On Teacher Burnout

I was a teacher for 30 years… well technically just over 29 years of service according to the retirement board, but close enough. I am still working to support teaching and learning in a community college.

At multiple times over my career, I experienced burn-out. I know it well. I empathize with those who are still working in k-12.

I am going to share strategies that helped me avoid burnout for the last two decades of my career. Please do not assume I am recommending these to anyone. Please do not assume I am blaming anyone for being burned out. My sole purpose in writing this blog is to share these strategies that worked for me. I also must admit these did not prevent me from being frustrated (no, I was pissed off) by what I saw happening to the schools about which I cared, and I left many schools after adopting these strategies.

In general, my approach to avoiding burnout focused on three strategies:

1) Leave the “busy work” at work. The first year our school imposed a pay cut several of us decided to stop taking work home to grade. (Actually, the superintendent announced in the newspaper the budget contained no money for pay raises, before negotiations were complete; she—of course—kept her pay raise that “had been negotiated.”) Grading is one of the stressful parts of being a teacher, and the interesting outcome is that several of us adopted much different assignments and grading. We gave fewer assignments and (I was a math teacher at the time) more complex problems.

2) Do the “fun” parts of teaching at home. We all entered teaching for a reason. We value what we teach, and we enjoy the challenge of helping others connect with what we value. If you are going to think about work at home, make sure it is something you enjoy. Read, think, plan—but don’t include learning outcomes or assessments in your plans. Learn about your field and think about how to share it.

3) Find others who will push you. I was lucky enough to find a couple of different groups of educators who were like-minded and accepted me into their community and pushed me to get better. These professionals (some of whom are still my colleagues, but on social media).

I am not sure my strategies will work today. Education has changed. Education is under attack. Perhaps my strategies will help someone, but I am not optimistic.