Every teacher enters the profession with the best of intentions, but the realities of the day-to-day work can be draining for even the most enthusiastic and experienced educators. The result is that each year, teachers suffering from burnout decide to call it quits and try something new.
If you’ve been a teacher for any amount of time, you are probably all too familiar with this. Whether it’s difficult students who disrupt classes despite your best efforts, administrators who try to limit creative lessons in favor of textbook approaches and “teaching to the test” or long after-work hours spent grading papers, teachers are not dealing with a shortage of challenges or work to do.
Stress adds up and can lead to you becoming less interested in sharing ideas with other teachers, participating less in meetings and losing that all-important “spark” that brings life to your work and inspires students to try their best.
While burnout happens to the best teachers, there are ways to minimize its effects and keep going in this highly rewarding and inspirational profession. Here are some tips to keep in mind that will help keep you refreshed when you start to feel worn out.
1) Find a work-life balance
One of the things many teachers find overwhelming is the amount of work that needs to be done outside the classroom. Teachers plan lessons, grade papers, give student feedback, interact with parents and sometimes help out with extracurricular activities. In the midst of all of this, it’s vital you set a boundary, working for a few hours and then putting all of it away for the day. As an educator, it can feel like you have to get work done right away, but your free time is just as precious as everyone else’s.
2) Stay home when you’re sick
Getting sick can present teachers with a significant challenge. After spending hours thinking about lessons for the week, it’s very difficult to then turn over control of a class to a substitute who does not know your students or plans and could derail what you hope to achieve. While it can be hard to call in sick, you must learn to listen to your body and do it. You may have some short-term catch-up work to do when you return, but it’s better than going in sick and wearing yourself down long-term.
3) Try new things
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with classroom activities, particularly when you find ones that work and you feel comfortable with. Trying something new, in contrast, can feel difficult and risky. Even so, variation is important for maintaining student interest and keeping yourself motivated and sharp.
4) Remember to laugh and smile, a lot
Smiles and laughter have a recharging effect and therefore are beneficial for students. While it’s important to be able to maintain focus and keep your classroom in order, it’s also better for everyone if tension and boredom are absent from the learning environment. You don’t have to be a standup comedian as these emotions are contagious. According to research by Finland's Aalto University published in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences in 2012, strong emotions synchronize the brain activity of different individuals.
In other words, expressions of emotion such as smiling and laughter can trigger corresponding emotional responses in those around us, something researches say “may be a basic element of social interaction.”
5) Don’t take every snag personally
Disruptive classrooms are a big drain on morale, particularly if you feel that your teaching is in some way at fault. It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes even the best teachers face difficult classes or activities that fall flat. Rather than hanging your head in such moments and feeling like you’re not cut out for the job, remember that a lot of teachers have been there at one point. Take what didn’t work and tweak it for next time.
6) Remind yourself why you’re in this job
This may be the most important thing of all to remember. You began teaching for a reason, and it likely has something to do with wanting to change the lives of students in your classes for the better. Remind yourself of those reasons in your darkest moments. When brighter days come, you’ll be glad you did.