I’m not going to say that I’m burned out, but I feel myself moving in that direction. And it breaks my heart. I’ve been hearing and reading about teacher burn out since I started teaching 8 years ago. I said to myself, “That won’t be me. I love teaching. I love my kids. I love the people I work with .” And all of that is still true, yet I feel myself getting sucked into the angry mob of burned out teachers.
Statistics show this issue is not getting better. In fact, according to a study discussed in NPR’s recent “Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage”, nearly 8 percent of all working teachers (over 100,000 teachers nationwide) are leaving the profession every year. And less than a third of them are retiring. The US Department of Education also recently released a study showing that 17 percent of new teachers do not make it more than 5 years in the profession. This particular study tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that the percentage is significantly less than previously quoted. But the down side is that the number is increasing every year (as shown in their data).
I’m sure that any of you reading this post (I’m assuming mostly current teachers) are aware of all the causes of teacher burn out. Things like budgets (or lack there of), mandates and standards, and administration from the federal to state to local levels that are unsupportive and not properly trained. I don’t want to go into them here…. because they bum me out. I don’t have the answer to those problems. What I want to focus on is how we, as teachers, can keep our candles burning a little bit longer in spite of all those problems.
My first recommendation is to take of charge of what you have control over: yourself. So many teachers get so caught up in everything we are doing for our students, our families, our schools, and our communities that we forget about or just don’t have time for ourselves. There’s a reason I haven’t posted here in 4 months. I’m literally just too busy. I’m a mother of two little ones, I’m in grad school, I’m teaching, and I’m attempting to be a good wife, friend, and daughter. And I know I’m not the only one in this chaotic boat. A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I just literally couldn’t keep this pace up anymore. I needed a night off. Thankfully, he’s a wonderfully understanding human. I booked a room at a local hotel on a Friday night a few weeks later and spent the night with… myself. It was PERFECT. I ordered pizza, drank wine, and watched two whole uninterrupted movies. In the morning (after sleeping a solid 9 hours) I drank coffee and read my book. I went home a much more rested, happy, and patient person. And that carried into my teaching on Monday. It let me clear my mind and just unplug for a while. Maybe just a night at home will work for you. Or go out to dinner with friends. Find whatever YOU love to do, and do it. You deserve it.
My second recommendation is to be friends with the people you work with. And do things that friends do. Go out to eat. Let your kids hang out together. Meet up for drinks. There have been some big changes in staff and administration in my building over the last few years. With so many new faces coming in, it can be hard to find someone to turn to when I’m having one of THOSE days. And when you just bottle it up (even just until you get home), it’s never good. Teachers need to work as a team in order for a school to be successful. Being friends with your colleagues, not just “the teacher down the hall” goes a long way in reducing stress levels. And maybe even more importantly, the kids pick up on it. When you are standing in the hall talking and laughing like friends, the kids see the teachers are a team. I think it goes a long way towards building that sense of “community” that we all want in our buildings.
Lastly, you’ve got to keep the kids as the top priority. Seems simple enough. I spend 7 hours a day looking at them. But you have to find the good in them and remind yourself how awesome/funny/creative/amazing they are. This year I have started pushing myself to write down the little things. I have a clipboard with all 7 rosters (including my study hall) that I keep in my top desk drawer. When I see them do something good (ie. asked for help, brought in supplies for a lab when no one else did, pushed themselves in class), I jot it down. Then on Friday, I go through my list and email their parents with what I saw. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t. That’s not what’s important. It’s really about being more conscious of the good things and sometimes that means I have to look really closely. But it’s there. I’ve also had a LOT more one on one after class chats with students this year. I want them to see I’m on their side and that I believe in them. It also gives me the chance to see them as people, not just students, and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.
It’s really easy… REALLY EASY to get lost in this burn out spiral. And it seems, from personal experience, that the more you let yourself focus on the problems (especially the ones that we don’t have direct control over) the harder it gets to stop. This isn’t me saying “get over it”. There are legitimate problems educators are facing today. And I have lots of thoughts on those… maybe another post. But while we are dealing with those problems, we have to keep our candles burning.
I hope these tips are helpful to someone out there. If you have other suggestions, by all means share it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!