When I was in college, someone told me a crazy statistic that I thought was an outright lie. I was told that some crazy amount of teachers burnout and quit the profession within five years. Since I had wanted to be a teacher since I was six years old, I had no idea why anyone would get tired of it. Everything about teaching seemed exciting to me, and I couldn’t see how teaching could be so bad. After four years of teaching, I totally get why.
Somewhere between nineteen and thirty percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. If I had another option right now, I would probably take a break as well. I’ve had a horrible track record of teaching experiences, and honestly, I’m just drained. The amount of things that a teacher does every day would make anyone’s head spin.
What Teacher Burnout Looks Like
Burnout for teachers looks a lot like what burnout does for most people. When teachers get burnt out, it’s even more obvious because of what we do every day. Our whole day revolves around a curriculum, what our kids need, how we plan to get our kids what they need, and we have to figure it out as we go. Sure, we write lesson plans, but I don’t know if I could tell you a specific time where a lesson went exactly as planned. We have to keep a positive and inviting attitude every day to make sure our students also stay positive and excited to learn. When we get burnt out, everyone knows it.
Teacher burnout has many symptoms, but some major ones are exhaustion and grumpiness. When I start getting burnt out, I’m so tired that I don’t have the motivation to do anything extra. I get grumpy because I’m tired, and I need to take some time to remember why I teach. Another symptom is cynicism. Teachers might start feeling negative about the job they are doing and almost feel detached from it. When you feel this way, it’s tough to remember why you became a teacher in the first place.
When teachers start feeling burnt out, it not only hurts the teacher but the whole class. Students might not be as excited to be there and learn because teachers aren’t excited to be there and teach. Teachers who start feeling negative about teaching aren’t doing their best. Every teacher gets to this point because of the unrealistic standards that teachers have placed on them.
What Causes Teacher Burnout
I read somewhere that teaching is like improv acting–for six hours a day every day. You never know what a kid will say or do, and the rest of your day hinges on how you react in situations. Teachers make hundreds of decisions each day–sometimes over a thousand. By the time dinner comes, I don’t have enough energy left to decide what to cook. Being tired at the end of the day doesn’t necessarily mean you are burnt out, but it can get to that point after a while.
Since I’ve worked for three different employers in the past four years, I can say that where you teach matters. Your administration matters. I’ve had an administration who thought that gathering more data would help kids pass state testing. Which meant giving tests before the test to see how the kids were going to test. It was ridiculous. That same administration gave teachers so much paperwork that I worked a minimum of 60 hours each week just to keep up. That’s one great way to burn out your teachers.
I’ve also had an administration who played mind games and mentally abused their staff. I was working with a challenging and aggressive student, and after I got seriously injured, my administration tried to tell me it was my fault. Making a teacher feel less than what they are makes teachers lose respect for their administration, but they also lose respect for the profession.
When big changes happen with little to no warning, it can really overwhelm teachers. We are used to things changing constantly and having to adapt to the situation, but making big changes like changing positions or classrooms is enough to throw people for a loop. This year I had my position changed so many times that I was burnt out by September. I don’t think it was the administration’s fault that all these changes happened, but it was hard to change from fourth grade to second grade in a few short days.
So between paperwork, changes, and unreasonable expectations from parents and society, teachers strive every day to live up to everyone’s expectations. No one told us we have to do everything we do, but we do them because we care about our students and their well-being.
How to Prevent It
Take. Time. For. Yourself. You have to make sure that you remember that you are a person before you are a teacher. If you aren’t taking care of yourself and doing things that make you happy outside of school, you will run yourself into the ground. I’m speaking from experience when I say that working around the clock will not help you finish that to-do list. It will keep growing no matter how much you work.
Set boundaries. You need to set limits on when you will work, how long you will work, and when you will be done for the day. I set some rigid boundaries this year because I have been working from home. Without the physical boundary of school being at school and home being at home, I set time boundaries when I would stop working every day and switch to “home mode.” With those boundaries, I’ve made sure that I’m taking care of myself and letting myself have a personal life.
Try not to think about school when you are at home. Even if you aren’t working on lesson plans or grading papers, if you are mentally figuring out what you will do tomorrow, you are still working. Turn off the teacher’s brain and allow it to rest. If you obsess over school around the clock, it’s not helping anyone. This one is easier said than done, and I am still working on it, but find something you can do to help switch over. I like to meditate, read, write, or watch a little television to relax my brain.
Self care! Find something that you enjoy to do. It could be taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine or it could be watching the latest murder documentary on Netflix. Something I really struggled with was finding my identity outside of teaching. I didn’t have many hobbies or interests other than school when I started teaching, and it led to burnout really fast.
What Can Loved Ones Do to Help?
Any support from loved ones helps. If the teacher in your family is tired, let them sleep. If they look like a zombie on the couch, decide what’s for dinner because they just had a day. If they have a stack of things to cut out, offer to help while you watch a movie. Little things go a long way with teachers because they typically are used to doing everything themselves.
Teaching is often a thankless job, so if you have a child in school, thanking a teacher means more than you will ever know. Hearing what your kids are enjoying or if you’re noticing improvements in something is the easiest and quickest way to make a teacher’s day. We also like flowers. And coffee. And wine. Until later, happy learning!