If a particularly rough day, class, or year has you wondering if you can keep going, you are not alone. Most teachers experience burnout at some point.
Nearly eight percent of the teaching workforce is leaving every year, according to a report by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, and this isn’t due to retirement. This statistic is about twice the rate of high-achieving countries like Finland and Singapore. It’s also especially true in new teachers, with estimates suggesting that more than 40 percent of teachers leave within the first five years.
Whether it’s a lack of administrative support, pressures around testing, or frustrating working conditions, teachers leave the profession for many different reasons. So what can you do to prevent teacher burnout and keep on track for the long haul? We talked to current educators who know firsthand what challenges are in today’s schools. Here are some of the amazing ideas.
1. Find someone you can be vulnerable with.
Relationships with your colleagues is important as you can go to them for help. Meghan Mathis, a high school English teacher in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, says, “Don’t just pretend everything is wonderful. This can be toxic.” Instead, she recommends finding a trusted teacher you can confide in on a regular basis. That way, if your lesson fails, you can go to them and talk about it. Chances are they’ve been there, and they could even help you figure out a plan to improve.
2. Practice time management and strive for a work-life balance.
It’s easy to pour yourself into a classroom lesson or project. You might expect to spend 15 minutes on something, and then an hour quickly goes by. If this happens to you frequently, research time management techniques and really try to use them. Yes, you want to be a great teacher, but at the same time, it’s so important to have a good work-life balance. This will help exponentially during those stressful, busy times.
3. Create your own playtime, no matter which grade you teach.
Teachers are juggling so many demands, sometimes they forget to embrace play. Mike Yates, a high school geography teacher in Austin, Texas, says he’s always looking for ways to lighten the mood in class. “It’s up to you as the teacher to find fun in the situation,” he says. When Yates is feeling on the edge of burnout, he tries to remember little silly stories and wild things his students have done to remind him of what he loves about teaching.
4. Set professional development goals and conquer them!
For some teachers, professional development can feel overwhelming, but it’s also really important and keeps you grounded on what matters. It can also help you remember why you got into teaching and feel better when you’re feeling burned out.
5. Make your day to day interesting.
Tired of worksheets and drills? Then kick it up a notch. Standards are important but it’s up to the teachers to make it their own. Look for a school where administrators trust teachers to be creative. You might even consider enrolling in a graduate school class to learn the latest methods or come up with fresh approaches for your lessons.
6. Bring mindfulness and self-care to your daily routine.
These are not just trends or buzz phrases. Mindfulness and self-care are both important practices for teachers. We have an article with 30+ ideas right here. Take a yoga class. Practice stress management. Eat healthy. Learn as much as you can and then make it a goal to make these ideas a regular part of your day.
7. Don’t be afraid to declare “me time.”
Building on the self-care idea, don’t be afraid to schedule calendar time for yourself. “Because we are givers naturally, it’s easy to put ourselves on the back burner, but a healthy teacher means a healthy classroom,” says Mathis.
8. When you feel hopeless, find perspective.
Sometimes teachers care so deeply for their students that the trauma students have endured can take a personal toll. Be aware of what you can and cannot affect. While teachers are charged with being advocates for their students, they also need to help students develop their own voice and stand up for themselves. Mathis says, “It’s important to know you have to step back. It is not your responsibility to save every student every day.”
9. Don’t give yourself extra homework.
“Be conscious about how much you are grading and taking home. Find ways to do quicker assessments,” says Mathis. If you do bring work home, limit how much time you spend on a lesson plan and take breaks. You can control your workload. Or take Yates’ advice: Don’t take any work home. “I will not cheat my family or myself out of rest or time together,” he says. “I just tell my students upfront, when I have to grade things it will take a little bit longer because I will do it entirely at school. They know this and understand.”
10. Don’t make education your life.
Teachers are notorious for always being on the lookout for new ideas to bring into the classroom. Before bed, Mathis used to read books about education. “My hobby was my profession, and it was burning me out,” she says. Now she chooses fiction or other fun books to read instead to help give her brain a much-needed break. If you are looking for ways to increase your education, consider signing up for a workshop or a continuing education class so there’s a designated time and place. This way it won’t creep in on your personal time.
11. Find your own voice and allow it to change over time.
“Teaching is an art more than a science,” says Mathis. “We are all different types of artists and teachers.” It’s easy to let your education style mirror that of a colleague or a college professor, but allow yourself to find your own voice. Plus, let your teaching persona evolve over time. You are more likely to be happy in your profession when you can be yourself, feel in control, and teach in a way that reflects your values.
12. Don’t be afraid to use the Do Not Disturb sign.
To maintain a good work-life balance, Yates goes off the grid at 5 PM. “I make sure when I leave the campus, I leave in every way,” he says. He does not have his email connected to his phone, so he has to go to a computer to check messages. He embraces the idea of work smarter not harder. Yates says he is more efficient and accurate doing his work at school during the day rather than late at night.
13. Find your people; they get you!
“Involve yourself in the larger conversation about education,” says Yates. For him, that means reading education blogs and communicating with friends from other schools. With so many social media groups and hashtags being used, teachers can easily find other educators to connect with. It’s encouraging to know others are facing similar challenges.
14. Don’t be afraid to find a new job.
If your current position isn’t allowing you to be the teacher you had imagined you’d be, perhaps there is another school or a different grade that is better suited for you. Do you feel like you’ve peaked in your job? Going back to school to continue your education is another way to reignite that fire within yourself to help fight teacher burnout, suggests Owens-Birch. You could work toward another degree or hone your expertise in a certain area.
15. Know that there will be ups and downs.
When you are feeling burned out, it can be easy to think something is wrong with you, says Mathis. “It’s perfectly normal and healthy to have ebbs and flows in your profession,” she says. “It’s OK if you don’t jump out of bed every morning excited. There are good years and years that are tougher. “Know that you can always take time to regroup and reset. Your next group of kids or teaching year might be your best one yet!
Do you have tips to prevent teacher burnout? Share them on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group.