Teacher Burnout: 10 Ways to Beat It

Teacher BurnoutRemember how excited you were to first start teaching? Maybe you stayed up hours working on lesson plans, or listened eagerly to veteran teachers’ advice on your lunch break. You cheered for A’s on tests and felt stirred to action by C’s and D’s.

In short, you were engaged. Engagement, as characterized by Dr. Maslach (inventor of the Maslach Burnout Inventory), is a combination of energy, involvement and efficacy.

Its polar opposite is exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy, also known as burnout. Any of that sound familiar?

Burning out, in teaching terms, is the slow slide from taking shortcuts with lesson plans to making vague outlines, to just totally winging it. It’s hiding from other teachers because you feel like a failure and you’re too tired to sound cheerful. It’s seeing a C or a D on a student’s test and feeling like it was inevitable, instead of being motivated to try a new approach. And according to a 2013 study, it’s affecting as many as 1 in 4 new teachers.

If you think you’re burned out, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone, but know that you should take your feelings seriously. As the study cites, burned out teachers reported “greater negativity in their interaction with students,” including behaviors like sarcasm, aggression, responding negatively to mistakes.” These are all actions that can harm your students, and not even the most exhausted teacher wants that!

Here’s what to do to get back on track:

1. Make Friends with Another Teacher
Especially if you’re new to teaching, having a friend at work to compare notes with, share support and socialize with at least once a day can go far in mitigating day-to-day stress and frustrations. Simply knowing you’re not alone in challenges can also help.

2. Remember to Eat
It sounds simple, but when you’re grading papers through your lunch break and powering through period after period with nary a bathroom break, it’s very easy to skip meals. Staying properly fueled for the day is absolutely necessary, so plan snacks you can quickly grab in advance, and keep a water bottle on your desk for easy sipping.

3. Exercise
If you’re feeling burned out, hitting the gym after a long, stressful day may be the last thing on your agenda. But a sweat session can build your stamina to make workdays less of a slog tomorrow, not to mention blast through stress and help you sleep better tonight. To ease into a routine, try something fun and social, like a walk or game of tennis with friends.

4. Stop Trying to Do It All
Accept that there’s probably always going to be one more task you could do. If there weren’t, you’d be out of a job! Get comfortable with knowing there’s always more to do in the pipeline, and try to focus on the lessons you’re teaching now, not the ones you have to prepare for next week. When you are working, set cut-off times for tasks. Letting post-school work drag on indefinitely will crowd out very necessary relaxation time, so give it a time limit and stick to it.

5. Love Learning

You know when you see, hear or read something awesome, and you just can’t wait to tell everyone you know about it? That’s the best part of teaching! Take time each day to get wrapped up in something you’re interested in: read a good book, watch a documentary, listen to an album from start to finish — just soak up a new experience. It’s a great de-stresser, and you may find yourself coming up with exciting, offbeat ideas for your next lesson plan.

6. Make Time for Fun
Even if you’re stressed out about test prep, try to introduce a short game or activity into some of your classes. Kids’ joy and laughter can be contagious, and engaging them with fun activities may just make your job easier for the all-business parts of class.

7. ID the Sources of Stress

You may feel like everything about your job is getting you down, but in reality, it’s probably one or two things that are overwhelming.

Try making a list of what’s bugging you, then review it. Pinpoint anything you can resolve yourself, or with an outside resource. Ask other teachers for advice too. It’s possible they’ve been in your shoes and have some ideas that could help — tips for dealing with a disruptive student, grading essays faster or getting resources you need, for example. Even just the process of breaking your stress down into manageable problems can be therapeutic and help you feel more in control.

8. Make Your Classroom Home
It’s amazing how much sights, sounds and smells can shape our mental and emotional states. Something as small as a scented satchel in your desk, a plant for the window or new decorations on the bulletin board can kickstart fresh positivity in your classroom.

9. Plan Your Next Vacation
Sometimes burnout is a symptom of neglecting things that you like or need to do outside of teaching. Plan a trip or activity for upcoming time off that has nothing to do with your job. Everybody needs time to recharge, and sometimes just anticipating something you’re looking forward to can be uplifting.

10. Choose Your Battles
Sometimes, for the sake of your sanity, you need to pick which aspects of your job to focus the most energy on. Make to-do lists you can actually accomplish, and have a few tricks in your back pocket for when things get overwhelming (self-grading online quizzes anyone?). You don’t have to be perfect to be a wonderful teacher; you just have to keep working on the things you’re in control of, and not let the rest overwhelm you.

One great way to beat burnout is to know you’re not alone. Benefit from the wisdom, humor and perspective of hundreds of other great teachers with the Teach100 blogroll. With writers from all areas, grade levels and subjects, you’re sure to find a virtual mentor — and maybe an idea for your next lesson plan.