What is Burnout?
Burnout, is the short term for Occupational Burnout Syndrome. It is absolutely real. People in care-based industries are more prone to it, but it can happen to anyone. Teachers and nurses are especially susceptible due to the nature of their work.
Burnout is basically the many manifestations of prolonged, unresolved, work stressors. It can have many symptoms but the end result is feeling awful all of the time.
Full disclosure, I have had a few bouts of burnout in my time as a teacher, but up until recently I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.
Isn’t everyone tired on campus?
That’s the thing about burnout, so many of us have it, that it doesn’t seem abnormal. about 15% of teachers leave the profession a year. 41% of new teachers don’t stick around. And its not only in the US, teachers around the world experience it.
How Do You Know if You are Experiencing Burnout?
There are a myriad of symptoms of burnout. Most can be found in this article I found on a sleepless night. Below are some of the ones I often see sighted by other teachers and I also experienced during my stretches of burnout.
Being tired is normal. Teaching is exhausting. You have longer days than others.
Being tired everyday, before you have even get into work, is not.
I recall being bone tired for three to four weeks into the summer break. It was hard to wake up. I didn’t want to leave bed. This went on for a year and a half.
Its on thing to roll with the punches it is quite another to feel like nothing you do matters.
The feeling of hopelessness made me testy. I felt like no one would listen to me. I felt like there was no point in even trying to change things for the better since nothing ever changes.
I was negative and felt defeated everyday.
Being overwhelmed is one of those things that we think just comes with the territory, but again, it is not.
Its ok to get behind on grading from time to time and feel a little under the gun, but it is not normal to feel like you’re constantly under a mountain of work.
I put a ton of work and pressure in myself. I didn’t really stop to consider if it was my job or not. I saw things to do and did them, but that left me continually behind, overburdened and well beyond my capacity as a human.
It was impossible to “shut off” at night. I was thinking about what I should do. I was thinking about if I should go in the next day. I was worn out from thinking, but too anxious to sleep.
Sometimes I would be up until I could only sleep an hour before I had to get up.
This made functioning incredible difficult.
Constant stomach pain. Headaches. Jaw pain. Neck pain. Every week a new cold.
This was my daily existence.
With everything above, it would almost be impossible NOT to be irritable.
What Can You Do About It?
Take Better Care of Yourself
Teachers are great at putting themselves last.
Determine what self-care looks like for you. Working out? Yoga? Meditation? A walk after work out in the sunshine? It doesn’t matter what it is, but put yourself first, at least once a day.
Sleep if you can. See a movie with friends. Play with your pets, if you have them. Play with your kids, if you have them. Don’t neglect your needs.
You are not at your best if your basic needs are going unmet. You’re making a difficult situation even worse.
Guard Your Time Jealously.
Setting boundaries is an important skill.
Being an educator makes these difficult to set. 5 more minutes after school can easily become an hour before you know it.
I had to set a “come home” time. I set my phone for 4:30 and I can’t stay later than that anymore.
Before I accept any new responsibility or engagement I ask myself 2 questions:
- Do I have time to meet this new obligation?
- Will this new obligation feed me and help me better enjoy my job?
If the answer is no to either I say a polite “no”. Learning to say “no” has been the best skill I have ever learned in my life.
For more help saying no gracefully:
Since we established burnout is a real ailment it is totally appropriate to see a doctor about it.
Talking to a therapist can really help you get out of hopelessness spirals and come up with a strategy for self care that works for you.
In some cases medication may be necessary to help you cope with the effects this stress may be having on you.
Whatever form it takes, it is important to seek out a professional opinion to help you out from under the cloud.
Stay and Mitigate
As for the job itself, thats not without possible interventions either.
If you decide to stay there are ways to mitigate your stress.
Talk with another teacher (preferably a mentor) about the burnout you are experiencing. Odds are they’ve been through it too and may have some great ideas to help. In any case it helps tremendously to talk to a colleague about what you are going through.
Brain storm some of your biggest stressors at work and see if there is anything that can be done about them.
In my case I hated attending certain district meetings where there was an especially toxic environment and I asked my administration to allow me to take a break from them. My administrators granted the request. It helped immensely to just not have to face that relentless negativity.
I also cut way back on all the “extra work” I was doing.
OR: Try a New Environment
This may come as a shock, but you are not working at the only school in the world.
If the school you are currently at is a bad fit, the good news is that there are many more schools in the world (and a teacher shortage to boot).
Maybe you need to change grade level. Maybe a new subject is the challenge you need right now. Maybe you’d shine in a Montessori school or telecommute at an online school.
You are not trapped where you are.
No matter whether you stay or you go, work does not define you. Keep a good balance.
Hopefully you found this helpful. Shine on, but don’t burn out! You are truly a light in the dark!
Happy teaching everyone!