The Learning Policy Institute estimates that between 19 and 30 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Yikes! That’s a lot of smart, capable people who have invested in years of training who are leaving the classroom because of teacher stress. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to inspire your practice and mindset to avoid burnout. Here are seven dos and don’ts that will help you stay refreshed and motivated in this crazy-hard (yet infinitely rewarding) profession.
Don’t Go It Alone 👉 Do Find Your People
We all need the support and trust of people who are spending time in the same trenches. We need a safe space to vent and allies to bounce ideas off of. We need people who inspire us and help us maintain our balance.
Sometimes that support is right next door, but sometimes we must expand our search area to find people who feed our need for connection. High school teacher Tina Teague suggests branching out, especially if the atmosphere is tense in your school. She started attending trainings and workshops in her school district in order to meet teachers outside of her school. “You need people that can lend an ear that you can trust to not repeat things you say in confidence,” she says.
Don’t Get Bogged Down 👉 Do Empower Yourself
Empowered teachers feel stronger, more confident, and happier. Grant yourself authority over your time and effort by setting priorities and establishing boundaries. The millions of tasks a teacher is supposed to complete each day do not all hold equal weight. Sort through and figure out which matter most, what must be done today, and what can wait. Then follow this simple formula: Do more of what’s important and less of what doesn’t matter.
Teachers tend to overextend themselves, especially when they are new. Set boundaries around your time and energy. We all want to do our part to make our community stronger, but not at the expense of our mental and physical health. Learn to say no. Use proactive and assertive communication to protect yourself and your boundaries.
Don’t Stall Out 👉 Do Keep Learning
Whether it’s through a single professional development course or a master’s degree program, you have the opportunity to deepen your knowledge. The more you learn, the more tools you have in your toolbox. And when we engage in new learning, it lights up the areas of our brain that love novelty.
“As a teacher, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your students is to continue to be a learner,” recommends Dr. Monique C. Lynch, interim associate dean at Walden University School of Education & Professional Licensure and program director MSEd at Walden University College of Education and Leadership.
Lynch says diving into graduate-level study can re-invigorate your teaching and open new career opportunities. As a bonus, it also shows your students how to be a lifelong learner.
“The knowledge and skills you gain in graduate school will make you a better teacher and colleague at your school,” says Lynch. “You will learn the ‘why’ behind effective teaching practices you may already use, as well as new ideas that will broaden your repertoire.”
Don’t Let Your Passion Slip Away 👉 Do Keep It Exciting
Sadly, approximately 45 percent of teachers agree with this statement: “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.” Granted, it’s hard to maintain the fervor of a newbie. But doing things the same old way year in and year out certainly isn’t the formula to make your pulse race.
Stay on top of current trends by following educators on social media. Enroll in seminars and attend workshops by teachers who inspire you. Watch YouTube teaching channels. Join professional groups, like NCTE, NCSS, or NSTA. Read innovative books. Try out different teaching methods, like a flipped classroom or project-based learning. Teaching is an ever-evolving process; there is no finish line. You must occasionally tweak your philosophy and practice to make an impact.
Don’t Spin Your Wheels 👉 Do Work Smarter, Not Harder
The amount of planning, organizing, and communicating that goes into the average teacher’s school day is overwhelming, to say the least. It’s essential to learn strategies and implement systems that help reduce the workload. There are many books and videos by experienced professionals that provide strategies that make the daily juggling act more manageable. In addition, there are products specifically designed to help teachers get and stay organized, like planners, file systems, and communication apps.
One of the simplest ways to work smarter is to utilize technology. Many teachers use Google Docs for cloud-based storage of files, such as lesson plans. This allows access all of your documents from anywhere and easily share them with colleagues. You can also simplify classroom communication with apps like Bloomz or Remind. These apps allow you to streamline messages to parents, class photos, calendars, and sign-ups.
Don’t Neglect Yourself 👉 Do Make Self-Care a Top Priority
You know the old saying: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Teachers, with their big hearts and deeply ingrained sense of mission, often give away so much that they have nary a drop left over for themselves.
This can lead to physical and mental distress. In fact, a national survey of teachers shows that 61 percent of teachers are stressed out, with 58 percent describing their mental health as “not good.” This translates to lost productivity and ineffectiveness, not to mention health-care spending in the billions.
It is essential to invest in yourself as an individual, away from school. Spend time with friends and family. Devote energy to outside interests. Remember who you were before you became a teacher. Chill when you need to chill. Effective teachers give everything they’ve got, but to sustain that effort, they also know they must practice self-care.
Don’t Drown in the Mundane 👉 Do Focus on Your Passion
Teaching is an expansive experience. Try to find the area that lights you up and invest your energy there. Maybe you love drama: Mix a reader’s theater unit into your literacy rotation. Perhaps you’re fascinated with robots: Incorporate coding with mini-bots into your STEM lessons. Maybe leadership is your jam: Volunteer to head up a committee or two.
Of course there will always be mandatory parts of any job that require a grin-and-bear-it attitude, and that’s different for every person. But try to get through those quickly and efficiently, then be done with them. Save your passion for the things that bring you the greatest reward.
High school chemistry teacher Linda D. says, “I have a passion for helping new teachers, so when I get too stressed, I try to help those around me. I mentor a new/struggling teacher every year, and it reminds me that I’m doing something right.”