Teacher burnout is real, it happens to more teachers than you think, and you can recover. Teacher burnout is deep-seated emotional and/or physical exhaustion brought on by excessive work, stress, and difficult conditions. Sound familiar? I need you to know that burnout is not a dirty word and there is nothing wrong with you.
I also need you to know that you need to ignore anyone that tells you burnout means you aren’t fit to be in the classroom. A quick Google search will bring up a lot of haters, people who believe burnout only happens to those of us that are weak or don’t love children, and that we can’t bounce back. This is a lie.
The decision to leave the classroom is one you can think about after trying some of these strategies and giving it careful consideration. Give yourself grace, the same grace you give your students, and keep your options open.
We all feel burned out at some point. I consistently feel it right before Thanksgiving break and at the end of the school year. I still do a great job teaching during these time periods each year. However, if your burnout is lasting weeks or months, it might not disappear with the onset of a holiday break. This post is full of ways that I have dealt with and come back from burnout.
Now that you have realized you are feeling burned out, it’s time to dig a little deeper into those feelings. Maybe your burnout is a constant cloud hanging over you, maybe it has ups and downs, maybe it’s related to certain types of lessons or interactions at school. The best thing you can do is find out more about your teacher burnout.
You need to track how you are feeling. Keep in mind that you are already feeling burned out, choose a tracking strategy that feels manageable rather than overwhelming.
You can want to track your mood digitally on an app like Daylio, which just allows you to click a few buttons to track your mood. For a more visual approach to mood tracking, consider this beautiful coloring page from Space and Quiet.
If you need a more creative approach, try making your own Mood Mandala with this tutorial from Boho Berry. Lastly, if you want to track even more information like eating, drinking, and sleep habits, try the Food and Mood Journal I used to recover from burnout and tackle severe headaches.
Get a wearable with the mantra that speaks to you.
This might sound shallow, but meaningful physical objects are a great way to combat burnout. Burnout is elusive, not visible or tangible, and can creep up on you without you knowing. A visual cue like a bracelet can help remind you why you are feeling this way and what you want to focus on instead.
You can get a fancy official Mantraband or find the word, phrase, or style that will help you through on Etsy. I had an entire semester that was defined by “Patience” bands that a teacher friend and I got to match when we were having a difficult time. I could look down and immediately remember that I wasn’t alone, rather than my exhaustion or the problem I was facing.
Set hours and stick to them.
This is hard. Teaching can be unpredictable, the labs might take longer to grade than you expected or the lesson may not have taken as long as you planned. I was never able to give myself an exact time, like ending my workday at 4 or 5 PM each day. If you are able to do this, by all means, give it a try!
I was able to schedule in planned downtime. There have been years where my husband I went out every Tuesday or I planned to read a book in bed starting at 8 PM on Wednesdays. Sometimes this meant going on a walk each day to break up work, more on this below!
Regular physical activity or time outdoors.
If you are already stressed and short on time, this will sound like a ludicrous suggestion. However, the results you will see from moving your body and enjoying nature will be apparent after just one try.
The most low-key recommendations:
- Lesson plan or grade outside. Find a good spot in your local park or the outdoor seating section of a local coffee shop.
- Walk about the block. Seriously, every time you finish grading a class or an assignment go walk around the block. Grading for multiple consecutive hours is bad for the body and the soul.
- Try Yoga with Adriene. I guarantee you can find a practice that you can do and that will fit your time constraints.
Use last years plans.
When your motivation and creative spark are in full swing, tweaking lesson plans and creating new ones is an exciting and invigorating process. When you are burned out, lesson planning is like slogging through the mud in the rain.
Take a look at your test scores and other data from previous years and find areas where students struggled to understand the material or skill. Choose a few lessons to focus on tweaking or revising in the new school year. This could be one per month, one per unit, one every couple weeks, whatever keeps you from feeling completely overwhelmed.
Commit to only working on these few lessons. Dedicating yourself to improving a few lessons that really need it will feel like a greater success than making rushed, minor tweaks to every lesson.
Get on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Don’t skip this one, Teachers Pay Teachers can help you in a multitude of ways. First off, Teachers Pay Teachers can help you find quality, teacher-tested lesson plans that are easier to search for and print than Pinterest. Secondly, even if you aren’t looking for plans to use in your classroom, looking around on Teacher Pay Teachers can provide inspiration and jump-start your excitement about your own lessons.
Selling my own lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers has provided me with an outlet for my creativity and the opportunity to learn something new! I love lesson planning and thinking about new ways to teach concepts and skills. Teachers Pay Teachers gave me another avenue for sharing resources and connecting with other educators. Burnout often comes when you don’t have a collaborative or supportive community at school. The seller forums and connections that you make with other teachers online can help you bridge this gap and find your kindred teacher spirits.
Take up a new hobby.
Taking up new hobbies has been valuable to my teaching career. Where do you think this blog came from?
When I started teaching, I had cable television for the first time and I couldn’t get enough Food Network. I started cooking and it saved me that first year of teaching. I could make a dish in under an hour and enjoy the fruits of my labor. When I wasn’t feeling successful in the classroom, it meant a lot to find success in the kitchen.
