Teacher Burnout: My Story
And How I'm Going to Heal
Janelle here, writing from the Land of Burnt Out Teachers - challenging you to just say no to teacher burn out! I am sure you've been here before, or more likely, you're here with me now. Honestly, I've been heading towards Burnoutville since day one.
The hours and hours and hours of planning and creating lessons after school and on the weekends, the overcommitting myself to more and more projects, a poor attempt at running a blog and an even worse attempt at trying to keep up with my teacherpreneurs role models as they conquer yet another social media platform and continue to publish and post amazing blogs and TpT products! I should have known better, I should have been able to prevent the inevitable burn out.
I mean seriously, I have my a masters in wellness and created an entire health curriculum based on the understanding that we thrive only when we create balance within our life. Can you say, hypocrite?!?
Two weeks ago, I completely hit a wall. I wasn't sure if I could go another day. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out. Every conversation with my friends at work and home + my mom + husband was consumed with my dread of going to work. Each morning I was hoping I'd be sick just so I could take a day off. To say I was barely coping with the demands of work would have been a gross understatement. Logically, I knew what I had done to myself - I had put all of my energy into work leaving nothing for the other components of my life. And even though I understood exactly what was happening, I was stuck in a vicious cycle and couldn't get out.
As the days of dread went on, I was inching closer and closer to a full-on breakdown. Until one random morning when I stepped into the office of an incredibly wise co-worker and just started talking. He listened as I bared my soul. When I finally paused to breathe and there was a lull in the conversation he asked this question: "Is your job giving you as much as you are giving it?" What?!? Is teaching giving me something in turn for my hard work? As teachers aren't we just in this for the students. Not the money or prestige. Isn't sacrifice what teaching is all about. Couldn't you argue that it's ingrained in us from day one that burnout, exhaustion, and being overworked is just part of the job description? I’d even suggest, that we sometimes wear our sacrifice as a badge of honor.
As I spiraled further and further into the depths of being burnt out, this sacrificial mentality bothered me more and more. I noticed it being perpetuated all over social media. As a result, I felt like there was no safe place to air out my true feelings for fear of being judged for being a selfish teacher. And please don't get me wrong, I didn't get into teaching for the money or prestige and I do think it is all about the students. However, at the end of the day, if teaching isn't giving me as much as I am giving it, I quickly become ineffective and useless in the classroom. Which leaves me wondering - in the midst of advocating for the well-being of our students, fighting for our schools and departments (which is all necessary), when do we advocate for our own well-being???
After this life-changing conversation and a commitment to no longer subscribe to the belief that to be a life-changing teacher you have to deny yourself, I knew I needed to take intentional steps to recover from severe burnout and exhaustion. I started by taking a doctor prescribed mental health day and used the day to reevaluate my life. As I reflected and looked ahead, I made the specific decision to not just slide into summer, barely surviving. It wouldn't be fair to my co-teachers, my students, my family + friends, my husband, and most of all, myself. Instead, I brainstormed a game plan that would put me back in the camp of getting as much or more from my job as I am putting in!
As I evaluated, my next steps become clear: prioritize the things that energize me and limit the things that were draining me. I know this sounds kind of idealistic but I had to protect and preserve the little amount of remaining energy. So I wrote five personal teacher/teacherpreneurs norms to practice during the next six weeks:
- Me first, me first! Yes, I am stepping back to my childish ways of putting myself first. I am saying no to additional work, I am saying yes to more family + friend hang time, and learning to be okay if I spend the afternoon NOT working on TPT products or blogging.
- Bye, bye, bye grading and/or planning outside of school hours. There's no harm in taking a few extra planning periods to finish grading a stack of papers. Let's be real, there's also no harm in occasionally just giving a complete/incomplete grade. Or there's always Mr. D's grading strategies to test out:)
- Just say no! I am saying no to any new forms of social media or TPT/blog trends that come up between now and summer (or whenever I have energy again). That means Facebook Live will have to wait and there's no way I am making my TPT descriptions square or whatever people are Periscoping these days.
- Checking in. I am challenging myself to honestly evaluate my well-being on a day-to-day basis. I am going to make sure I am practicing the healthy habits of balance I advocate for my students. Because just like I tell them every day - balance doesn't come by accident, it is the result of intentional action!
- Compare not! The final one is beyond cliché. But I will not compare myself to these super teachers who are Scoping/FB Living/Snapping/Tweeting/Gramming, posting blogs and new products, and designing beautiful social media on the daily because let's be real... these teachers are either full-time teacherpreneurs or they live incredibly unbalanced lives (which means they are majorly lacking in other areas of their life). I don't say this to judge, rather as a reality check for all of us teacherpreneurs who are full-time teachers + wives/husbands/mothers/fathers/etc... and in no way can meet the standard these teacherpreneurs superstars are setting!
The list may only have five items but I can honestly say after a few weeks of putting this game plan into action, I am starting to feel like myself again. I enjoy going to work and teaching. I am able to talk about non-school issues when I get home. I am not exhausted beyond belief when the final bell rings. Life is good once again!
If you are burnt out or dangerously flirting with being burnt out, I challenge you honestly evaluate your life and make the intentional choice to put yourself first. Please, please, please don't buy into the lie that it's just a season or that it's part of teaching - you deserve to get as much out of teaching as you put it!!! You deserve to be thriving!!!
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A middle school health teacher turned curriculum developer (and #WAHM). I'm on a mission to share the easiest-to-teach, most impactful health lesson plans on the Internet. Because your time and energy is better spent on teaching and connecting, not on planning and prep.