Are you the teacher who gets to the end of the week and collapses on the lounge as soon as you get home? Or maybe you’re the teacher that starts to feel the tickle in the back of their throat and the foggine
ss of a headache in the middle of the week? I can be both, depending on the week so I know that you’re probably the same teacher that says “just a little longer…” “I just want to stay back 5 more minutes…”. We say “l won’t do any work when I get home” but leave work with a bag of marking, just in case!
Teacher burnout is becoming more prevalent. For most teachers it comes from the pressure of keeping up and the increasing demands of the teacher workload. For passionate teachers it tends to come from the guilt and worry we feel to leave our class with another teacher so we don’t take days off when we need it and tend not to ask for help. I’m the latter and while I probably will never change, I believe there are a few easy strategies to avoid burnout in teachers (or at least ease the impact!).
1. To Do Lists
Lists keep you organised but also help you prioritise what’s most important. Your to-do list will always be there and will grow each day, especially if you find it hard to say “no”. Start with the most important task and tick something off each day. Set a goal and have a friend keep you accountable and on track with your list.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel
This is the strategy I am weakest at. As a passionate and dedicated teacher I love making resources for my class and trying new things. This can sometimes mean reinventing the wheel. The reality is, there is an abundance of resources out there at the click of a button.
3. Set an alarm
If you’re like me, 5 more minutes turns into 15 more minutes and before you know it, you’ve stayed back an extra hour after work. Set an alarm for the same time every day telling yourself to “go home”. If you're someone who is likely to ignore the alarm, tee up with a grade partner or friend to check in with you every day at the same time and leave at the same time.
4. Plan your time
Most schools expect teachers to stay back for a certain amount of time after the last duty or bell so use this time to tick something off your to-do list and set up for the next day. During release time, set a realistic agenda and routine to maximise the time. Use timers to keep you and your teaching team on track.
5. Don’t take it home
Okay, so this is probably unrealistic as passionate teachers such as ourselves are always taking work home. The trick is to allocate a specific time for work. I like to leave work prep for Sunday, while others may like to do it Friday night and get it over and done with. During the week I maximise my release time, planning with my grade partner and marking so I don’t do work at home during the week. On Sunday I use the time printing or outlining my week so that all I have to do in the mornings before school is photocopy or set up technology and the room.
6. Take time for yourself each day
Often a hard thing to achieve, but one of the most important. Whether it’s sitting in the storeroom for 5 minutes in the dark at lunchtime, or soaking in the bath at the end of the day, make time for yourself. Scheduling this time often helps in a job that is dictated by bell times and learning blocks. Having a hobby is a great way to take time for you!
7. Find people you can debrief with
Venting can often turn negative, but sometimes it helps to unload, not onto someone else who understands, but with someone else. If it’s you always unloading on the same person it can turn into something quite toxic, however if it goes both ways and there is productive conversation and discussion, venting turns into debriefing. When you talk it out, you are less likely to take it home!
8. Maintain a healthy diet
When we start to get tired or stressed with work we are more likely to take the easiest and quickest path for meals. If we fall into bad habits this can mean skipping meals or ordering take out for dinner most nights. Meal prepping for breakfasts on the go and lunches for the week helps to maintain a healthy diet throughout the day for teachers. Making dinner meals and freezing them or planning out weekly meals helps save time when you get home after work.
Stress is a part of life and teaching is a challenging job. It’s important to deal with stress as it arises, rather than brushing it under the carpet or trying to avoid the problem. Have colleagues you can go to to ask for help when challenges arise at work, work with others to solve the problem, seek advice from experts, communicate and be honest with yourself and others about feelings and needs.
10. Let It Go!
While it was the theme song for the hit film Frozen, it should also become every passionate and dedicated teacher’s theme song. The reality is; we can’t control everything! As much as we’d like to think we can control everything in our teaching day, there are some things we just have to let go of. Sometimes it’s a casual teacher who hasn’t taught a lesson properly while you were away or a parent that doesn’t take your advice or even a grade partner that teaches differently. Brush it off and let it go!
Physical and mental well-being of teachers is crucial to success in schools. Often I hear “we need to think of what’s best for the kids” or “the students come first”. This is true when we are planning for teaching and learning, but without teachers, there is no one to teach students nor plan for teaching and learning. Teachers need to put themselves first!