After my first year of teaching, what surprised me most was the fact that the least of my problems are actually in the classroom dealing with the kids. That's the easy part. The before school, lunchtime, and afternoon meetings, not to mention the obnoxious amounts of paperwork, are enough to drive even the sanest teacher to the sanitarium. For these reasons and many more, teaching has the highest degree of career turnover of any profession.
But, how can we quit our complaining and attempt to avoid serious burnout? Try these strategies for avoiding teacher burnout and make concrete improvements in your attitude and outlook in the classroom.
- Ask for Help - This is a really hard one for me to do. Often, it seems far easier to just do it myself than to explain how something should be done. Parents, school volunteers, friends, and students can be a valuable time-saving resource in your classroom, but only if you take the time to ask them. With a little planning and time invested up front, you can set up routine times and duties for the people available around you. This is a big one that I am really going to work on myself next year.
- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - This is a big piece of advice that applies in all areas of life. But, in teaching, we really need to put things in perspective. Is any one but you really going to care if the border on that bulletin board is crooked? Do you stage a Broadway-style dramatic production each year for yourself more than anyone else? Let's face it, we're there to teach the children. Some things that don't fall into the teaching/imparting knowledge category just may not be worth a disproportionate amount of time and effort. So, put down those fancy scissors that make the cool edge designs and go back to the essentials. Just something to think about.
- Don't Play the Teacher at Home - When I first started student teaching, I was appalled to find that some of my new teacher habits were making their way into my home and marriage. For example, if my husband would do something annoying, I found myself giving him my evil "teacher look." You know which one I mean! Or, I would say something like, "Let's think about our choices." When you're at home, give it up! Don't scold, don't correct, and don't try to be the model of perfection. I've found that many people expect teachers to know everything and do everything perfectly. Don't fall for that trap. You're human so act like it at home. When I lock my classroom door at night, I drop the Mrs. Lewis act and become just plain "Beth."
- Take Time for Yourself - Watch a stupid sitcom, listen to "un-teachery" music, talk to an old friend on the phone, forget about the papers that need to be graded that evening. Obviously, we can't do these things all the time. But, try not to beat yourself up over it if you do something fun once in awhile. I try to do something purely for pleasure each day. It really does keep me sane. Some nights, I get into bed early so I can read a book for fun. On Thursday nights, I watch "Friends" and "Will and Grace," and I don't apologize for it. A little time invested in joyful activities can go a long way towards avoiding serious burnout.
- Remember Why You Teach - Look past all of the annoyances and hassles, both big and small, and remember why you became a teacher in the first place. I left a job in Human Resources at a Fortune 500 company to become a teacher. Some days, I do question my sanity. But, most of the time, I just have to think about how useless and uninspired I felt behind that desk, staring at a boring spreadsheet, and I can remember why I teach. I teach in order to make a difference for children and to share myself with the world. Keep your reasons for teaching close to your heart and you'll realize that all of the stress really can be worth it.
Another way to beat the teacher blues is to communicate with other teachers. Teaching can be such a solitary profession. So, consider stopping by our Elementary Education Message Board and see what everyone's talking about. You might be surprised how much a little chit chat with people who understand can help!