How to Avoid the Dreaded Teacher Burnout in 2021
Teacher burnout is very real. If you are not an educator this may not seem like a very real
concern but trust me, it is. I LOVE my job. It is my passion and my life's calling. My brain doesn’t just shut down when class is over, I am thinking about work and my students 24/7. I think of ways to engage them, I think of how to connect with them- even more of a struggle in the distance learning environment. I worry about their well-being frequently. I work in a Title I school in Central California. According to The US Department of Education Title I schools are defined as “schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds to operate schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school in order to raise the achievement of the lowest-achieving students.” Don’t get me wrong, I love working with my students and appreciate the fact that I work with such a diverse population, but it is stressful. Questions such as do they have enough to eat, is there abuse in the house, is their power on, are they sleeping in a comfortable bed, do they have love, all circle in my mind once I turn off my computer. Those are in addition to the actual teaching things I think about, such as additional strategies to teach them and to engage them.
As I type this, I am in the middle of a rough morning. I’m tired of working from home, I want to see my kids face-to-face and I’m just tired of being in front of a screen all day. Not seeing my students' faces, and not easily connecting with them to see how they are is exhausting. So much of our lives depend on human contact, and facial/body language. Being virtual in a Title I school, where we deal with the real issue of “lag” with our internet, making cameras hard to turn on is challenging to say the least. Being virtual is rough for students who have a lot going on at home, and who aren’t comfortable showing their home environment is challenging. Having students at home with multiple siblings who are also at school on their computers is hard because there are multiple students in one room, all trying to learn and all dealing with noise issues. It’s just HARD!
Below is how I deal with burnout. I hope that you find some of them helpful to you, or maybe you can give me some guidance as to what you do to avoid burnout. Spring Break is just 16 school days away!!! I CAN DO IT!
Working out is crucial to my well-being. I don’t do anything overly challenging, but I do depend on daily work out to deal with stress. I have arthritis just about everywhere, so doing a hard workout doesn’t happen. However, I do get on my treadmill and walk for a mile or so and lift some light weights. I even dance around my house when the mood is right (and everyone is sleeping). Exercise shouldn't be something we avoid because it is too hard, or we are too tired. Sometimes, I exercise right in my work clothes, because I know I won’t get the motivation to go change. Exercise releases my stress and takes me away from my worries and is my number one go-to when I'm stressed out.
Set time limits.
Working from home is hard because you are relaxing where you are working, especially if you live in a small environment. Ever since I read “Atomic Habits” I have made it a point to only work from my desk and when I am done working, I turn off my computer, tuck in my chair, and walk away. Turning off my computer has been the key to learning to let work go. I no longer take my laptop to my couch and work for hours while watching tv. I also removed my work e-mail and my LMS from my phone. Now when I am done working, I can focus on my family and myself and stress less about my students.
Talk to your teacher friends.
This has been a challenge this school year due to working from home. I miss my teacher friends! When I am having a bad day, it is helpful to find someone who “gets it”. My family is supportive, but they don’t truly understand the stress a teacher has. In a face-to-face situation when I had a bad day, I would talk to my teacher friends as we walked our students out to the gate to go home. Or I would check in with them at recess time to vent. Now, it's done over text message, or during PLC and it is not the same. As I write this, I am realizing that maybe this is one reason I am burned out and need to follow my own advice!
Set goals for yourself.
I am notorious for setting goals and making lists. I know that setting professional goals has helped keep me grounded and has helped me succeed as a virtual educator. Setting goals has also helped me to remember my “why” and helps to motivate me on bad days. My current goals include:
Completing the last class that I need to move up on the pay scale.
Completing the National Board Certification Program
Obtaining my master's degree
Obtaining my Doctorate
Have fun with your students.
This accomplishes two things. First and foremost, it helps me to connect to my students, helps to engage them in class, and lightens the mood. However, it is also a great way to help avoid burnout. If my students and I are enjoying class then it doesn’t feel like “work”. We like to tell jokes, do brain breaks, share our weekends as well as our 'highs and lows”. We have Fun Fridays, and virtual lunch together. When we have fun at work, it makes the day go quicker and is less stressful.
I know there are many more ways to avoid burnout, but these are the top strategies that I focus on when I am having a bad day. What are your strategies to avoid burnout?