Why It’s Okay to Feel “Teacher Burnout”

hole burned in paper with matches

Near the end of my undergraduate experience, an education professor decided it was his job to inform us of the cold, hard truth. He listed off statistics proclaiming a portion of us wouldn’t be hired upon graduation. Those who managed to secure employment would inevitably face “teacher burnout” and likely not make it past our fifth year of teaching. I thought these statistics were awfully grim as graduation approached.

girl wearing cap and gown

As a pre-service teacher with the world at her fingertips, I didn’t grasp the pressure I would face. How could I possibly fall out of love with teaching?

I managed to survive the first statistic landing a part-time job with full-time benefits in an unfamiliar district. I considered myself lucky, especially as I watched my friends’ continued struggle to find employment.

If I’m going to be honest, though, the second statistic has taken its toll on me. I often feel like a failure; tired, or simply negative. Maybe you’re in your fifth, fifteenth, or thirty-fifth year and feel the same way. The numbers don’t lie, either. Although percentages about “teacher burnout” rates may vary, most suggest  between 40% and 50% of teachers will leave education within the first 5 years.

One of the teachers in my building stopped me in the hallway the other day. I don’t know how we got on the topic of “teacher burnout”, but her words gave me pause.

“I wish you could have seen it long ago. Education. Back before reforms and tests. Back when teaching was valued and sought after. Back when students seemed to be more respectful and parents more involved. I wish you could have seen it.”

While I wish I could have seen education that way, too, the truth remains. If I am going to outlast the second statistic, I have to embrace education the way it is now and find a way to keep my passion alive. There are ways to combat “teacher burnout”.

Try some of these methods if you’re starting to feel your passion for teaching dwindle.

holes burned in teaching license

1. Find a Friend

Having a friend in the building can help lighten the negative weight on your shoulders. It should be someone you can laugh with and share stories with. Honestly though, it has to be someone you can also vent to in confidence. The friendship should be an equal balance. Too much venting can lead to more negative feelings. Find things to laugh about!

2. Be Positive

Easier said than done, right? When comments become negative, try to change the subject or turn it in a different direction. This isn’t always easy when you are feeling negative yourself, but it is all about small steps to get your fire back.. There are so many positives about being a teacher, and your attitude is important.

3. Find a Release

You might be feeling down and out about teaching right now. That doesn’t mean you quit. Instead, find something unrelated to school you enjoy. I love photography. As it turns out, I love it so much it has become a whole new source of income for me. Have you ever considered opening an Etsy shop to create something you love (and make extra money!)?

4. Realize The Grass is NOT Always Greener

I have heard plenty of stories from relatives in the corporate world that make me appreciate teaching. Making more money does not always mean your life or career is going to be grand.

5. Take a Break

Find some time to reconnect to yourself. A mini-vacation? A weekend adventure? A coffee shop with a good book? Don’t believe the lie there isn’t money or time to do so.  Carve some time out to enjoy a break from the stress of your career and life. You won’t regret it.

To anyone suffering from the symptoms of “teacher burnout”, remember, you aren’t alone. Many of us feel the same way at one point or another. It doesn’t make us failures or lousy teachers, it just provides an opportunity to persevere and overcome.

Have you survived teacher burnout? What helped you to overcome?

What tips do you have for teachers facing the symptoms of teacher burnout? Think positive friends!

Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.

Related

  • Great Article!!

  • Great Article!!

  • Stephanie

    I am thankful for this article. Not just for the tips, but for the acknowledgement that teacher burn out is real and in my opinion, not something that should be swept under the rug, but truly talked about so that we may avoid it or at the least, not feel so guilty when it is happening to us. I am in my fourth year and I must say that I am feeling it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And it makes me feel like a failure. A failure because my students deserve someone who is passionately in love with teaching. A failure because I went to school undergraduate and graduate (in the works) for this and I fear I may have chosen wrong. A failure because sometimes the stress gets to me and I look back at those moments that I could of/should of done something differently. The truth is, I don’t want to be that statistic. I want to LOVE my job. I am trying to be proactive to make that happen by giving myself pep talks in the morning, attending relevant professional development (Yay for the upcoming Art of Ed Conference) and opening my own etsy shop as mentioned above to try and have a second passion I can lose myself in when needed. Here’s to fighting the good fight.

    • Stephanie,

      Thanks so much for your honesty. Even writing this article made me feel like a failure, because I think half the battle is just admitting that I do feel burnout. But the more I have opened up about it, the more I hear that other teachers have felt the same way.

      I am so glad that you are finding ways to fight the good fight and be proactive to get ahead of the burnout. You are doing the right things! Just know you aren’t alone!

