Maybe you’ve enthusiastically jumped into the school year—or maybe the year already feels overwhelming. Take a breath; you’ve got this!
Here’s what you need to know so you can stay focused, practice self-care, and avoid teacher burnout. (For part 1 of this series on self-care, click here.) Burnout is more than just having a bad day. It’s ongoing anxiety and stress that leads to physical and mental exhaustion. You may feel overwhelmed because you’re teaching during a pandemic, trying to enforce a mask mandate while keeping students engaged and on task. Or you may have too much on your plate, and there’s a serious imbalance between work life and home life.
Burnout doesn’t just affect you. It affects everyone you are around- your students, your friends, your family…etc. Fortunately, you can do something about it.
- Create an environment that inspires you.
Your classroom sets the stage for learning. Make it one that inspires you as well as your students. Redecorate your classroom to create the place you want to be. Move the desks; adjust the lighting. Set up a classroom library. If the school allows it, add a favorite scent. When the weather permits, take your class outside for a change of scenery. Importantly, have fun with your students. Try jokes and brain teasers in addition to interesting lessons.
- Separate work and home.
Bringing papers home to grade seems to be every teacher’s “go-to” strategy. After all, you’re tired from a long day; you don’t want to stay at school a minute longer. Instead, try this: don’t take work home. Do your lesson planning and grading at school. Then, when you’re home, forget about work. It’s already done. It may not be possible every single day, but when you can, leave work at work. That will help to create real work-life balance.
- Reduce your workload.
As a teacher, you’re constantly asked to do all sorts of things. Keep your responsibilities manageable. Don’t feel obligated to attend all kinds of school events. Pause before accepting new assignments. Saying “no” is an acceptable response and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it; practice how to do it graciously. Plan ahead as much as possible, so that you can spread out your responsibilities and you’re not caught in a work crunch.
- Incorporate healthy habits.
When you’re at your healthiest, your energy level is high and you can take on the world. Don’t sacrifice healthy habits during a busy school year. That means don’t skip meals and don’t opt for fast or processed food. Fuel your body with a healthy diet of fresh, seasonal foods. Drink plenty of water (timed around your bathroom breaks). Don’t stay up late to get more things done; get enough sleep so you’ll be rested and refreshed. Need a midday boost? Take a micro nap when you get home. Make exercise a regular part of your schedule. Choose activities that you enjoy, such as walking with a friend, biking or taking a fitness class. Importantly, be intentional about self-care. Schedule time each day for yourself.
- Stay mentally stimulated.
Not only are you a teacher, you are a lifelong learner. Keep your brain stimulated by learning about the topics that interest you. Watch a TED talk, read an interesting book, learn something new, and then share it with your students. By example, you’ll make them lifelong learners, too.
- Practice gratitude and spread positivity.
We choose our attitudes. Make yours a positive one. There are many ways to be kind and foster positivity. Call a parent and tell him/her how well his/her child is doing. Share a motivating experience with a colleague. Be the voice of positivity at staff meetings. Show your gratitude to an administrator or fellow teacher. Continue to be grateful for all the positive things in your life.
- Assess your own mental health.
Many educators are suffering from secondary traumatic stress (STS), a term used to describe the stress caused by helping others exposed to trauma. Also known as compassion fatigue, STS is common among teachers during the pandemic. You’re helping students work through the emotions of loss, from the loss of loved ones to missing out on graduations and other milestones. It can take its toll. A doctor or therapist can guide you through these challenges if you are experiencing STS.
- Ask for help when you need it.
You don’t have to do this alone. There are supportive colleagues, friends, and family members available to help. You only need to ask. If things start to become overwhelming, reach out to trusted colleagues for support. Access resources through your school’s Employee Assistance Program, which offers confidential counseling for health/wellness, financial and legal services. If you need a break, consider a sabbatical. Your district may offer paid or unpaid leave while still holding your position.
- Remember why you became a teacher.
You’re making a difference in the lives of young people. Embrace the variety and the ups and the downs as a part of the learning experience for yourself and your students—and celebrate the success.
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