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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 8 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.
Whether it’s 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 teachers and education professors who know first-hand what challenges educators are facing today, and they left us with these amazing ideas.
1. Find someone you can be vulnerable with.
“If you have relationships with your colleagues, you have a feeling of safety and are more likely to ask for help,” says Julie Ann Owens-Birch, associate professor in the College of Education at Concordia University-Portland. Meghan Mathis is a high school English teacher in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and she knows this to be true. “Don’t just pretend everything is wonderful,” she says. “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.
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2. Create your own play time, 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 what he loves about teaching.
3. Make your day-to-day interesting.
Tired of worksheets and drills? Then kick it up a notch. Cathy Lambeth, associate professor in the College of Education at Concordia University-Portland, says it’s up to the teacher to make it their own. “You have goals based on standards, but the day-to-day classroom practices are up to the teachers to make engaging and enriching,” she says. 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.
4. Don’t be afraid to declare me time.
“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. Whether it’s a yoga class, knitting, taking photographs, or leaving work at 3 p.m. to go for a walk, just do it. Practice mindfulness strategies. “You have to take care of you before you can take care of those around you,” says Owens-Birch. “Set a date with yourself and don’t cancel it.”
5. When you feel hopeless, find perspective.
“To be a good teacher, you have to connect and relate to kids, but you cannot save the world,” says Lambeth. Sometimes teachers care so deeply for their students that the trauma students have endured can take a personal toll. Be aware about 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 adds, “It’s important to know you have to step back. It is not your responsibility to save every student every day.”
6. 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. 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 up front, 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.”
7. 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.
8. 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 are 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.
9. 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 p.m. “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 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.
10. 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.
11. Don’t be afraid to find a new job.
If your current position isn’t allowing you to be the teacher you had imagined, perhaps there is another school or a different grade that is better suited for you. Do you feel like you’ve peaked with your job? Going back to school to continue your education is another way to reignite that fire within yourself to help with that feeling of burnout, suggests Owens-Birch. You could work toward another degree or hone your expertise in a certain area.
12. Know that there will be ups and downs.
When you are feeling burnt-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 ever!