  • Stephanie

    I am thankful for this article. Not just for the tips, but for the acknowledgement that teacher burn out is real and in my opinion, not something that should be swept under the rug, but truly talked about so that we may avoid it or at the least, not feel so guilty when it is happening to us. I am in my fourth year and I must say that I am feeling it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And it makes me feel like a failure. A failure because my students deserve someone who is passionately in love with teaching. A failure because I went to school undergraduate and graduate (in the works) for this and I fear I may have chosen wrong. A failure because sometimes the stress gets to me and I look back at those moments that I could of/should of done something differently. The truth is, I don’t want to be that statistic. I want to LOVE my job. I am trying to be proactive to make that happen by giving myself pep talks in the morning, attending relevant professional development (Yay for the upcoming Art of Ed Conference) and opening my own etsy shop as mentioned above to try and have a second passion I can lose myself in when needed. Here’s to fighting the good fight.

    • Stephanie,

      Thanks so much for your honesty. Even writing this article made me feel like a failure, because I think half the battle is just admitting that I do feel burnout. But the more I have opened up about it, the more I hear that other teachers have felt the same way.

      I am so glad that you are finding ways to fight the good fight and be proactive to get ahead of the burnout. You are doing the right things! Just know you aren’t alone!

  • Matt Tully

    My seventh year in teaching at one school. Love the faculty and staff! The students are great 99% of the time are respectful, peace seeking individuals who value education. Now, I teach at a College Prep Christian school. So, already, the want is there. We have prayer in our school and talk openly about Christ! I love it bc the kids hold each other up like I have never seen! I am not naive, I know things go on with certain students. But it is the atmosphere at school that drives out the negativity, violence and general crime. I have NEVER seen a fight break out. I have written 2 detentions ONLY for cussing and only 6 detentions total for frivolous actions. I have only felt burnout with the repetition, not the students or staff. This article reminded me how MY burnout is lesser than most. But every aspect of this article is exactly right. The question is, ‘How do you stay positive’. Taking a personal break is tremendous and find a friend! That will absolutely help…Thanks!

  • Matt Tully

    My seventh year in teaching at one school. Love the faculty and staff! The students are great 99% of the time are respectful, peace seeking individuals who value education. Now, I teach at a College Prep Christian school. So, already, the want is there. We have prayer in our school and talk openly about Christ! I love it bc the kids hold each other up like I have never seen! I am not naive, I know things go on with certain students. But it is the atmosphere at school that drives out the negativity, violence and general crime. I have NEVER seen a fight break out. I have written 2 detentions ONLY for cussing and only 6 detentions total for frivolous actions. I have only felt burnout with the repetition, not the students or staff. This article reminded me how MY burnout is lesser than most. But every aspect of this article is exactly right. The question is, ‘How do you stay positive’. Taking a personal break is tremendous and find a friend! That will absolutely help…Thanks!

  • Vicky Siegel

    Super article! This is my 24th year teaching elementary art. I am not being paid to write this :) but taking an AOE class a couple of years ago in the summer totally helped me! Wisconsin ended the unions and districts took this to the extreme. I ended up that year with thirty-five 45 minute classes a week, 15 minutes to get to another school, 850 total students, no classes back-to-back that were the same grade level and on and on. I was ready to cry every day. I was so exhausted. (Well, I still am exhausted- but part of it is all the extras I do and not saying NO). Anyway- I got my motivation back. I took “creativity in crisis” and the “element” class. Both classes made me realize that I love teaching art. I was talking to another teacher in a different district that has been teaching the same number of years recently. He said the biggest difference in education nowadays is the demands on the teachers and NO thank you’s! I agree. We just do more and more. I do it for the students!

    • Vicky, I am so happy to hear this and I am so glad our AOE classes were able to help you out. You are an inspiration and I am so glad you shared this with us!

  • Vicky Siegel

    Super article! This is my 24th year teaching elementary art. I am not being paid to write this :) but taking an AOE class a couple of years ago in the summer totally helped me! Wisconsin ended the unions and districts took this to the extreme. I ended up that year with thirty-five 45 minute classes a week, 15 minutes to get to another school, 850 total students, no classes back-to-back that were the same grade level and on and on. I was ready to cry every day. I was so exhausted. (Well, I still am exhausted- but part of it is all the extras I do and not saying NO). Anyway- I got my motivation back. I took “creativity in crisis” and the “element” class. Both classes made me realize that I love teaching art. I was talking to another teacher in a different district that has been teaching the same number of years recently. He said the biggest difference in education nowadays is the demands on the teachers and NO thank you’s! I agree. We just do more and more. I do it for the students!

    • Vicky, I am so happy to hear this and I am so glad our AOE classes were able to help you out. You are an inspiration and I am so glad you shared this with us!

  • Vivian

    I like to always have something to look forward to that isn’t related to my work. I like doing activities outdoors for example. In 2 weeks I will be skiing. In four weeks I’ll be skiing again, and am already looking forward to my hiking trip this summer. (A section of the Appalachian trail). We are really fortunate as teachers that we can take so much time off in the summer. It is such a benefit for this job.

