It is important for teachers to learn strategies for avoiding teacher burnout. Teacher burnout is a real fact of a career in teaching. Every year the demands increase, but no other tasks get removed to compensate for this additional workload.
What is Burnout?
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” It’s that feeling you have when you feel drained and exhausted and can’t fathom doing even just the basic necessities of life.
Not just caused by stress, burnout can happen when you push yourself too much in your job, and you start to feel overwhelmed like you aren’t able to finish everything, and soon every job starts to feel like a monumental task. It’s not something that affects certain people; burnout can happen to anyone.
Why is Mental Health Important?
In my Teacher Mental Health Strategies blog post, I talk about how our minds have pressure put on them every day. As teachers, we can find ourselves consumed with the needs of our students, often putting our own needs on the back burner.
It really can be hard to take care of ourselves, and we have to remember that even when we see a teacher who looks like they have it all together, we might not realize that they also could be trying just to survive each day. This is why mental health is so important. Sometimes we realize too late that we’ve neglected our own self-care and health.
Mental Health Resources
If you ever feel like you need help regarding your mental health, there are plenty of resources available.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – Check in on your Mental Health
- Download the Calm app and a Self Care Guide for Teachers
- Mental health within Black communities in Canada: profiles of advocates
- Apps and Tools to Help Manage Stress for Teachers
- Why Teacher Self-Care Matters and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School
If you are reading this blog post and are in urgent need of emergency mental health care, please call your local emergency number (911 in North America) or reach out to the resources listed on this Get Help Now page from Better Help.
We had a really good #2ndaryELA Twitter chat on this topic, and I curated the best tips in this blog post. Below, you will find what causes other teachers to suffer from burnout, what they do to cope and provide self-care, as well as teacher advice and resource to help if you ever feel overwhelmed and likely to burn out. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity and grammar.
- Causes of Teacher Burnout
- Strategies to Help Manage Stress and Avoid Teacher Burnout
- Recovering from Teacher Burnout
- New Teacher Advice
- Resource Sharing
Q1: What causes teacher burnout? Do you ever discuss this with colleagues? Or as a whole staff?
- I felt burnout when I had too much to do, too little time, and too much pressure. We discuss this in some PDs
- Burnout comes from not having enough time. Teachers need to feel supported and know when to let things go! It’s so hard!
- No time to plan – all taken with PD – and evaluations that do not help build but only tear down.
- Overload, paperwork. No, we don’t talk about it. I’m glad since it too frequently becomes a gripe session – not productive
- Teacher burnout is caused by trying to do too much & not taking a break. I’ve discussed as a critical friends group at school
- So many things. Working in an unstable system in an unstable school. Getting moved from school to school.
- Excessive meetings that should be emails, or where maybe 5 – 10 faculty members need the info
- Never discuss burnout as staff. Caused by a lack of balance and too much pressure
- I have discussed it with a small group of teachers but never as a staff
- Last year was my 1st year teaching & at times it was overwhelming trying to create engaging lessons and stay on top of things
- There are so many things that cause teacher burnout, but for me, it was dealing with ludicrous bureaucracy.
- Burnout = overwhelmed, too much to do, little appreciation, not enough support, lack of sleep, poor nutrition/health, PRESSURE
- Never having time to pee or eat lunch, and sometimes having to decide between those two which one I need most! Haha!
Q2: What strategies do you use to help manage stress and avoid teacher burnout?
- I chunk tasks (copy, grade, plan) and use a timer to limit prep. 3:30, I go home and run
- I force myself to have a silent commute so I can decompress. I tweet one positive thing from each day! It helps on bad days
- I have a to-do list for my prep times so I know exactly what has to get done
- Power work bees, getting on top of the things I can control helps, doing something that brings me joy, cleaning
- I’ve gotten really good at making quick, quiet exits
- I mark a little bit daily so it does not become a marathon
- Limit the amount of time I spend on work, even if it doesn’t all get done. Need some time to focus on life
- I would make sure to work out – practicing yoga and Pilates. Two forms of exercise that focus on breathing and mental health.
- I make time to read something non-school related and these coloring books help me to relax
- Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. No email after 4. No grading while the kids were awake. Try to work to contract
- Unplugging, answering email requests as they come in, making a plan
- Grading less day to day, mostly just final essays/projects. Creating skill vs text-based materials that can be reused.
