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Every teacher faces feelings of burnout in their teaching career. You get stuck in a rut where you are just going through the motions, without passion or inspiration. In this episode, Cassie gives her best advice on how you can break free from these feelings and keep your teaching creative and vibrant. She shares her personal journey on how she dealt with burnout (2:30), her favorite ways to take a break and treat herself (8:15), and why it might be worthwhile to step away from social media for a bit (12:15). Full episode transcript below.
At the beginning of every Everyday Art Room podcast, I start with a story. I personally refer to it as story time. I don’t know if you’ve realized it or not. You might, if you have figured it out, refer to it as torture time. Be that as it may, I’m going to share a story with you right now. Now, usually, I share stories that are of the humorous nature. This one’s a little different.
I would say it was probably in my fifth or seventh, or who knows when, year of teaching. When you’ve been teaching as long as I have, you start to lose track. I was feeling sick a lot, and not the kind of sick where a kid sneezed on you and now you’re just laid flat for a week. No, the kind of sick where I could tell something was on my mind and it was affecting me physically, making me feel ill. I went to a doctor, and I told her that I was feeling stressed. It was causing me to feel unwell. I was getting a lot of headaches, and I was seeking advice from the doc on what I should do.
She was really concerned. She said to me, “Wow, it sounds like you have a really stressful job. What is it that you do?” I said, “I’m an elementary art teacher.” She paused and then laughed at me. I get it. I understood. I understand why she laughed. At the same time, I thought, “This is a person who doesn’t get it.” I know it might seem, to the average person on the outside, that I finger-paint all day, but, as you know, we don’t. Our job can be stressful, and it can lead to something called burnout. I’m very familiar with burnout. I actually was just familiar with burnout last week. Let’s talk about it. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m Cassie Stephens.
Now, I’m going to be really honest with you guys today. I have actually experienced the joys of burnout many a time. Like I said, just last week, I was really contemplating my life’s choices, so to speak. Probably the most game-changerin’, if that’s a word … It is now … time that I had burnout was back in 2012, and I remember the year well because it’s when I decided to start blogging. Here’s how it went down, Charlie Brown. I was really feeling like I was stuck in a rut. I wasn’t creating. My passion had always been painting. I wasn’t doing that at all. I would come home and watch television, and go to bed, and go to school, and not do lessons that were very inspired or inspiring. I was just kind of repeating things I had done from year to year. I was bored, basically.
I thought, “You know what, I really enjoy looking at blogs.” At that time, I really enjoyed looking at blogs where girls were featuring the outfits that they were wearing, so I thought, “What if I start a blog where I share a lesson that I create, something that I personally have created, a DIY, and what I’ve worn that week? What if I do that? If I do that, it’ll kind of help me hold my feet to the fire and make it so that every week I’m really thinking about a new lesson to share with my students, something fun that I can create to tap into my creative juices and get them flowing again, and to showcase something that I love to do, which is dress like a crazy person.” That’s how my blog, which is called Cassie Stephens … Obviously, I didn’t spend a lot of creative power coming up with that name … came to be. A lot of people used to refer to it as What the Art Teacher Wore because that was a big feature on my blog.
All that to say, that was a real game changer for me. Suddenly, I was excited to go to school because I had come up with a fun project. I was excited to go home and create, not watch television, because I had a really fun DIY that I had a deadline for, that I knew had the week to come up with it and share it. Then, of course, I really enjoy dressing like a fool, so it’s always fun to share that aspect. That’s my journey. That’s what I did. I’m not saying all y’all need to go out and start a blog. What I am saying is that finding your passion, tapping into it, probably something that you’ve neglected … You’ve neglected yourself for a long time, I’m guessing, if you’re feeling burnout … is going to really help you get out of that rut.
Like I said, that’s my journey. Now I want to share with you my top seven ways to get out of burnout. Let’s start with number one. Number one, know that it is okay. You are not broken. You are still a fabulous art teacher. You are just experiencing burnout. It’s natural. It happens to all of us. Sometimes it’s hard to believe when you get on social media that these awesome art teachers that you follow might actually experience burnout, but they do. If they tell you they don’t, they be lying. Don’t believe them. I’m telling you, I’ve been there many a time. Know that it’s okay. Don’t judge your feelings. Listen to them. That’s thing number one.
