Betty's Blog

Timely Teacher Talk


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Burnout can happen to anyone

Teacher burnout can happen at any age.  Most people picture an elderly woman with a bun perched on top of her head.  She drags herself through the day and puts in as little effort as possible.  The only time she moves quickly is when she exits the building when the final bell rings.  Her trouser socks are hanging down over swollen ankles.  She is abrupt to everyone and refuses to use technology.  Her lesson plans remain the same year after year.

When does burnout begin?  If the job is no longer fun and becomes unmanageable, it's time to make some major adjustments.  Make a list of all of the goods and the bads.  Look at priorities.  Rearrange your life.  Schedule yourself differently.

I realized that I had a problem when teaching was all I did. Burnout can happen to anyone at any age if boundaries aren't set so that the person inside you has a chance to breathe.

One of the best things that I did to avoid teacher burnout happened over fifteen years ago.  One of my friends started working out at a gym and told me that I needed to join.  At first, I told her that I was too busy doing school work.  I was one of those teachers who stayed until dark every day.  She convinced me that I could do it.  Eventually, I started leaving school on time every Tuesday and Thursday to go to aerobic classes.  I felt energized and graded papers at home.

The other thing that really helped me was to rearrange my life.  I realized that I was way too social to get work done after my students went home.  Most of the time I was just visiting with my friends.  Sure, we talked about school related stuff, but my work just piled up on my desk.  I started leaving school on time with my papers in my book bag.  After my own children were in bed, I sat quietly by myself and was able to grade papers.  I also found that a lot of my really good ideas for lessons came to me when I was getting ready for work or driving.  Keeping a spiral and pen handy and jotting down ideas (at stop lights, of course) made more sense to me than sitting behind my desk at school. 

Taking a look at my priorities and making adjustments to my schedule helped me to stay on top of my game.  My trouser socks still gathered around my tired feet, but I was happier, laughed with my students, and faced technology square in the face.  No backing down for Bee.

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 11:21 AM by Betty

MysteryTeacher said:

I felt burn out after 2 years of impossible classes.  I asked to be switched to ELL since I have been certified for years.  They let me switch and I have never been happier.  I am having a fantastic, terrific, wonderful year.  I can't believe it is almost over.  The weeks are going so fast I am scared that when I blink the year will be over.

# March 20, 2009 1:18 PM

k1tchnj said:

I've been teaching for quite a while but never had a class like I do this year. Multiage, K-1, 17 children (I know that sounds like a dream). 7 of the 17 children are classified, 4 have extreme behavior problems. The 2nd teir of children are non classified 1st graders who need one-one assistance to get through their work. (the more capable are in a 2-3 classroom) My K's are sweet, smart and capable but are kind of getting the raw end of the deal as I have no assistance in the classroom with the exception of two academic periods where I have a non certified helper who comes in to try and assist. The rest of the day I am on my own with these kids as are the specials teachers. The problem- so much time is spent redirecting behaviors, documenting, preventing physical aggression, preventing material destruction, squelching profanity and inappropriate sexual language and keeping 8 kids on task that little teaching and exploration is happening in the classroom. I am frustrated, tired, uninspired and feeling burned out which is new for me. Though the difficulties are acknowledged by the admin, we are a small charter school with no additional resources. It is what it is. I feel in some way that there is liability here - I work to advocate for the other 8 - to give them what I can. Ive set up instructional centers, changed my approach, created more boundaries and structure, followed behavioral plans and try to start every day as a new day but the challenge feels too big. Any suggestions? Parents are not the answer -they all gossip about each others kids and are trying to form a lynch mob against some of the 'offenders.'

# March 20, 2009 4:01 PM

Betty said:


It sounds like you are in a very tough situation.  Is it possible for the admin to provide some one on one in the office for some of the kids with behavior problems?  I think that Mystery Teacher is right that sometimes a change can make a big difference.  


# March 20, 2009 6:32 PM

Michael Weller said:

Kitchnj1, I wish I had a wonderful suggestion that would solve your situation...unfortunately, all I can offer is sincere admiration at your attitude and approach.  I agree with Betty that your situation sounds very tough--what really impresses me is that you've changed your approach and you're still looking for help/suggestions.  