- Yoga does wonders for anxiety and stress.
- Positive postcards. When I’m feeling especially “done”, I send students positive postcards. It makes me reflect on the good
- Will not bring work home. I also journal my day
- Yoga is probably my biggest help! Also, saying NO to extra responsibilities sometimes. You have to say no sometimes
Q3: How do you do to recover from teacher burnout?
- To recover, I take my time and inspire, and look through my portfolio of student work. Remember the awesome moments
- I recover with a weekend without work and by finding reasons to laugh every day. Wine also helps!
- A good book! or, if I’m feeling guilty about not doing schoolwork, I’ll get caught up on education journals or books.
- A mental health/personal day at least once a quarter. Make sure to not feel bad about it! We all need an extra day sometimes!
- We need to learn to say no to extra tasks and demands
- I like to go shopping and walk around the mall to completely change the subject in my brain
- I keep a stash of Sweet Tarts in my drawer. A handful of that help. I’m not sure I’ve reached the point Sweet Tarts can’t help
- Yoga helps me recover after a long week of stress. I wish I had time to do it more honestly! Time with family/friends also
- Last yr. students wrote letters to teachers about how they impacted their lives – I re-read them when I need a boost
- Accept that everything is a work in progress…can’t be perfect…technology detox on some weekends and during summer
- Read, Vacation – where I take nothing, stay home alone, mental health days, a trip to parent’s house
- Reading a good book or getting a pedicure is the perfect thing to help me when I get in a funk
- Every day I look for small victories. Every day isn’t a day that you climb Everest, but I do go over hills. See the good
- SLEEP, self-care, taking time to prioritize, marathon work bee 🙂
Q4: What advice would you give to new teachers to help them avoid new teacher burnout?
- Surround yourself with positive people, not cranky/gossipy teachers. Set a time that you WILL go home. Save some of yourself for you
- I would say it’s okay to say no to extra responsibilities when asked by colleagues/admin. Also, find something that calms you!
- Advice for all: Know your limits and protect them. You can’t be perfect at everything. Learn to let go. It’s okay to say no
- Know it happens – it’s part of the profession. Burnout gets worse when you listen to others complain. Be around positivity!
- Create a workflow that you stick to. Be ok with saying that the papers will be there in AM and that you need sleep
- I schedule my planning in my Google Calendar with certain tasks on certain days
- You do not have to sit on every committee, it’s okay to take a mental health day, and you don’t have to grade everything
- Student conferences are more informative than paper tasks!
- Don’t ever be afraid to ask others for help. If you see something that toy think you would benefit from – compliment & ask
- Love yourself & your students. The rest will come when you take care of these 2 things.
- 10 minutes before leaving time, write your to-do list for tomorrow
- Find someone outside of school to vent to. They will help remind you that we aren’t the only ones who have crazy jobs
- Focus on the students and what you need for them tomorrow. The rest can wait, but make a class productive
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. Even the most veteran teachers struggle some days
Q5: Share some resources you have found for helping to manage stress and avoiding teacher burnout
- @loveteachblog is awesome. We taught in similar environments, I could relate to her struggles, and her posts always made me laugh
- Twitter chats are great. Find ones that focus on the positive and don’t become complaint sessions
- I like SJT’s Teach Happy Membership and the many teachers over there! Inspirational articles about how teachers change lives
- Join a teacher chat group. I get on Pinterest when I need a boost as well
- The best resources are Twitter, positive colleagues, GAFE tools, family & friends. Choose to be kind to yourself!
- Peppy songs, inspirational quotes, and a fun Pinterest board are all musts!
- New teachers. Here are 24 ways to avoid burnout! http://createdforlearning.blogspot.com/2015/07/24-tips-for-new-teachers-that-other.html
- Use the internet to help plan your lessons so many great ideas!
- DON’T recreate the wheel
- Check out these blog posts – Prevent Teacher Burnout and How To Make Use of Teacher Support Systems
Remember that you are not alone in your teaching journey and that your mental health is just as important as that of your students. Never feel bad for reaching out to your peers or family to build a support system during your journey. If you are reading this blog post and are in urgent need of emergency mental health care, please call your local emergency number (911 in North America) or reach out to the resources listed on this Get Help Now page from Better Help.