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Classroom Hacks for Burned Out Middle School Teachers

I've heard it said that middle school teachers get to skip purgatory because of all the suffering they have already endured throughout their careers. Though we say this only in jest, even teachers who hold no Catholic beliefs might find a hint of truth in this.

Teaching is a demanding job, mentally and emotionally, and sometimes even physically. It is a career that almost necessarily requires additional work after-hours. You go home with tests to grade, sometimes carrying the students' emotions in your class home with you to your own family. Throw in a child's changing social patterns and preteen rebellion in middle school years, and it's a lot.

Because of this, teacher burnout is a genuine concern, causing some to lose their passion or even leave the profession entirely. Since you are a passionate, loving, and excellent middle school teacher who might be feeling the sting of burnout coming on, here are a few classroom hacks to help you through the school year. 

Define the Problem

The first step to solving a problem is to define what it is. The World Psychiatry Journal defines burnout as a "psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job." In other words, teacher burnout happens when job stress affects you beyond work. It's affecting your home life, your relationships, your mood, and maybe even your hobbies.

Teaching requires a certain level of emotional attachment to many small, impressionable humans daily. This brings us to the problem: you are exposed to stress all day long. That stress, apart from an adequate, counteracting sense of accomplishment and appreciation, leads to burnout. 

The question, however, is not how to avoid that stress entirely but how to bring it down to manageable levels so that you can remain in the field you love. After all, you spent all those years in school to do just this. 

Your Space

When you walk into your classroom, you want to feel like the captain of your ship. No, the school isn't your home, but it's the place you spend at least half your time, and so for now, it is yours. Make it yours. 

The best place to start is with your desk. Bring in three appropriate items that remind you of who you are outside of school, that make you feel at home.

Next, consider changing the setup of your room. While you may be limited on what you can change, some layouts can positively affect your overall mental well-being. Consider pushing desks to the outskirts of the room so kids can sit in a circle on the floor for a change. 

If possible, try and get more light in the room. If you do not have a window in your classroom, request a floor lamp. The worst they can say is no. If it's an option, take your class outside. The sunshine will help improve everyone's mood.

Creative Curriculum

Next, focus on the curriculum. This is your time to shine. Get creative. Part of why teachers feel burnout so often is because they're taking on the emotions of students who also feel that stress. Kids are asked to do a lot these days. They're up early, doing homework late, and often have added responsibilities such as chores at home or extracurriculars. Their schedules are packed, and it can be hard for a twelve-year-old to sit through another lecture on the French and Indian War in a dark room.

Why not fit in some creativity and fun for your students? 

Introduce an art or game element or let them choose what they learn about once or twice a month (from a teacher-approved list, of course). Have a big test coming up? Hold a trivia study session where students can earn extra credit for correct answers. 

When your students are excited to learn, you'll be excited to teach. 

Combine Classrooms

Combining classrooms, even just for one particular topic, is likely to help you feel more supported. Plus, it'll be fun for your students—many subjects in school overlap. For example, students might be learning about snakes in Biology and adjectives in English. Maybe you could combine forces with another instructor to create a project that will enhance learning in both subjects. Even if you do not physically combine classes, it will allow you to have an open line of communication with another teacher, and you'll have more support. 


In addition to the appearance of your classroom and the curriculum, remember it is essential to take care of yourself. You can't run on fumes⁠—you need gas in your tank!


This doesn't necessarily mean meditation. Regardless of your feelings on formal meditation, there is plenty of evidence to back up the idea that mindfulness is helpful to everyone. So, why not get your students involved? When students arrive, create a welcoming, peaceful environment and give yourself and your class five to ten minutes to relax, breathe, and focus. This can be in silence or you could include background music. 

You might consider writing a journal prompt on the board and allowing kids to write for that time since some kids will have a difficult time just sitting there. You can experiment with this and see if it works with your classroom. Maybe it will work one or two days a week and the rest of the time you can open class with something more energetic. 

Pack Your Lunch

It's not explicitly a classroom hack, but bringing healthy food is likely to help your mood and physical health. Taking care of yourself and your students' needs will help you endure your profession's stressors. Just like we try to feed kids healthy "brain food" we as adults have to think of our own brains, too.

Wrapping Up

You, Teacher, have an important job. You are educating the future leaders of this world. Your encouragement, positivity, and commitment to your students matter. I see you; so do your students. You can do this. Take care of yourself and consider some of these classroom hacks to help get through the rest of your school year.

Written by Melanie Combs

Education World Contributor

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