Let me preface this by saying I 100% love my job…but it’s no big secret that teachers feel burnout. What you may not know is that teaching is the profession that feels the most burnout of all, according to this 2022 Gallup Poll. Obviously, this was exacerbated in recent years, but in the 20 years that I’ve been in the classroom, this has always been a hot topic. Always.
There is no reason that we would waste your time telling you WHY teachers feel burnout (what other profession has multiple deadlines every day?!) or THAT teachers feel burnout. You know the answers to those questions. Rather, this post simply serves to share 10 ideas to handle or avoid burnout, that hopefully go a little beyond telling you to “leave work at home” and “get paid more”, or “if you don’t like it, quit”, like most marginally useless reports share.
You probably won’t do all 10. That’s ok. Some require time. Some require money, But if you try one or two, that could be just what you need to make it through March, which, at our site, is the longest month of the school year. Not ONE day off, not one professional development day, no break until April…
In no way can make suggestions for more serious burnout issues, like personal mental health issues or highly stressful and emotional situations. We recently had a safety threat at our site. Those are moments that have no answer. No suggestions as to how we cope are out there. However, therapy, if you’ve never done it, can be a great thing. If you’re wondering when you’ll be able to pencil that in between work, family and lesson planning, consider checking out online options like Better Help, where you can do telehealth appointments instead of schlepping yourself to an office, likely causing you more stress! In fact, your insurance plan may already offer that as well.
For some thoughts on getting past that feeling like you’re ready to throw in the towel, check out these things that we’ve found to be successful.
Plan for Monday on Friday. I know…you just want to run the F out of there on Friday, but planning for Monday before I leave the week before has been one of my most liberating practices of all. Everywhere you look, people talk about ‘Sunday Scaries’, so this is a practice that will make Sundays less annoying and allow you to have the opportunity to do some more restorative activities before going back to work. I don’t get too crazy…I plan all the tasks, and put them on my agenda board. If I need copies, I print the one copy and bring paper home to make the copies on the way in on Monday.
Work in a day / half day of student work that doesn’t leave you “on”. We have ver viernes for a half hour every Friday. The kids watch a show, and I get work done. This will help you make Planning for Friday happen as well! Give our Go! episode one task a try to see how you can incorporate great linguistic input and even some fun each Friday. Alternatively – or additionally – while you’ll be “on” and not getting work done, plan for frequent games in class. We have a game on the schedule at least 3 times a week and multiple games on Thursdays. This makes your class a happier place to be. La buena vibra can work miracles in the classroom.
Re-evaluate your grading practices. For everything that I do, I ask myself WHY. Why am I grading an assignment? Do I need to grade it or can my students grade it? If accountability is an issue, have students complete assignments and collect them randomly, or look at just one thing that you will assess, and leave the rest alone.
Are you giving homework? Why? Asking yourself all of these questions can be helpful in cutting down your workload. Not sure how to make that happen? It’s complicated, but our grading module can help!
Reevaluate your curriculum. If you haven’t yet shifted to the National Standards, or are waiting on your state to adopt their own, consider your content. For me, teaching content over linguistics, socially just themes and embedding culture at every turn will make you fall in love with teaching language again. In fact, this was such a game changer that it is how our company was born. It’s hard work that so many teachers don’t have time for. That’s why we’ve created the units for you. Authentic resources, all three modes, tons of games, for a few dollars a day, you get your life back, without piece-mealing together tasks that aren’t connected. If your site or district can’t (or won’t) help you make that purchase, we will;). Use the code GROWPROFICIENCY20 for 20% off. Or check out this post that’s chock full of suggestions that we use to fund our own classrooms.
Schedule one day per week or month for “home prep”. Make comforting food that freezes well in bigger batches, so that you can come home and just chill at least once a week. Pasta sauce, meatballs, chili, posole, whatever you can do that’s a meal by itself, so even if you don’t have bread, fresh vegetables or whatever, you can make it happen in a hot second. On other days, treat yourself to a grocery delivery order to save you a ton of time. While I definitely prefer to go to the store myself, a once-a-month Amazon Fresh delivery is sometimes exactly what I need to have some much needed calm and dinner on the table.
Seriously…take time for yourself. Whether it’s taking a walk by yourself, a workout, yoga, or meditation, or getting your nails done, take some time for yourself. There are tons of low cost apps that can help you do this anywhere, like Asana Rebel, which has 5 minute yoga practices, or my favorite spiritual gangster, Chris Corsini who’s donation based meditations have changed my life.
Plan a student trip. For real…DO IT. There are few things that have made me feel like I’m getting a perk like taking an annual student tour. Since 2014, we have traveled to 5 different Target Language countries, which means incredible, inspiring learning experiences for us as adults, not just the students. It’s something to look forward to each year. Each trip has changed my worldview and provided me with moments that I see are those that have changed me: Spain in 2014 changed my career, Cuba in 2016 opened my eyes in ways I can’t explain, Peru in 2018 showed me how resilient I am, and gave me the chance to spend 11 days with my 70 year old dad. Perhaps Peru in 2022 was the most game changing trip of a lifetime that made me truly understand myself and question everything. However, on each and every trip, we developed relationships with students that showed them another side of us while we were able to better connect with them. Yes, there is work involved, but tour companies that are geared toward student travel are well equipped to help make it smooth and seamless. We travel with EF Tours and can’t say enough about our experiences.
Talk to your administration team. Ok don’t laugh… So many people go to administrators and just complain, so be honest with them about staff morale and, if possible, offer to help. Perhaps they can suggest parent groups, local businesses or churches that would be willing to provide coffee at your weekly staff meeting. Offer to send those groups an email or offer to coordinate a group of teachers who can lead self-care “sessions” if your admin team will —dare I say it — cancel a staff meeting…I mean 80% of meetings could be an email, am I right?!? We’ve had meetings canceled in favor of walk-and-talk groups, a beach run, meditation classes, yoga, and even a fun teacher strategy share (we shared games that we play with students by doing them together…so fun). These all were opportunities to connect with other staff, treat ourselves well, and to feel like we were taking care of.
Schedule your mental health day. I recently saw a tweet saying that your mental health day causes stress to students and teammates. Although this can be a true statement, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a day for yourself ever. You can, however, plan well for it. If you can schedule a particular substitute or on a day that won’t cause extra stress, go for it. Create a plan where your students won’t be bored, but that won’t make you crazy spending hours planning. Try using some interpretive tasks, some online games and an interpersonal or presentational task that may keep them entertained. When you have everything ready, you’ll cause no stress!
Consider a switch before you quit. Some burnout just can’t be fixed. If we know that the workplace environment is critical to employees’ happiness, maybe that is the only place left to adjust. If you are unhappy and burnt out, consider teaching another level. It's amazing what just resetting can do for your psyche. Sometimes it's easier to teach a lower level, if grading has got you down, or an upper level, if behavior makes you crazy. Check out other opportunities in your district or area. Can you take on a different role for a year or two? Can you move to a new school site for a “clean slate”? What about simply switching classrooms? My 2019 move across the hall from G104 to G103 created the opportunity for a Marie Kondo worthy purge plus a new view outside that includes greenery, not a cement wall.
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