While many people from the outside looking in tend to believe teachers live the “easy life” because we have holidays off, random snow days and let’s not forget the forever mentioned, “but you have the whole summer.” Teacher burnout is real, especially when it comes to these first few weeks/months of school. Teaching is not only a physically and mentally demanding job, but it is also an emotionally demanding job. Just because I walk out of my classroom door or I can push that grading until tomorrow my worry, care and concern for my students does not turn off.
Today I am officially through 1/3 of my second year of teaching and as the trimester started to come to a close I couldn’t help but to reflect on the 12 weeks prior. I would be lying if I said they were anything of ease. They were trying, they were tiring and honestly some were filled with things I would never expect to experience this early in my career. Without going into detail lets just put it this way… For the first time ever in my life I actually took a “mental health day.” This isn’t to say I was ready to throw in my teaching towel, not one bit. I just needed a day to reset, refocus and try to let my head wrap around some situations that had occurred.
These last several weeks I have truly seen and felt the importance of taking care of yourself. I am a person who struggled with that. I put others first, myself last, and its just the way I operate and what I enjoy. However, as life was piling up at school I saw how detrimental not taking care of yourself can be. Most people around me would have had no idea I was struggling, I have perfected the “smile and wave” bit (Madagascar reference anyone?). Yet, on the inside I was not okay. I believed that if I just kept pushing I would be able to ignore what was happening thus it would just disappear. So what did I do? I kept pushing. Pushing to the point where it was a struggle to get out of bed. Pushing to the point where I was going through the motions of my day just waiting for it to end. Pushing to the point where I had to take a day off. Fun fact, it did not just disappear. It built up more. Through this experience and the situations that occurred I feel confident in saying I hit a “growth spurt” in my career.
I learned that: the work will be there tomorrow, it’s important to have a good team beside you, leaving school after dark does not get you bonus points, but most importantly… my kids are my reason I wake up and show up day after day. So, if I am not healthy, I cannot be all I need to be for them. If I am not caring for myself, I cannot give them all the care they deserve. I used to think that putting time into myself meant I was being selfish, but I have quickly realized that this is not the case. By putting time into myself I am refilling my tank so that I can be sure I am able to refill theirs.
Burnout is described as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Perfectionism is a trait which is like a double edged sword. Many teachers I know carry this trait and because of it do not take much time to rest and recuperate as they are always yearning for better or more from themselves, for their kids. However, this does not just stand true for teachers alone. It stands for anyone with a high achiever personality who is always looking to improve. Being a workaholic is usually looked at as a commendable trait and I am certainly not one to talk as saying no to taking more on my plate is not something I know how to do.
So what are some signs you are burnt out?
Here are a few according to Western Governors University (WGU):
- Fatigue and sleep issues
- Repeated periods of forgetfulness
- Intense trouble concentrating
- Appetite and weight issues (loss or gain)
- Depression and anxiety
Developing ways to avoid burnout is important for several reasons. However, we often hear that it starts with creating some sort of balance in your life. Easier said than done though right? I think so. In my opinion it is not about balance. I mean, I can make an argument for all things in my life of why they deserve to be ranked high and require attention. One of my most favorite things I ever heard was not to find balance, but to find harmony.
Balance is defined as an even distribution or a way to compare the value of one thing to another. Harmony is defined as internal calm. To avoid burnout, it is not about deciding what things take precedence over another, it is about finding a calm in everyday that we face, with all that we have before us. While this will certainly still include eliminating things from our days, this idea of harmony brings forth a new perspective in how we can look at things.
- Fully unplug
- Take a vacation/staycation
- Know your breaking point
- Schedule free time
- Change your environment
- Turn to other people
- Limit contact with negativity
- Connect with a cause or community group that is important to you
- Find value in your work
- Reevaluate priorities
- Set boundaries
- Nourish your creative side
- Get sleep/take a nap
- Watch what you eat
Whatever it is. Whatever it takes. Make sure you take the time for you to do it. For me, I found harmony in my why- my students. Even on the days I would like to shake the silly out of them, I love them with all of my heart. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They make me crazy. (and have even noticed a few grey hairs!) But they keep me going. As teachers we are looked at as the ones who have impacts on our students, but I think it is safe to say that my students are not even aware of the impact they have on me. If you are feeling your own sort of burnout right now or whenever it is that may be, it is my hope for you that you find your sense of harmony, your calm and start to feel renewed.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”