  • Vivian

    I like to always have something to look forward to that isn’t related to my work. I like doing activities outdoors for example. In 2 weeks I will be skiing. In four weeks I’ll be skiing again, and am already looking forward to my hiking trip this summer. (A section of the Appalachian trail). We are really fortunate as teachers that we can take so much time off in the summer. It is such a benefit for this job.

  • Rebecca Deweese

    When I decided to become an art teacher hmmm. many years ago, every person I encountered asked me, “So what is your back up plan?” I told them, “I don’t have one.” I’m proud to say that I have been teaching art for 14 years. I have found myself in several moments where I have felt burn out. Getting caught up in the grass is greener as you mentioned. However, I find that one of the beauties of art is there is always a way to hit refresh. By trying a new technique, attending a conference (like AOE), taking a new class, or even trying out teaching a new class I have found I can re-inspire myself. I like your suggestion of opening an Etsy shop. This is something I have thought about but have not yet tried. I also think it is important to have breaks with friends and good colleagues to collaborate with. This year I have a new art teacher to work with who has a very positive demeanor and willingness to collaborate, and it has made all the difference in my year!

    • I love your positive outlook on this. I agree that there is always something we can do to turn a situation around. I am so glad you commented your thoughts on it.

  • Rebecca Deweese

    When I decided to become an art teacher hmmm. many years ago, every person I encountered asked me, “So what is your back up plan?” I told them, “I don’t have one.” I’m proud to say that I have been teaching art for 14 years. I have found myself in several moments where I have felt burn out. Getting caught up in the grass is greener as you mentioned. However, I find that one of the beauties of art is there is always a way to hit refresh. By trying a new technique, attending a conference (like AOE), taking a new class, or even trying out teaching a new class I have found I can re-inspire myself. I like your suggestion of opening an Etsy shop. This is something I have thought about but have not yet tried. I also think it is important to have breaks with friends and good colleagues to collaborate with. This year I have a new art teacher to work with who has a very positive demeanor and willingness to collaborate, and it has made all the difference in my year!

    • I love your positive outlook on this. I agree that there is always something we can do to turn a situation around. I am so glad you commented your thoughts on it.

  • Mel

    You forgot one.. 6. Find an Art teaching job in a new district

    That made all the difference to me. I did two years in rural Virginia, and by the end was suffering from depression, panic attacks, and thoughts of suicide. I did not renew my contract at the end of the second year, even though I couldn’t find a job. I substitute taught for a year back in Pennsylvania while living with a friend (for the cost of utilities), paying out of pocket for cheap emergency-only health insurance, just scraping along.
    Fast forward 12 years and here I am, teaching at an amazing district with amazing administration and awesome kids. It took me four attempts, but I’ve found my ‘forever’ school. I’ve been here five years, and it just keeps getting better and better.

    • That’s so true, sometimes a switch in position is just what we need. It might get us out of a negative environment or it might also refresh us with new people, new kids, and new grades!

  • Mel

    You forgot one.. 6. Find an Art teaching job in a new district

    That made all the difference to me. I did two years in rural Virginia, and by the end was suffering from depression, panic attacks, and thoughts of suicide. I did not renew my contract at the end of the second year, even though I couldn’t find a job. I substitute taught for a year back in Pennsylvania while living with a friend (for the cost of utilities), paying out of pocket for cheap emergency-only health insurance, just scraping along.
    Fast forward 12 years and here I am, teaching at an amazing district with amazing administration and awesome kids. It took me four attempts, but I’ve found my ‘forever’ school. I’ve been here five years, and it just keeps getting better and better.

    • That’s so true, sometimes a switch in position is just what we need. It might get us out of a negative environment or it might also refresh us with new people, new kids, and new grades!

  • Alexandra Etscovitz

    I wouldn’t be able to teach without my amazing colleagues!!!
    http://www.artiselementaryblog.wordpress.com

  • Alexandra Etscovitz

    I wouldn’t be able to teach without my amazing colleagues!!!
    http://www.artiselementaryblog.wordpress.com

  • Bonnie McDaniel

    I woke up at 4am today filled with anxiety about going to school. I found myself feeling sick and exhausted at the same time. Could I do the 7 class on stage job that I do every day today? I made the decision to call in sick and not go in and face the grueling schedule that I face every day as a middle school art teacher. Burnout? Definitely. 19th year of teaching art and I feel like a failure. Thank you for this article. It helps me to know that I am not alone.

    • Bonnie,

      As you head back to school today please know that I am thinking about you. You are not a failure. You are a 19-year success story. And you are most certainly not alone. I hope today you find some renewed strength in that knowledge. You’ve got this!

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