Dealing with and Avoiding Teacher Burn-out

Fact:  A recent study of urban teachers in Saskatchewan by professors Ron Martin and Rod Dolmage from the University of Regina found that 61 percent had reported becoming ill because of work-related stress.  As well, almost 40 per cent of those surveyed had to take time off work because of stress.

Even more astonishing, though, was that 51 per cent of the teachers in this sample stated that if they found a viable career alternative, they would leave teaching!  It was no surprise then when the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation stated in a recent health bulletin that "stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions are the leading causes of workplace absences."

There’s no doubt in my mind that teachers became teachers because they wanted to.  They thrive on the teachable moment, the imparting of knowledge, the instilling of confidence and self-esteem.  But the reality is that burnout exists.  And sadly, it’s precisely because teachers want so badly to do their very best by their students.  Below are a few strategies and tips to avoid burnout, and to deal productively with the fallout of a fulfilling yet demanding career.

1)     Inject ONE fun thing into your day.  Brain teaser, DPA game that YOU love as much as your students, a riddle, a one-minute mystery, surprise dance party.  Tell your kids you’re going to go crazy if you don’t get out of the room.  Take them outside, lap the school three times.  Not only does this wake the kids up, but it infuses positive energy into YOU as well.  Hey, teachers are creative.  I bet you’ll find your FUN thing quite easily.

2)     Acknowledge the overwhelm.  Say it out loud.  I’m overwhelmed.  There’s too much in my head.  There’s too much to do.  But I love myself anyway. I don’t have to get it all done at once.  What I have and what I do is enough.  By being me and being open and honest with my feelings, the kids will respond, and they will rise to the occasion.

3)     Do not take it personally.  Kids come to school with their own baggage.  Often their behaviour is a result of something that happened outside of the four walls of the classroom.  It is not about you and your worth as an educator.  You bring your A-game regularly, but we are all human. 

4)     Take the time necessary for YOU.  As hard as it may seem, your health and well-being are priority.  If you’re not at your optimal, your energy suffers, your teaching suffers.  You are worth spending extra time on when it comes to packing a good lunch, eating a nutrient-dense breakfast, and getting enough rest. 

5)     Don’t forget yourself.  Yes, there is a curriculum to cover, and yes, it is jam-packed.  But remember to include yourself in your planning.  Let’s say you are a nature lover.  How could you inject your interests and joys into your science, phys. ed., biology or chemistry program?  What fascinates you?  What’s YOUR favourite music, dance, or craft?  Because if you’re lit up, they will be too.

6)     Turn a negative into a positive.  Yes, this can be hard to do, especially in the moment where little Johnny or Susie is pushing your buttons something fierce.  Deal with the situation, and then SEEK OUT a positive situation or activity to switch from snappy to happy.

7)     Pick your battles.  Did you know that we have an opportunity to be offended countless times throughout the day?  At work, at home, anywhere?  So, we have a choice.  We can engage in a confrontation, or we can ask ourselves, “Is this event really worth my health and well-being?”  It’s a GREAT question to ask, and answer.  If the answer is a resounding NO, go back to #6 and repeat.

8)     Seek out a listening ear.  Research indicates that when there is a forum or venue to discuss, debrief, share our negative or stressful experiences, we release the feel-good hormone oxytocin.  This in turn gets us “happier”.  Don’t keep your feelings buried inside.  Undoubtedly someone else will benefit from the dialogue you initiate.

9)     Plan for an hour to save your week.  Sometimes if we take a little time to plan out tasks so they enhance our energy rather than zap it, we can avoid burnout.  Also, plan out your prep periods if possible.  Shorter periods might benefit from shorter tasks, while longer periods can be for marking or gathering project materials.

10)  Meditate on the good things.  Everyone benefits from a positive comment, a smile, an acknowledgement of hard work done.  Give compliments and praise freely to shift even your own energy.

Daria Gimon, ETFO

Educator and Empowerment Coach

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