good reason to question someone's symptoms of stress.

Ralph Schraven's picture

The fact that you have seriously revised your career and concluded that you made certain mistakes is a very healthy and good sign. It is therefore absolutely _not_ a sign that, in the light of whatever flaws you have found, you should give up on "something you have always loved doing".

You appear to be unconfident in returning because you made many "newbie mistakes". Well, what's the problem here? A newbie makes newbie mistakes, and apparently you are now aware of them. So... Again, what's the issue? There is none! You are probably a great teacher. Keen on self-improvement and enthusiastic about the job. Of course, you could always opt to switch careers, but please, whatever you decide, do not do so because you worried that you would not be good enough!


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