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Burnout teachers are everywhere! Even if you love this profession, it can take over your life and cause you to experience burnout. In fact, 44% of K-12 teacher report feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their jobs. Burnout teachers are more likely to leave their jobs, have their mental health affected, and even negatively impact their students academically. But what can we do to avoid feeling burnout? I want to preface this by saying that I am no expert! In fact, I went through a situation of teacher burnout that was a contributing factor in my decision to step away from the classroom for a full school year. But now that I am back in the classroom, I have made certain changes that have helped me manage the stress of teaching in a more effective way. So, as someone who has been there, I want to share with you the things that worked for me. Even though this school year has been the hardest in my teaching career (including teaching through COVID!), I have experienced less stress. So, if you would like to read about five ways to avoid teacher burnout and love teaching again, this blog post is for you!
How to identify teacher burnout
A quick Google search on the topic will give you tons of information on what teacher burnout is, including its symptoms. But I want to share with you what my symptoms were because, for a long time, I wasn’t able to identify what I was feeling. I was experiencing burnout and didn’t know.
My personal experience with teacher burnout
For me, it started during the COVID year. We were asked to teach both virtual and face-to-face at the same time. I immediately knew that was a terrible idea. I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I knew this setup would not be conducive to learning. We all knew this wasn’t what was best for students. Luckily, I had an amazing and supportive administrator who allowed us to rearrange our schedules and trusted us to try new things. We were able to come up with a system that actually allowed us to have a virtual and a face-to-face group, even though that’s not what the district initially wanted us to do.
Still, that year was hard! I wasn’t able to do the things that I believe make me a good teacher because of all the protocols we have to follow. I was so discouraged. And slowly but surely, I started to lose that teacher “sparkle.”
How I knew I was burnout
At the time, I didn’t realize I was experiencing burnout. But looking back, the symptoms were there. I wasn’t excited about teaching anymore. I was irritable and had no patience for my own family at times. No matter how much I rested, I was always mentally exhausted. I also became very negative about everything. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of person. But suddenly, I could only focus on the problems, instead of looking for solutions. And I hated that feeling.
I think the biggest sign was that I started to think of other things I could do instead of teaching. That had never happened before. As I said, I have always loved teaching. In fact, I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old. For the first time, teaching was no longer a passion.
I knew that if I was going to get that “I love teaching” feeling back, I needed to make some big changes.
Five ways to avoid teacher burnout
I am no expert, but after experiencing teacher burnout, I have learned a few things about how to avoid it. I don’t ever want to go through that again. In all honesty, I feel like I am still recovering from it. Having said that, here are some of the things that have helped me combat teacher burnout.
Leave work on time
The first boundary I set for myself was to leave work on time. This was a big deal for me. I can confidently say that I had NEVER left school on time. After all, there is never enough time to get everything done. But the truth is, no matter how much you do, there will always be more to do. And if you limit the amount of time you have, you can actually get more done. Think about it! How many times have you looked at the clock and thought to yourself: “I NEED to get ____ done, and I ONLY HAVE 20 minutes to do it.” Did you get it done? Chances are you did! Because it was important and you made it a priority. Prioritizing tasks that needed to get done and limiting the amount of time I could spend doing them was life-changing. Does this mean I leave work on time every day? NO! Things still come up sometimes (a.k.a. meetings that could have been an email!), but I do my best to leave on time as often as possible.
Stop answering emails after school hours
Another way to avoid teacher burnout is to stop answering school emails after a certain time. Now, I am going to be very transparent here. I still have my school email on my phone. And I still check it from time to time throughout the day. I find that by doing that, I can actually keep up with it a lot easier. But I don’t always answer emails immediately. In fact, I often don’t answer them until I get to school in the morning, unless it’s something simple that can be answered in a few words.
Now, if you are someone who sees an email from a parent or your principal asking you to do something and gets major anxiety from it, I suggest not checking your email at all once you leave school. I have learned to NOT let most things get to me and steal my joy, so I can handle seeing an email and not answering it immediately (at least most of the time.) Remember, all businesses have work hours. You don’t go to Chick’fil’a on Sunday because you know they are closed! You respect their hours of operation. Why should you be on the clock 24/7 when you are not getting paid to do that?
Stop reinventing the wheel
One of the best ways to avoid teacher burnout is to stop trying to reinvent the wheel all the time. Maybe this one is not a problem for you, but it used to be a big problem for me. I love planning fun things to do in class. I am always looking for ways to make lessons more engaging and interesting for my students. But the truth is that we can’t always have a fun thing up our sleeve. Sometimes, we just have to use what’s already available to us. That does not make you a bad teacher.
I used to spend hours after school looking for ways to make my next lesson more fun. But that wasn’t fair to my family. I was robbing my children and my husband by cutting into our time. And I was burning out!
Instead, I have tried to look for ways to add some fun to my classroom without having to reinvent my lessons. We play games during our morning meetings. We play games if we have a little extra time throughout the day. During partner work, I let my students choose who they want to work with. I let my students choose where they sit. These are just some ways that I can add some fun to my classroom daily without having to do something different every day.
Share the burden of lesson planning
This one was hard for me, too. At my previous schools, I always wrote my own lesson plans. Part of the reason was that I was departmentalized, so I only had to write reading and writing plans. This year, I am teaching all subjects. At the beginning of the school year, I was writing plans for all of them, and it was exhausting. So now, a coworker and I share plans. I write plans for science and English, and she writes plans for math and social studies. This has made lesson planning so much easier.
Not only do we share plans, but we also make copies for each other. So, when I am done writing the next reading unit, I make copies for both of us. This has saved me a lot of time and stress. Because I loved to reinvent the wheel in the past, I used to be “that teacher” at the copier every morning. Now, my copies are ready to go before I am even ready to start teaching a unit. It’s glorious! And it reduces a lot of anxiety I used to feel in the morning.
Bonus tip: Plan for units instead of weeks! This was life-changing. I used to write plans one week at a time. Now, I write an entire unit of study. Some units are only a few days long while others may be a few weeks long. Either way, I write plans for the entire unit and make all the copies I need as soon as the plans are done. It is much easier to plan with the end in mind this way. I can easily make sure I am covering all the standards and skills to help my students master each concept.
Keep your physical space organized
I am guilty of not always practicing what I preach with this one. My classroom this school year is not as organized as I would like it to be. I am in a portable for the first time this year. This means I don’t have a lot of closet space. I was also not allowed to come into my classroom until the weekend before school started, which means I wasn’t able to organize things the way I would have liked to at the beginning of the school year. Now, I just don’t have enough time (because I am setting boundaries) to reorganize everything. However, I am still managing to keep my space organized enough, so that it doesn’t drive me crazy! But I digress…
Keeping your physical space as organized as possible is a great way to reduce stress. And reducing stress is the best way to avoid burnout. To me, one of the hardest things to manage is paper flow. And the clutter paper creates gives me major anxiety. So, I like to come up with systems to help me manage paperwork in my classroom. I wrote an entire blog post about that. You can check it out by clicking here. In this blog post, I describe all my systems for managing paper clutter, which have saved my sanity over the years.
Teacher burnout is REAL!
Experiencing teacher burnout has been one of the most challenging things I have experienced. People who are not in education often don’t understand just how physically and mentally demanding this job is. They also don’t understand how teacher burnout can impact every aspect of our lives. But I am here to tell you that teacher burnout is real… and it’s hard!!! You are not alone. There are so many of us who are experiencing it or recovering from it right now. I hope this list of ways to avoid teacher burnout can help you the same way they helped me.