Monday, June 13, 2011

How To Avoid Teacher Burnout

As I enter into my fourth year of teaching, I have entered the stage when about half of young teachers burn out. Between the third and fifth year, half of the teachers who started teaching will quit. As with any job, there are those who were just not a right fit for teaching. However, to assume that half of those who wanted to be teachers were not a good fit for teaching is ridiculous. Some of the teachers who burn out the fastest are the best. Why? Because they give their all. And frankly, when you're good at what you do and you rarely see thanks for that work, it can start to get to you after awhile. Since I've survived the first three years, I thought I'd give some tips on how not to burn out.

1. You have sick days. Use them. Don't use all of them if you don't have to, but when you are sick or mentally exhausted, it's okay to take a break. While you're out, try not to think about how horrible your kids might be for the sub. Years of learned behavior are not going to be fixed on your first sub day when you're they're favorite teacher. If you worry about it that much, promise them a treat for being good for the sub. It's simple, but it works.

2. Don't take your work home! It's unavoidable sometimes, but sometimes, you just need to relax. If you have to take work home, make it an infrequent thing. It's better to stay an extra half an hour or hour than to take a pile home and have that pile staring you down while you're trying to fix dinner.

3. If they give you a hard time, let it go. They're kids. They are responsible for their behavior, don't get me wrong. But they are still immature juveniles with a lot of growing up to do. I used to get angry at misbehavior and stew about it all night to the point where I couldn't sleep. Don't do that. Let it go. Let it roll off you. Half the time, they just think it's funny to see an angry teacher anyway.

4. Go to PDs (Professional Development - continuing education and training sessions for teachers). And when you go, sit in the front and pay attention. Leave your phone in the car if you have to. They tend to have motivational speakers at large PDs who will tell you about wonderful things that are happening or have happened in their classroom. Sometimes it's just nice to listen to some dude from California ramble on about his kids writing ten page papers and asking for more work because they enjoyed it so much. Sure, it's idealistic, but it's really nice to hear about something good in a classroom from time to time!

5. Don't complain! Look, sometimes change is going to happen at your school and you are not going to like it. Don't go moan about it to your neighbor. Try it. It might work. And if it doesn't work, bring actual, valid concerns to your administration. Stewing in an echo chamber of rage doesn't do anyone any favors. In fact, it will just breed resentment.

6. Go to student events. Prom? Do it. Graduation? Do it. Athletic games? Do it! See your students in their natural habitat. You'd be amazed how much more wonderful students are outside of class. Kids that you never thought you got through to will come and talk to you about great memories from your room. It feels really good. Sometimes teaching is a thankless job, but if you go to places where you can get thanked, you will get thanked.

7. Adapt. Adapt to your students. Adapt to your school. Adapt to your coworkers, your room and your administration. Don't be stubborn or rigid in your teaching life. If you choose not to change, you have no one to blame but yourself when you're banging your head in frustration wondering why nothing's working. There's nothing wrong with changing things in your own special way. That's why it's adapt and not adopt.

8. Listen to your kids. Ask for their feedback. Sure, you'll get some lame things like "Let's watch more movies!" You'll get good ideas, too. You'd be amazed what kids will put in writing that they wouldn't tell you.

9. It's okay to loosen up. Discussion is great for kids. Give them some time for it. Some of my favorite days are group work days because I get to sit back and observe. Even if you're not working yourself to into an early grave, your kids can still be learning.

10. Failure is fine. Just remember to learn from your mistake and keep it from happening again. It's okay to admit to your kids that something didn't work. They appreciate when adults show how to learn from mistakes.

How are you going to stay fresh in the classroom?

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