One of my early mentors, a wonderful, experienced-but-youthful-in-spirit teacher named Ted, once shared with me a wonderful (if terrifying) idea:  that as a teacher, we may be the one consistently caring adult in a child's life.  Although you are right to want to provide more teaching and exploration for your students, it sounds as though you are really doing your utmost, and I suspect that there is at least one child in your classroom (and probably more than one) for whom you are an invaluable role model and caring adult.

Best of luck--the profession can't afford to lose excellent teachers like yourself to burnout!

# March 20, 2009 9:09 PM

dkzody said:

What is so sad in kitchnj's story is that these kids don't change over the years.  She could have been describing a special ed class that is across the hall from me this year.  For some strange reason, the administration decided to put 4 special ed classes in our hallway, and it's very sad.  Most days, one or more of these students is out in the hallway with a one-on-one shadow trying to cope with the stresses of their life.  And, the government expects these kids to pass the exit exam and do well on other  standardized testing.

# March 21, 2009 3:26 PM

John Spencer said:

I find that your advice is similar to my own experience.  I hit a mini-burn-out last year.  Now I go to the gym, I arrive to school right on time (avoiding the staff lounge in the morning) and I stay about an hour after school.  But I get the best of my work finished from 4-7 in the morning.  It's when my lesson ideas are fresh.  It's when I am not frustrated with a stack of paper.  I can work leisurely with a cup of coffee in my hands. I'd also add to this list prayer.  At some time last year, I just kind-of quit praying, but I find that when I'm praying for students I'm more likely to care about them.  

# March 21, 2009 4:12 PM

Keith said:

I was in the same district for 18 years (yes, 18) when one August day my wife (a kindergarten teacher in the same district)said to me, "I've been in two days setting up my classroom; do you want to go in tomorrow to work on yours?"

I answered, "Nah, I don't feel like it." And the second I said that, I knew it was time to move on. I did, to another district, got a little bump in pay, but more importantly, a more appreciative administration that helped to revitalize my efforts.

So those of you feeling burned out, leaving the profession entirely is one option, but you may also want to try a lateral move.

Great topic, Betty!

# March 21, 2009 7:39 PM

Melissa B. said:

Most of the teacher burnout that I see comes from the young-ins. They just can't get it in their heads that they're the "adults" in the room, and let the cherubs run all over them. Ah, well...there is something to be said, after all, for maturity and wisdom, huh? Please don't forget Sx3 today...I'm doing a video today, which is quirky enough to get everyone's creative juices flowing!

# March 22, 2009 7:37 AM

k1tchnj said:

Well thank you for all of your responses and support. I guess there are just no easy solutions or I've yet to be inspired to one. I do think sometimes we have to accept what is and then move on to creating something that is more in line with who we are and what we want.

# March 22, 2009 1:57 PM

ms_teacher said:

One of the things I have done this year is to really prioritize.  Union work is important to me for a variety of reasons, so that is where much of my focus outside of the classroom has been on.  If I know that during the week I have spent a lot of time grading and lesson planning and come the week-end I don't feel like bringing home papers to grade, then I don't and I certainly don't feel guilty about it.

I think that prioritizing becomes easier the longer you teach because you become more sure of yourself and your abilities in the classroom.  You also have many of your lesson plans ready to go.

# March 23, 2009 2:19 PM

wms_science said:

I totally agree with ms_teacher.  Last year I almost felt obligated to take all my grading home and do my lesson planning every night during the week and then over the weekend I would read over the text and look up information on the internet.  I have to say that it was nice to move along and get things done for school, but my priorities were not set right.  I started loosing contact with my family and didn't have time for my friends.  This year I've taken a different approach and leave any grading that is not a test at school.  I do my planning for the following week one night after school and I have to say I'm not nearly as stressed as I was before.  Once you get into a routine that works for you it makes it much easier to have a work life and a personal life.

# March 24, 2009 6:17 PM
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