The struggle is real. Teacher burnout is a reality. All over the country, teachers are tired, frustrated, stressed and leaving the profession. After only a few years, talented teachers are walking out. Don't let this be you! Yes, teaching is tough, but so are YOU! Whether you are a new teacher or a long-time teacher, I hope these tips will help you to love your job and decrease the stress.
Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout
1. Don't compare yourself to every other teacher.
Thanks to Pinterest and social media, it is difficult not to compare yourself to other teachers. But comparing yourself to others will quickly kill your joy for teaching. Just looking at beautiful classroom pictures does not tell the whole story. Just because they have an organized space, does not mean they have meaningful relationships with their students. Just because they took pictures of a fun and engaging activity, does not mean they don't have behavior management challenges. As teachers, we all have our strengths, but we all have weaknesses too. The thing is, we rarely take pictures that show our weaknesses! So when you see a picture of what looks like a perfect classroom- don't forget that they have skeletons somewhere! There is no such thing as a perfect teacher.
2. Plan ahead.
Last minute lesson planning and prep leads to so much teacher stress! It can be hard to get ahead when you feel like you are drowning, but it is possible. It is easier to work in batches rather than working on one week at a time. For example, sit down one afternoon and plan your social studies units for the next month or two. The next afternoon, devote your time to planning your math centers. It will be a tough week, but when you finish- you will be so happy! You don't have to plan each week on Sunday night. Instead, you set aside an hour or two each week to continue planning and prepping out. When the copy machine breaks on a Monday morning, you won't be in tears. It will also give you time to look for resources when you have gaps.
3. Don't grade everything.
Grading hundreds of papers every week is enough to make anyone want to quit their job! You don't have the time or the need to grade everything! I am going to let you in on a little secret, but don't tell ANYONE! Here goes...I sometimes throw away entire stacks of student work. Yup. When no one was looking, I chucked them. And no one ever asked me about it. No one cared.
Now I know that we can't just throw away all of the papers. We do need grades for those report cards. We do want to check our students' understanding and communicate their progress with parents. You will have to grade assessments from time to time. For this reason, I set a side a time one afternoon per week for grading.
There are other ways to check understanding and/or get scores besides grading mounds of papers.
- Trade and Grade: After students complete a simple assessment (such as multiple choice exit tickets or math facts), have them trade with a shoulder partner and grade it for you.
- Parent Volunteers: Email your families and see if anyone would be willing to grade spelling tests, math facts, worksheets, etc.
- Informal Assessments: Everything doesn't have to be done on paper. Put a problem on the board and have students solve it on their white boards. You can walk around with a clip board and check off students who have met the standard. You can also watch students complete activities on white boards, with math manipulatives or in math interactive notebooks during guided small group time.
- Participation: Sometimes, you just need to give students a participation grade! Were they on task? Did they complete the work?
If you are looking for some more ways to quickly check for student understanding without creating more grading for yourself, check out this post:
4. Don't take school work home with you. And don't sneak back to school, when you should be at home!To some of you, this may sound unrealistic. Trust me! You work so hard at school. When you are at home you need to be able, to focus on you and your family. If you give up hobbies and time with those you love, you will burn out so quickly! I am speaking from experience! During my first two years of teaching, I spent every weekend at the school and carried home multiple bags of stuff that needed to be done before coming back to school. I was exhausted and miserable. I came very close to quitting my job. During my third year, I decided that things had to change. I refused to go to school during my time off and I only brought home a few things- such as laminating and writing samples. By making this decision to take back my life, I forced myself to be more intentional and focused at school. I learned to organize my time better and prioritize. The outcome was a much happier teacher! Here are some tips that helped me to take back my personal life:
- Make a schedule for your week. I reserved Mondays for cleaning up and organizing. On Tuesdays, I would grade necessary papers. I decided to lesson plan on Wednesday. Then I could make my copies on Thursday. On Friday, I would update my grades from the week. I would set aside any plan period time and an hour of after school time to complete these tasks. The schedule kept me so organized!
- Keep social time at work to a minimum. I love my coworkers, but I had to be careful that I didn't spend so much time talking to them that I was giving up time with my family. I didn't want to give up these important friendships (because they make work more fun!), but I had to protect my time. So I decided to eat lunch with my coworkers, but to lock my door during plan time and after school. I know that it sounds harsh, but time is so valuable!
- Choose classroom decor and bulletin boards that can stay up most of the year! I have just one board that I change each quarter. Otherwise, everything in my room stays put for the year. I might switch out an anchor chart or the vocabulary words, but otherwise, I am not wasting time doing any redecorating.
- Ask for help! I sent out an email and asked if there were any parents who would be willing to make copies for me. I had a sweet mom agree to come in every Wednesday morning for 30 minutes. I knew that she was coming and would have things prepared for her. It was an easy way for her to feel like she was helping without giving up a ton of her time. It was win win! You could ask a volunteer to grade papers or even plan the next holiday party! I know that this isn't possible for everyone, but you never know unless you ask.
- Collaborate with another teacher on your team. You have to be careful with this. It is important that you are collaborating with someone you trust and know has similar teaching philosophies as you. Otherwise, the collaboration will be a source of stress. I found a teammate and we split the planning and prep. I did the math and science planning and prep. She focused on the reading and writing prep. Then we shared our lesson plans. We even made the copies for each other! It made my life so much easier!
5. Try something new in your classroom.
I have found that one of the best ways to bring back the joy of teaching, is to try a new activity, schedule or strategy. Don't change everything! That would be stressful! But if there is something you have been interested in, give it a go. Maybe you want to add some interactive notebooks into your math block or you could start book clubs with your readers. Have you thought about experimenting with math centers or using brag tags? I say- go for it! Bring back that excitement that you had when you first started teaching! The best part is that your students will get excited too!
Teaching is tough, but so are you. Our students need amazing teachers. We have to find ways to manage the stress and the responsibilities so that we are not burning out and leaving the profession! I challenge you to make a list right now of three things you can do right away to fend off the negative feelings and exhaustion that teaching has created. What three things will help you take back your personal life and bring back your joy for teaching? Just start with three for now. It's all about balance! We can do this!