Avoiding Teacher Burnout: Five Strategies
EducationWorld is pleased to present this article by Christi Wilson, a credentialed teacher of highly gifted students in Northern Nevada. She has 11 years of classroom teaching experience, including K-12 education online, and writes for TeacherPortal.com.
With teaching often comes stress and burnout. Educators must fill several roles during the day including classroom instructor, record keeper, member of school committees and playground monitor. Teachers experience stress on a daily basis, and some studies indicate that they suffer from stress at a higher-than-average rate.
Burnout in this profession is so common that in California, the California Teachers Association has sponsored a “Survive and Thrive Mini Sabbatical” for teachers. This program is a five-day retreat for up to 15 teachers, who are coached on how to manage stress and reflect on the reasons they joined the profession in the first place.
Below are five strategies for counteracting stress and preventing burnout.
- Leave work at school. I find this to be the most useful strategy in reducing stress in my job as a teacher. I have just learned to do this during the current school year, and I have never felt better. A teacher’s work is never done, and I don’t think any teacher ever feels completely caught up. Even during the summer break, most teachers are already planning for the next school year. This year I’ve learned that whatever does not get done during the school day will still be there waiting for me the next day. It’s important to be able to unwind at home and enjoy time spent on myself and with my family.
- Share the workload. This is the second year in which I have had a teacher next door to me who teaches the same age group. Sharing the workload has helped both of us reduce stress. We plan lessons together, group students across the two classrooms, assign the same homework and troubleshoot areas of concern. Having a colleague to plan with has made a world of difference, and I do not feel the same amount of burnout that I normally would during the school year.
- Take a mental health day. Teachers get a bank of sick days and personal days. My best advice is to use those days. Many teachers save them for their retirement so they can cash out on them. In my school district, the payout is a small percentage, and I find that my sanity is worth far more than an additional check in the future. Taking an occasional mental health day benefits teachers and may even positively impact students by giving them a more refreshed teacher.
- Arrive at school early. Most of us complete our best work earlier in the day. This is why I arrive at school at least 30 minutes before the time I have to report. I can use this quiet time in my classroom to tackle the papers that need to be graded, prepare lesson plans and make sure I have the materials needed for that day. I also answer emails and parent phone calls before the first bell, so that I am ready and focused for my students. Arriving at school early allows me to leave at the end of the day to get home and enjoy quality time with my family.
- Avoid the Sunday blues. Every teacher knows what I’m referring to—it’s the dreaded last day of the weekend, and we have to return to school the next day. We frantically scramble to lesson plan for the week, grade papers from the week prior, and enter grades into the grade book. I have finally, after 11 years of teaching, learned how to avoid the Sunday blues. I now leave the classroom Friday afternoon planned and prepared for the next week. If there’s a week that doesn’t allow this to happen, I simply grab my emergency lesson plan folder, and it buys me some time to get prepared. It is so important to be able to enjoy a complete weekend without having to worry about school. There’s enough that needs to be caught up with around the house after a busy week in the classroom.
Keeping these helpful tips in mind should at least help alleviate stress. Those who feel an undue amount of stress should also consider communicating with colleagues for additional ideas. It’s important to talk to those around us in the same profession, because we’ve all been through it at least a few times in our careers.
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