I also learned to bake and once went 7 months without buying bread because I baked my own! Last year I took up meditating and I’m hoping to write more consistently next year. Whether you decide to do something in your own home or find a class or organized activity, get your brain involved in something new and exciting. Somehow, learning something new makes me a more thoughtful teacher.
Take the summer off.
I recognize that this might not be an option for all teachers. If you can afford to take the summer off entirely, do it.
If you need or want a summer job, think about finding one that fills your bucket. In the summer, I need alone time and to not be in control all the time. I could see myself working a quiet desk job or filing papers, but would continue to be burned out by retail or summer camp jobs.
Take a mental health day.
During new teacher orientation my first year, my instructional coach told me to schedule a mental health day for the fall semester. I was shocked. Was that professional? What if someone found out? How was I supposed to make sub plans? How did I get a sub?
It turns out, my instruction coach was absolutely right. In mid-October, I was exhausted. I took a planned personal day, learned how to use the sub system and write quality sub plans. It was well worth the time to turn off my email notifications and my morning alarm and rest.
If you beginning to feel burned out or deep in the clutches of burnout, schedule a mental health day. Some teachers use this time to catch up or get ahead on grading and planning. I recommend a true day of rest: no cooking, cleaning, caretaking, planning, or grading. Try sleeping in, reading a book for fun, or binging on Netflix.
Find a confidant even if you have to pay a therapist.
You need to talk to someone about teaching. If you count on your spouse or significant other to take the brunt of your burnout, they are going to burnout as well. This could be a teacher friend, any friend, your mom, find someone that you can talk to. The teacher friends that have been there for me through burnout are the ones that I still keep in touch with today and include the teachers I am working with now.
If you are embarrassed to talk about burnout or are feeling very alone, go find a therapist. You should review your insurance options and consider mental health programs provided by your district. Sometimes a few weeks of checking in with a therapist has made a world of difference.
Therapists do social-emotional work and will understand burnout. Once I worked with a therapist who had been a teacher and it was amazing to talk to someone who really understood but had no bearing on my current position. Also, give the therapist at least three weeks and then if they aren’t the person for you, try someone else! Just because you walk in the door one doesn’t mean you have to commit to that therapist.
Seek out awesome PD.
Go do something related to education that makes you excited! Buy yourself an interesting education book. Go see an inspiring author or speaker. Visit a museum or national park. Take a cheap or free class. Observe a fellow teacher. Sometimes all you need to beat burnout is to gain a new perspective.
I would personally recommend edcamp, the unconference where the attendees run the show. I discovered and attended my first edcamp while I was struggling with burnout and it changed my life. Now I attend, support, and plan local edcamps hoping to share the experience and the perspective with other educators.
Lastly, get on social media! There is an amazing community of teachers on Instagram and Twitter that constantly inspire me to try new things and to connect with others.
Find a mentor teacher or instructional coach.
It might feel like the last thing that you want or need is another person in your classroom. However, you could benefit from a reality check. When I’m burned out, all I do is negative talk my work in my head. It helps me to have someone come in and take an objective look at what is happening during class. This could be a colleague, a teacher mentor, instructional coach, a content specialist; anyone who isn’t directly tied to your evaluation.
If you want to try this on your own, set up a video camera and reflect on your teaching from the comfort of your couch. While watching, focus on taking note of the good things that are going on as well as looking for areas of improvement.
Make a backup plan.
Burnout is compounded when you don’t feel like you have anywhere to go. For teachers, burnout is compounded when they feel like there are no other jobs they are qualified for or interested in. This can lead to a downward spiral where you feel like you have no control or options. For example, if I am struggling to find fulfillment or balance in this job, but I don’t think I could do another job, I guess I have to stay.
It’s time to dig out and update your resume. Talk to your college career center, a career coach, or just to another teacher or professional that you trust about updating your resume. Make two
Make two versions of your new resume. The first resume should be for education jobs; teaching, coaching, administration, etc. The second version of your resume would be used to apply for jobs outside of the education field. Even if you decide not to use this updated resume, it empowers you to make a decision based on what you actually want rather than how trapped you feel.
Lastly, look at some local job postings to see if there is anything that sparks your interest.
In some cases of burnout, the best thing you can do is to leave. You may need to leave your current school to find a better working environment or you may need to leave teaching to find a career that is a better fit. Try some of the other strategies in this post, update your resume, and then make an informed decision based onwhat is best for you.
I hope that some of these strategies to combat burnout have resonated with you. While it may be enticing to tackle these strategies like a checklist, start by picking one or two.
Trying everything will make you feel even more burned out, so focus your energy. If you try one of these strategies and it doesn’t work for you, try a different one! Lastly, if all else fails, go to bed early. Odds are your body, your family, and your classroom would benefit from more sleep on your end.
I bet there are many more ways to combat burnout, please share what has worked for you in the comments! The more ideas that can be spread to teachers, the better.