Research and Reflections
Part 3 of Teacher Happiness

Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Steer clear of these 3 practices

In my last post, I discussed a few ways to increase your sense of fulfillment as a teacher. I also want to acknowledge that the current chaos of the teaching profession is a real thing that many of us deal with on a day-to-day basis. In this post, I will highlight a few things to avoid as a teacher, with the hope of encouraging you to stick it out as best you can in spite of the chaos. These three behaviors are sure to zap your energy and dampen your attitude as a teacher if left unchecked. As such, the following are practices and mindsets to avoid. 

1. Working Excessively After Work Hours 

During my first year of teaching, I would bring work home and sometimes grade essays after 9 p.m. I would also wake up sometimes at 4 a.m. to do lesson plans. I was getting work done, but my emotional, physical, and mental health were all suffering. After losing almost 15 pounds that year and getting very sick, I resolved not to bring work home with me. I’ve stuck to that promise to myself since then. The teachers that I know who work after hours are successful in their practice, but I also fear that other parts of their lives are suffering because of it. They are tired and burned out. They are also disgruntled at work. That was me. My friends barely saw me and my health suffered. There were several times when I would come to work and cry shortly after arriving because I was burned out. Hard work is a skill that has immense value, but overworking is not sustainable and will hurt you rather than help you in the long run. 

2. Complaining about the Profession

Teaching is hard. I get it. You would have to travel very far, probably to another universe, to find a teacher who would not admit that teaching is hard. Life is hard. It is healthy to be realistic about difficulties and to be vulnerable about the challenges, but complaining about your job, your administrators, your bad students, and the unearthly workload will only make you and the person you’re talking to more miserable. 

It takes energy to complain. It takes focus to constantly find fault. Why not channel that energy into finding creative solutions, taking yourself less seriously, or investing in other areas of your life instead? We complain because we want to be overly validated. We think it’ll make us feel better. Your time, energy, and focus are too precious to waste them on having fruitless negative conversations. I say this because I’ve done this. I’ve complained about administrators, students, and being tired, and I suffered because of it. It didn’t help me; in fact, I think it actually made matters worse. When I started to shift my perspective of my circumstances, not only did my attitude improve, but my effectiveness at work improved too. 

3. Tying Your Identity to Your Job

Being an educator is an important job, but it is not who you are or where your value comes from. When we tie our identities to our profession, the highs and lows of the job are directly tied to how we view ourselves.

This is a constant struggle for me, but one I am fully engaged in fighting against. The truth is, education is a flawed and broken system. Our students are individuals who have free will and don’t naturally use that free will for good. It’s a capricious atmosphere and a shaky foundation. 

As I’ve begun to realize this more and more, it has helped me to healthily disconnect who I am as a person from what I do as a service and a profession. Our jobs are not meant to give us identity or value. Our jobs are meant to give us a productive atmosphere where we can be of service to those who need it. To base who I am on my job as an educator leaves me insecure and disheartened each time I make a mistake or face a failure. Instead, I am learning to see being an educator as a tool for growth and a way to make change in the world. This helps me to take the pressure off of myself and focus instead on growing and becoming the best teacher I can become, over time. 

Our jobs as educators have the potential to make or break us as people. We each have the responsibility to form the proper mindset in regard to our professions. This will ensure a positive impact on our well-being or a negative one if we don’t make informed decisions and productive actions for ourselves. As more and more people leave the profession, it is my hope that those of us who choose to say will become happier and wiser and, in turn, become the change we want to see.

2 thoughts on “Avoiding Teacher Burnout

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your own experiences regarding burn out and for seeking to help other teachers grappling with burn out.

    1) I agree that we collectively need to address overworking as an accepted part of working in the education sector of the work force. I find that so many of my teacher friends feel guilty if they leave work on time or didn’t get to x,y, and z that they brought home because he/she is feeling swamped by the overwhelming demands placed upon them at work. I am working so hard to improve my work-life balance because time with my family and little ones is precious, but there are times that deadlines are looming and it definitely spills over and impacts my health negatively. It’s a work in progress.

    Also, I think when we take so much home with us, we mask how much work can actually be completed during the work week. For example, at my last district, I had a caseload of over 60 students with three self contained classrooms. I was taking so much work home with me and was struggling to stay afloat. When I took my maternity leave, the new SLP quit within a week. After they had trouble finding someone to fill the position and I accepted another job at a different district, they created two positions to cover my position. Sometimes when we are working overtime we act as the band aid to coverup issues of resources being stretched thin.

    2) I am definitely one to find the silver lining in things, but I think we need to be careful of promoting toxic positivity. Our district has embraced Yale’s RULER program to support mental health of staff and students alike. I like how the RULER program teaches people to recognize their energy levels and feelings of pleasantness using a mood meter to map out how they are feeling first to label the emotion without judgment and then figure out a tool to use based on that feeling. When people feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel and feel supported by their communication partners, they feel safe. I have seen coworkers share that they are feeling overwhelmed with a certain task, and others have also shared feeling overwhelmed. Those teachers were vulnerable, felt less isolated, and together they collaborated to make that task a little easier. When we share what we are struggling with, we can get support and support others who are in the same boat.

    3)I feel that being a speech therapist is a huge part of my identity. To support others with their communication so each individual has a voice feels like my calling, and my values are what drove me towards this profession. I have worked hard to leave behind a fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset where I allow myself to view your “mistakes” as opportunities to learn both professionally and personally. I do feel that I have a very supportive principal who is very supportive and who also adopts a growth mindset which has been so helpful for myself and other teachers at our school.

  2. Loved the part when the article discusses how teachers will become happier and wiser and, in turn, become the change we want to see.

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About the Author: Kourtney Fullard is a woman who is motivated by Jesus’ love. It is what infuses her teaching and influences her writing. She has taught in inner-city schools for the last 4 years as an English teacher with a primary focus on educating students in character and content. She also spends time writing on emotional wellness from a biblical perspective on her blog Kourtney’s mission is to help her students and all people tap into their fullest God-given potential. She does this with care, tenderness, and a bit of humor.