2 Of The Best Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

Teaching is hard.  Often we find ourselves struggling with a dichotomy; we love our jobs yet the intensity of the work leaves us feeling burnt out. In the classroom, I have days where I daydream about a job that I could leave at the end of the day.  One in which I don’t bring home work, or carry the burden of a poor lesson, or a traumatic story from a student in my class. I dream of working at Starbucks. I know the names of my regular customers, remember all of the details of their favorite drink order, ask about their families, efficiently make their order and send them on their way to have a glorious day.  It seems simpler than teaching. I fantasize that a barista has much less to do, plan, and think about. I won’t have to feel so deeply about what I do and won’t ever be burnt out, I won’t have to do so much with so little. 

Many teachers experience burnout.  They too fantasize about leaving the profession.  I spoke with a colleague over dinner who has worked at difficult schools in inner cities across the United States.  She recalled crying in her classroom and feeling hopeless from constantly combating a system that was designed to help students but actually fails so many of them.  She wanted so badly to serve the school and the students, however, felt at times as though it was impossible.  

I leaned in from across the table and asked her very bluntly, “What kept you going?”  She paused for a moment. It was a long moment and I wondered if my question was off-putting. She too leaned in and in a soft, almost whisper replied, “My colleagues.” 

I was struck.  I too recall the power of my colleagues to bridge the waters of troubled times.  My colleague spoke about the necessity of talking with someone who knew exactly what she was feeling, lived the same experience, and who could empathize with her struggle.  They were able to support each other, plan together, be available during the tough times, ask the real questions and be vulnerable.

When these feelings of burnout arise, what can we as educators do as we wrestle between our love and passion for the work and at times, seemingly insurmountable, dread?  My colleague made it very clear.

Lean into the work, even when the work is hard.  By leaning in, I mean confront, engage, adapt, and challenge.  While you are leaning in, lean on your colleagues for support.  By leaning on your colleagues, I mean, support, discuss, plan, and collaborate. 

By leaning into the work you are able to create a plan and set goals to overcome challenges and difficulties.  By leaning in, you are able to engage and impact your situation.  By leaning in you will begin to change the circumstance.  Even if the change is small, the small change is  movement. Movement creates hope and hope can overcome burnout. 

By leaning on your colleagues, your power is increased.  You are able to better understand and affect the work in your context.  Your colleague can provide perspective and understanding. They can talk you through your fears and validate your struggle.  Many of your fears and struggles are theirs as well. The power of a team to influence change is extraordinary. The power of a colleague to combat burnout is equally amazing.

Whether you are currently feeling the effects of burnout, or fantasizing of becoming a barista at Starbucks, please know you are not alone.  Lean into the work and lean on your colleagues and you can get through this demanding time. If you want to go deeper, CLICK HERE to download a free staff activity that is guaranteed to help! 

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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