Written by Casey Keyser, MSEA Third Grade Teacher
Teachers are like solar panels, we recharge in the Summer. However, this shouldn’t be the only time we recharge. We should have an ongoing plan to help energize ourselves daily and when done so correctly, rarely need a recharge at all.
Let’s talk about teacher burnout…
Are you missing happy hours or Sunday brunch with friends most weekends? Are you declining family time or weekend trips because you, “had” to lesson plan or, “needed to” to get your grading done?
Did you volunteer for that committee or club because you thought it would look bad if you didn’t?
Are you spending your duty-free lunch breaks completing paperwork, working with students, or emailing parents?
Have you arrived at school 2 hours before students arrive to be prepared for your day?
For me… it’s an overwhelming YES, YES, YES ….. & YES.
Each and every day, teachers GIVE so much to our students. Of course we want to do anything and everything for our students all the time. But is it healthy or sustainable over time?
NO, you will burn yourself out!
Teacher burnout is a very common problem that needs to be talked about more. I believe it is hard to identify if it’s happening to you because, “You can’t read the label, when you’re stuck inside the bottle.” For some teachers, it’s hard to understand and accept when it’s time to start saying, “No,” and take a break.
These difficult conversations need to happen. We have to start working together to normalize teachers saying, “No.”
Saying “No” isn’t always a bad thing. It can even be what’s in the best interest of your students.
Over my 11-year teaching career I have heard a lot of talk about having a good or healthy work-life balance. I have been given tips and tricks to maintain self-care and a happy life. But what no one ever talks about is that it’s not a “One size fits all” approach.
I do not believe in, “work-life balance.” I don’t think there is a magical formula of how each teacher can “balance” their work and their home life at the same time. I think that it should be called, “work-life fit.” A work-life fit is the flexibility to make choices for your own life that fits into what you have going on in that moment. You should be able to create a work environment and lifestyle that fosters both personal and professional life at the same time. As educators, we cannot compare ourselves to each other. What “fits” in one teachers’ life, might not “fit” into yours.
Your goal is to do only the extra things if it fits into your life at that moment. If it doesn’t, don’t do them. And if you are in a place to do extra things you want to for your classroom, do it. Don’t let anyone else shame you for going above and beyond in your career if that’s what fits in your life.
But if you are a teacher that doesn’t have the space and time for all the “extra” things, and you are still trying to squeeze them in, this is when you will experience teacher burnout.
Dr. Leah Katz @dr.leahkatz shared a graphic on signs of burnout. It is important to know what to look for, for yourself, your colleagues, and family members that are educators.
When I start to feel or see signs of burn-out I focus on two things – my mindset and setting boundaries. I have to keep my mindset focused that things will get better. Then I have to act to make that a reality.
I sit down to create a list of things I can take off my plate and specific goals on how I can set boundaries for new things that may come my way. Here is a list of the boundaries I have set for myself.
- Spend all evening/weekend working… I work on the weekends, but I don’t let it steal my entire time
- Skip breakfast… I love to meal prep on Sunday so that this doesn’t happen
- Drink only coffee… I am the worst at hydration so I make sure to always have a water bottle
- Stay past your contact hours… unless I am getting paid and I WANT to
- Check your email after 4 PM… just don’t do it, it can wait.
- Feel guilty about setting boundaries and saying, “No.”
- Lie awake thinking about school
However, I can choose to do some of these things once in a while, IF I think they fit into my life AND I know they bring me joy.
As we move into the new school year, I am already trying to find where I can pause for some peace. Where can I build time into my schedule to reflect and do tasks that calm me? I reflect on what energizes me and how I can surround my life with those things and people.
Give yourself grace. Give yourself time. Give yourself an honest talk about what “fits” with your life.
If you start to experience teacher burnout and you are aware of how to find your peace and calm, you will be able to better read the label on your bottle because you won’t be stuck inside anymore.
Casey Keyser is a third-grade teacher at Butterfly Ridge Elementary in Frederick County, Maryland. She was recently recognized as the national winner of the NEA Foundation’s 2021 Teaching in Excellence Award. Casey is the proud owner of the Education Resource Blog, Fair Winds Teaching, and loves to connect with her education community through her TeacherPayTeacher’s business.