Teacher burnout, which happens when stress and mental fatigue become more than occasional companions, strikes many thousands of teachers every year.
Reports suggest roughly half of all teachers quit within five years.
And it’s no wonder. Burnout saps joy from teaching, makes effective classroom management virtually unattainable, and infuses dread into every drive to work.
It’s also avoidable.
No matter where you teach or who your students are, you not only can protect yourself from burnout, but you can wake up every morning refreshed, excited, and ready to teach.
Lean on your classroom management plan.
The number one cause of stress among teachers is trying to convince students to behave. Lecturing, scolding, arguing, threatening, manipulating, and discussing misbehavior are all ineffective and terribly stressful.
Instead, when a student misbehaves, simply and dispassionately enforce a consequence, and then move on to more important things.
Be an early bird.
A common cause of teacher burnout is being crunched for time—time to prepare, time to organize, time to sit and gather your thoughts. The solution is simple but remarkably effective: arrive to school early and get down to business.
Don’t ease into your day. Jump in with both feet. You’ll work twice as efficiently and with fewer distractions before school than you will at any other time of the day.
Free your mind.
Being organized is the ultimate de-stressor. Just knowing where every file, set of data, and lesson idea is and how to reach them quickly will give you peace of mind and one less thing to concern yourself with.
Also, keep your room clear of needless materials, boxes, old projects, and equipment. A clutter-free classroom is not only more appealing and more conducive to learning, but gloriously freeing to your mind.
Leave school at school.
As soon as you pull your car out of the school parking lot, your workday is over. Leave it there. Although once in a while you may have to play catch up at home, those times should be rare and devoid of emotion (i.e., grading math tests).
If you’re in the habit of bringing the disappointments and dilemmas of your day home with you, then you’re on the fast track to burnout. You won’t sleep well, you’ll be less than your best for your family, and you’ll be no fun to hang out with.
Short of a daily massage, nothing will clear your head faster or more completely than exercise. 30-40 minutes most days per week is all you need to reboot the system and enjoy better energy for teaching.
Go for a brisk walk. Dance to your heart’s content. Join a swim club. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you enjoy. Steer clear of the expensive gadgets and high-octane videos you see on late-night television. They do make excellent dust gatherers.
Eat for energy.
What you eat can have a startling effect on how you feel, how you look, and how much energy you have for teaching. I recommend a simple diet of smaller meals, whole foods instead of processed, and mountains of fresh and varied fruits and vegetables.
Try to cut back or eliminate your consumption of sugar, white flour, and foods high in saturated fat. You won’t believe how much energy you’ll have or how incredible you’ll feel.
Every teacher needs down time in the evening—if only for an hour. And a good night’s sleep is a must. Teaching is one of the few professions that never lets you coast through the day—even when you’re not feeling well.
Up late the night before? Fighting a cold? Tough luck. Your students will still be there, waiting, lively as jumping beans. To match them, you need plenty of sofa-lying, good-book-reading, and blissfully-sleeping rest.
Focus on routines.
Classroom routines make everything easier, and the most effective teachers rely on them heavily.
When your students know what to do, and how to do it well, during every moment of the school day, then you’re free from the endless talking, explaining, stress, and misbehavior that affect those who are less routine-driven.
Become a classroom management expert.
Start any conversation about teaching and it’s likely to end on the topic of classroom management, because that’s what it all comes down to. If you have expert skills, and the right mindset, you’ll never be burned out.
When you have the ability to create your dream class, your students will energize you, inspire you, and make you feel like you’re exactly where you should be, doing exactly what you were meant to do.
It’s About You
Teacher burnout is not about the teaching situation you find yourself in. It isn’t about your crazy school, the unruly students on your roster, or the overloaded curriculum you’re saddled with to teach.
It’s about you.
You have the power to avoid the stress and fatigue that make you unhappy and ineffective. You have the power to create the well-behaved classroom you’ve always dreamed of. You have the power to grab hold of the rewarding, energizing career you really want—never to let it go.
Thankfully, wonderfully, it’s all in your hands.
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