Thing number two, like I said a moment ago, know that we have all been there. Knowing that, consider reaching out to another art teacher. Ask them, “hey, I’m feeling a little bit burnt out. Have you been there?” You know they have. “What do you do to kind of get yourself out of that rut?” If you don’t have a fellow art teacher and buddy to reach out to, then consider a friend at school. If you’re comfortable with your admin, talk to your administration. They might have some really good tips to help you get out of that rut. They might be able to offer a book for you to read or even some classes to take.
Or just talk to somebody completely removed from the situation, like, tip number three, a therapist. Okay, I’m going to get real with you. Your insurance should cover a therapist. If your insurance covers a therapist and you are feeling burnout, get a therapist. I am a big advocate of talking to a therapist. I spent a long time talking to one. He was fabulous. It was a great experience. It was great to just talk to somebody who was totally removed from the situation, because what he did for me was he offered a completely different perspective. There’s nothing wrong with you or with talking to a therapist. Okay, I’m stepping off my therapist soapbox.
Number four, treat yo’self. Yes. I am a big Aziz Ansari fan, and I firmly believe in his words of wisdom of “Treat yo’self.” If you are feeling in a rut, then take yourself out of the situation. Go somewhere fun after school. One of my favorite ways to treat myself after school if I’m feeling like I just need a break is to go to the thrift store and the Dollar Tree. That is how I roll. That is how I treat myself. Seriously. The funny thing is is that because we can never turn our art-teachering brain off, I get so much inspiration when I go to places like the thrift store and the Dollar Tree. I also find a lot of DIY project ideas while I’m there. Think of what you really enjoy doing. Maybe it’s getting a mani-pedi. Maybe it’s, I don’t know, a massage, something a little bit more elaborate and fancy than going to the thrift store or the Dollar Tree. Now you know how I roll. Treat yourself. You deserve it, and sometimes you really need it.
Let’s talk about number five. This is what I was chatting about at the very beginning of this little convo, returning to your passions. Like I said, my passion used to be painting. I got my BFA in painting in college, and for some reason, I had it in my head that you could only be a true artist if (a) you were painting all the time and (b) you were painting all the time. Seriously, I had a really hard time getting that notion out of my head and just knowing that, no, just creating in general is being creative. You don’t have to go with that idealized version of an artist to be an artist. Just make something, which is now what I do constantly. I am always making something.
The thing is, I’m never painting. That’s the hilarious part. I’ve never returned to that passion. I actually think that I got that one out of my system, but I do really enjoy creating. It’s my passion. I love wearing crazy clothes, so sewing is also a passion. What I have found is that creating is like a ball rolling down a hill. Once the ball starts rolling, it just picks up momentum and it moves faster and faster, and pretty soon you find that you have more projects than you have time, whereas, in the past, I was always stumped for ideas. I never had anything that I was looking forward to making because I hadn’t gotten the ball rolling. Stop and think about what your passions are, and take some time, because it’s very important, to focusing on creating. It’s what brought you to art teachering in the first place.
All right, let’s talk about number six. Go easy on yourself. Think of the KISS method. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I’m talking about in the art room. I have kindergarten through fourth grade students. That means I have five lessons I need to come up with, or do I? Sometimes when I’m feeling a little bit burnt out and I’m feeling like I just am stressed … I’m getting out five different sets of art supplies and prepping five different visuals and videos and lessons … I just take a break and think, “You know what, it is okay if kindergarten and first grade do the same project, and it is okay if second and third, or even fourth, do the same project.” It’s fine. Keep it simple. What will happen is is that you’ll be happier, and as we all know, a happy art teacher makes for a happy art room. If you’re feeling burnt out, relax, breathe, and keep it simple, stupid. Sorry, I said the S word.
Last but not least, and this one is really important, get off social media. If you are feeling burnt out, it’s probably because you’re comparing yourself and your life to others. FYI, what people post on social media is the good stuff. Most people aren’t sharing the nitty-gritty, the bad, the ugly, because people don’t want to paint that picture of themselves. It’s just human nature, myself included. Just take a little social media break.
Put down your phone, enjoy the fam, create something, treat yourself, and keep it simple, and talk to a therapist. I think if you do at least a couple of those things, you’ll find that the burnout starts to ease a little bit and hopefully will eventually go away. I hope that’s been a little bit helpful to you. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a little nugget of info or an idea for you. Thanks for letting me share what’s worked for me.
Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. As you probably know, Art Ed PRO is the subscription service for professional art teachers offered by The Art of Ed. Earlier this week, we released three new learning packs, one on beginning with watercolor painting, one on diving deep in color theory, and one on using games in the art room. All of them are great, and all of them are really in-depth. Each of the three learning packs has between 15 and 20 videos, and all of them also have about a dozen resources that you can print immediately and use in your classroom. PRO members get three new learning packs every single month, and you have 24/7 access to every learning pack in the library. Sign up for your 30-day free trial and check out everything at artedpro.com. Before you go sign up, though, you should probably give Cassie your attention for the rest of this episode. Enjoy.
Cassie Stephens: Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This first question comes from Casey. Casey asks, “I’m curious if you have ever considered getting your National Board Certification, and what’s your opinion on that?” Well, I have never considered getting my National Board Certification because I’ve spoken with people who have their National Board Certification and it does not sound like my cup of tea. From what I’ve heard, there is a lot of paperwork, deadlines, and organization involved. Those three words are not my favorite. I do know that people who have pursued getting their National Board education have said that they feel like it has made them a better teacher, they’ve been more reflective of their methods, and improved upon art teachering.
This is funny because it really does tie into burnout. If I were to pursue my National Board Certification, it would be a quick ticket to burnout town for me. For me, I know what works, and I know if I wanted to learn something new or become a better teacher, I would be better suited to take a class, a ceramics class, a sewing class, where I’m pursuing my passion, but also gaining knowledge that I can bring back to my art room. But that’s me. If National Board Certification sounds like your cup of tea, then I say go ahead and drink it, but I also would suggest talking to somebody who’s gotten their National Board Certification, who can speak a lot more intelligently on the topic. Great question, Casey.
My next question comes from Kathleen. Kathleen says, “In the very first episode of Everyday Art Room, you mentioned a game called The Smartest Artist, but you didn’t explain how it works. Can you do that, please?” I would love to. In fact, I have created a video with The Art of Ed that does a better job probably than I’m about to do of explaining The Smartest Artist Game because there’s a visual.
Essentially, this is what we do. My students line up, and once everybody is in line, I pick three students standing nicely in line, a boy, a girl, and then whoever else is standing nicely. There’s a dry erase board on an easel standing nearby, and I give the boy and the girl a dry erase marker. I give the third student something called a sound machine. It’s this tiny little gadget that can make sound effects. You can find a sound machine on Amazon.
I say to the students, “Now it’s time for …” and they all reply, “The Smartest Artist.” Then I say, “All right, this is a question for the girls. Girls, can you please tell me the primary colors?” While they’re in line, the girls will raise their hand, and my friend who is a girl with the dry erase marker will call on one of the girls. If the girls get the answer correct, then they get a point on the dry erase board. The sound effects person with the sound machine … There’s a couple of fun little sounds on there, like a drum roll and an applause, so that’s what that student takes care of. They are the sound effects engineer.
Once the girls have gotten their point, we pass the next question on to the boys. We go back and forth with this usually a couple of times until the time is up, and we do this as a great review, and it’s also great to do if you have a couple of minutes where you’ve lined your kids up a pinch too early, not to mention they absolutely love The Smartest Artist game. Kathleen, I hope that claresified it … Girl, probably not. I hope that clarifies it just a pinch. Like I said, check out that video on The Art of Ed for a visual.
Guys, if you have any questions for me, feel free to send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Y’all, thank you so much for letting me share my many voyages to burnt out town with you and what has worked for me. Let’s go over them one more time.
Know that it’s okay. We’ve all been there. In fact, sometimes I feel like I’m the driver of the burnt out bus. Get on board, y’all. Let’s figure this out.
Get a therapist. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s just like talking to somebody removed from the situation.
Treat yourself. I also can’t recommend that enough, although, you know, going to the Dollar Tree and the thrift store might be a little bit lowbrow for you, so find what really will help you feel better and feel treated.
Return to your passions. That’s super important, and that’s really what helped me get out of my rut.
Go easy on yourself. Remember the KISS method when you’re in your art room. You’ll be much happier when you’re relaxed, and a happy art teacher makes for a much happier art room.
Last but certainly not least, get off social media. Take a break. Live in the now, y’all.
Thank you so much for letting me share my many trips to burnt out town. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m Cassie Stephens.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.