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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.

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