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9 Must-Do Tips for Managing Burnout 


Last week, I listened to a teacher friend of mine waffle back and forth as she verbally contemplated whether she could handle teaching summer school. “They’re paying really well,” she said, “but I don’t know if I can do it. I am just so burned out!”         

My friend is not alone. After 15 months of pandemic teaching, even the most enthusiastic among us are in dire need of throwing in the towel for a couple of months regardless of whether we can afford to or not. Even if we pass on teaching summer school and anticipate a return in the fall, how can we beat the burnout that has slowly but surely affected so many of us in the land of 2020-2021? Here are nine indispensable tips that can recharge our batteries and make next year just a little bit easier.

  1. Redefine urgency. The next time we feel burdened, we might think about organizing our to-do list into four quadrants: important/urgent, not important/urgent, important/not urgent, not important/not urgent. When we place items on our list under these four categories, it can be surprising how many tasks that are neither important nor urgent are taking up too much of our time, like checking email too often. Then, as we organize our priorities into an order that is truly reflective of what matters, we can pull ourselves out from under a pile of requests, many of which do not deserve our immediate attention.
  2. Take a social media break. As much as we might not want to admit it, social media is often a very unhealthy habit that increases our chances of becoming upset or burned out. The online world is not kind, and that is true both regarding the public perception of teachers as well as all of the other weights of the world we bear at present. To feel better about our jobs, we should try to feel better in general. That might involve some strategic disconnecting from social media until we feel happier. 
  3. Don’t talk shop. As tempting as it can be to come home and spew stories about our day, or to gather in a teacher’s lounge at lunchtime and engage in what we call “kid talk,” take a break from thinking about work. Teachers are notorious for having some of the best work stories and sometimes, talking it out can be therapeutic. There comes a point, however, when we go overboard and obsess about each finite detail of teaching to an unhealthy degree. If we’re at the dinner table, use the time to talk about a movie or TV show that is captivating. If we have a chance to connect with colleagues in the lounge, we can talk about pop culture or music, or discuss any upcoming weekend plans. There is so much more to us than our teaching, and now is a great time to remember who we are as people.
  4. Pick one daily moment. No matter what my day holds, I need to do a crossword puzzle, especially if that involves a Cherry Coke Zero and a sunny spot outdoors with the dog on my lap, but the puzzle itself has to happen. That is my time to recharge, to empty my mind, and to forget about anything that is bothering me. We all need to pick something that we do each day to look forward to and hold ourselves accountable to making sure it happens, full stop.
  5. Change the routine. I get it. Routines are awesome. They are comforting and help us to be productive. Unfortunately, that’s where ruts can also be born. In the interest of freshening up our outlook, purposely throw the routine out the window. We’ve all gotten very mired in our habits during the pandemic, and now we might want to (gasp) try something new. In fact, we’re probably aching for it. Try new foods or hobbies, shuffle around the timing of your day, and let go of the clock a little bit. It might be pleasantly surprising how invigorating a mini life makeover can be!
  6. Save things...for later. Usually, procrastination is not advisable for stress, but we can go too far in the other direction. We do not need to use the first weeks of summer to revisit all of our lesson plans and figure out where we’re going next year. Instead, set a date for when that should begin that gives you enough time, and then put all planning materials aside in an organized way so that they can be picked up when needed. We may want to do some initial sorting (i.e., piles of what we should keep vs. what did not work), but then take a break.
  7. Laugh about it. Difficult experiences have a less powerful hold on us in the long term when we can inject humor into the situation. Think about that day that everything might have crashed: Zoom, the online classroom webpage, all of the tech resources. Everything together, up in smoke. Sure, it was a disaster then. Now? It’s funny. Tell the story, laugh about it, and let it go.
  8. Go out on a self-date. In the spirit of indulgence and pampering, spend a day this summer doing what you want to do. In my case, that usually involves a beach, a paddleboard and lots of ice cream, but we all have our favorite activities. Even if your date with yourself is just about lazing around in bed or letting yourself eat all the pizza, make sure you get that day of self-care on the calendar. Repeat as needed and whenever possible.
  9. Get perspective. Next year will be different. I repeat, next year will be different. The word “normal” might be changing as quickly as the days fly by, but we will not have to contend with nearly as many instructional and operational concerns next year. Vaccines exist, we know more about how to help kids, and most schools will be back on campus five days a week. Hard times do not last forever.

Let’s face it: we are all SO done with this year. Part of that probably stems from the fact that the prior school year bled into this one with no discernible transition as we hopped from Zoom to Zoom, even through the summer. It is past time for us to engage in strategic self-care by managing our well-being before a temporary case of burnout becomes more chronic. By using the nine tips outlined above, we will set ourselves up for a much more enjoyable summer, not to mention a more productive entry into the 2021-2022 school year.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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