It was just a few years ago that I was 100 percent certain that I didn’t want to teach any more. Teaching had taken over my life; I had no time for my family, and most importantly, I had no time for my own basic needs. I was tired and grumpy all of the time, and I found no joy in teaching any more.
My low point came one early May morning — about 1:30 a.m. I found myself checking my work email on the cell phone that sat next to my bed. What’s even worse is that I responded to several emails. I tossed and turned the rest of the night, unable to sleep as thoughts of work paraded through my mind like unwanted houseguests
I knew something had to change. Both my family and my students were suffering from the effects of my burnout. I had three choices at this point: leave teaching altogether, continue teaching in this unhappy mode, or make the best of my situation and find the joy in teaching again. Fortunately, I chose the latter. Here’s how I recovered from my teacher burnout and how you can, too:
Make your needs a priority. This is the only place to start, as nobody else is going to put your needs first. This means getting enough sleep, eating food that fuels your body, and creating time to feed your soul. I read every night before I go to sleep. It may be only five minutes of reading, but it helps me quiet my mind.
Take small breaks throughout the day. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of a typical school day. There are copies to make, lessons to plan, essays to grade, and a million student questions to answer. There are emails to read, meetings to attend, and district surveys to complete. It makes for a hectic schedule. So take a five minute “break” whenever you can squeeze one in. You can do this! I play a round of Candy Crush on my phone at the beginning of my prep period. It’s amazing what a few minutes of zoning out can do for your attitude.
Set limits on your email. Whatever you do, never, EVER, link your cell phone to your work email. Do not invite that type of intrusion into your life; trust me on this. Additionally, make it a point to NOT read or answer your email after you leave your campus for the day. Set aside 20-30 minutes each day to do this, and then move on. As the yearbook adviser for a large publication, I have been known to set my auto-responder that lets senders know I am currently experiencing a large volume of email and to please be patient while I respond to student questions first and yearbook inquiries last.
Don’t take on too much. As teachers, we are, by our very nature, inclined to want to help out wherever we are needed. It’s easy to over-schedule ourselves and to end up feeling tired. Know your limits. There will never be a lack of opportunities waiting for you to volunteer. Choose them wisely.
Focus on the positives. There’s a lot of negatives in the teaching profession. If we let them, they can drag us down and make us question why we are doing what we are doing in the first place. I’m sure we can all name a colleague or two who does nothing but complain about teaching. Try to not only avoid the “Negative Nellies,” but also focus on what is going right in teaching. I really enjoy talking to my students, watching them grow, and knowing that I played a part in helping them become who they are today.
Take a personal stock day. One friend of mine calls these “mental health days.” Another suggests spreading out personal days throughout the year. I physically write “personal stock day” on my calendar once a month. It’s a time for me to reflect on how I am feeling, what I need (it’s never more work), and to make adjustments when needed. If you are the type who loathes using sick time or personal days, then perhaps schedule these for those holiday weekends when you are already off work.
Take a class. What better way to rev up your passion for teaching than to learn a new method or a new technology to use in your classroom. Over the summer, I am fond of attending conferences and camps for yearbook and technology — such as Google Classroom — and I always come away with a renewed sense of passion and purpose.
Ask for help. I am not one who is good at admitting I need help. But I learned that sometimes, the best course of action is to seek out the guidance of others. I am grateful to know that my administrative team is as vested in helping me succeed as much as I am. They are often able to offer solutions to problems that I have not considered before.
Keep a folder of positive student and parent notes. On particularly tough days, pull out the encouraging and thankful notes. They will remind you why you are a teacher.
Mentor a student teacher. Having a student teacher in my classroom has revived my love of teaching in many ways. As I encourage and help her develop her own teaching skills, it also forces me to reflect on my own teaching strategies and approaches. Additionally, I find that when I have become stuck in my old ways, having a mentee introduces me to knew ideas that I can also incorporate into my own teaching.
Stop being a perfectionist. Know when “good enough” is enough. There will be lessons that fail and days when the technology does not cooperate. Learn to laugh it off and accept that being a teacher means living in the realm of imperfection. Staying up until midnight might not be the best option when you could have gotten an additional two hours of sleep. Learn from your mistakes, and move on.
What about you? How do you deal with the stresses of teaching, and how do you revive your passion for teaching when you find it waning?