We always hear about crises in education. Teacher turnover, teacher shortage, achievement gaps, budget shortages, and the list goes on. There is a more insidious crisis that is affecting educators around the world. In a profession that demands you always do more with less, burnout is a very real problem.
I experienced burnout firsthand, and hope that strategies I used can help others. I have met teachers who have reached such a state of burnout that they leave the profession. We can't afford to lose more teachers. In pre-flight emergency instructions we learn to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. If we don't take care of ourselves we will not be able to care for our students.
The problem with burnout is that you are usually well into it before you can identify it. You may be irritable, negative, exhausted, depressed, and not even recognize it. But then you think back to another time in your life and realize you weren't always that way. There was a time when you laughed more, smiled more, socialized more. There was a time where being an educator inspired you.
The following strategies- in order from easy->hard allowed me to crawl from a deep place of burnout. I hope that some of these can help you and that we can move forward together.
1) Baby Steps: Moving & Meditating.
I remember a day on my couch feeling helpless and exhausted. My mother asked me to go on a walk with her and I felt like that might make me feel better. I walked, and thought to myself "I feel good. I need to do more of this." I also began working through the Headspace app and fitting in 10 minute sessions. I am currently using Simple Habit for my meditation practice.
2) Talk to Someone.
We have an unhelpful stigma around mental health in our society. Counseling is the number one way I have managed my anxiety and stress throughout the course of my career. See if your school has an Employee Assistance Program or seek out someone local. You can find them on Psychology Today. I also recommend Talkspace.com. It is a digital asynchronous counseling service that works with an educator schedule. If you sign up and don't like your counselor, you can request new ones until you find a fit.
3) Change your diet.
I never realized how much diet affects my stress and anxiety until I cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, and coffee. Teacher Appreciation Week is an outpouring of support and love. Unfortunately it can be a sugar overdose in the stressful month of May. I remember in my first teaching job we had a big M & M jar that we all gravitated to at the end of the day. What is it about chocolate and teaching? Eliminating sugar and caffeine from my diet have helped me manage my stress. This one is further down the list because this change is very challenging but it works.
4) Quit your job.
If you are in a situation where you are not supported or the stress is overwhelming you may need to consider a move. Sometimes a move within your own system to another location or into another role can help. Sometimes you may need to seek new work with another school or system entirely. No matter where you are in your career you should always cultivate your network. The act of looking at roles and applying for them can help you to see potential future paths. This is the most challenging but it is sometimes necessary.
No matter your role now- it will always matter in the scheme of your career. Even jobs that lead you to burnout can be transformative in your life. They help you learn coping mechanisms and they make you stronger. These are often the most meaningful times of our career.
At the end of the day we can't pour from an empty cup. If you haven't done this in a while dedicate a day to yourself. Get a massage, do some yoga, take a nap. Use the summer to recharge for the fall. Whatever works to recharge your battery. Your students deserve you at your best.
If you are experiencing burnout I would like to help. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info !
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.