By Teachers, For Teachers
Just recently, I’ve come to realize that talking about teacher burnout is a bit like talking about substance abuse or other similar taboo topics – everyone is very comfortable about talking about strategies for avoiding it and how to be supportive to those going through it, but no one wants to admit that they might be the one with the problem. Teachers are more than willing to say that they’re exhausted, but few are willing to say to their colleagues or their administration, “I’m burned out.” Even now, I’m willing to talk about my feelings in this article, but I’m not comfortable putting my name on it. And obviously, it indicates why teacher burnout is such a hard problem to solve.
I’m not quite sure when “I’m exhausted, but fulfilled,” became simply, “I’m exhausted,” but I definitely know that last year was one of the most difficult I have ever experienced – and perhaps that was the tipping point. Several new initiatives and requirements left my department struggling to revise and update our curriculum – and as a senior member of the team I was given much of that responsibility. My classes included more students with special needs than ever before and, as a high school teacher, I couldn’t help but notice that many of my students (those with IEPs and those without) were several grade levels behind where they should have been.
When June rolled around I breathed a huge sigh of relief – I was so sure that all I needed was summer vacation to decompress.
But as the first day of school grew closer and closer, I realized that I didn’t feel better. I don’t feel rejuvenated and ready to face the new school year. I just feel tired. Exhausted. Burned out.
Here are some of the actions I’m taking in an effort to stay positive and effective this year. They might not be on an official – “How to Deal with Teacher Burnout” list, but I’ll let you know how they work for me.
Stop Worrying About Standardized Tests
This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop teaching my students the important skills and concepts they’ll need to successfully navigate their state assessment exams, only that I refuse to stress out about whether or not they all score proficient or advanced. I’ll look at the data, I’ll offer suggestions if I have them on how to improve student performance, but I’m stepping back from taking each student’s score personally. I will do my best to prepare them and then I will release responsibility to my students.
Look for Lessons that Excite Me
Overall, I’m pleased with my lessons. My students respond to them well and I have rarely been accused of having a boring class that students dread going to. So this action isn’t for them as much as it is for me. I’m going to shake things up, collaborate with some of the younger teachers and see how I can add some new units into my year. I’m hoping that doing something “completely different,” as the Monty Python boys say, will help pull me out of my slump.
Phone Home -- Positively
Every year I tell myself I’m going to do this and each year it ends up being one of the items that gets left behind as the work piles up. This year, I’m going to call at least four parents a month for no reason other than to tell them something positive their son or daughter did in my class. One parent per week: I’ve actually written it into my lesson plans so I remember to do it. I’m hoping that by really investing in positive relationships with parents I can stop seeing them as either hovering or missing in action.
Leave School at School
Any teacher can tell you that this is almost impossible, but at least two times a week, I’m going to walk out of my building with nothing but my car keys, purse and water bottle. I’m going to go home with nothing to grade, no lesson plans to review, no test to make and I’m going to spend from 4 p.m. on doing things that have nothing to do with my profession. I’m going to try to do this on weekends too…but we’ll see how that works out.
So has anyone else dealt with teacher burnout successfully? What worked for you?