The Antidote to Teacher Burnout

Last year was my most challenging year in the classroom, and one in which I came dangerously close to teacher burnout.

There were three students deaths in my high school — one to suicide, one to a car accident, and another to cancer — and each rocked the building. I took on an extra class while a colleague was on maternity leave, giving me more papers to grade with less time to do it. Also, after a two year break, I returned to coaching varsity basketball, and with it all the open gyms, offseason leagues, practices, and games that go along with coaching on that level.

Through it all, not only did it work hard to give my students my best possible self each day in the classroom, I also tried to keep up with being of service to a broader community of teachers by hosting #APLitchat each week, writing blog posts, publishing podcasts, working on a second book, and participating in online teaching communities.

At times it was invigorating, stimulating and exciting, and at other times it felt like I was treading water and gasping for air.

Something had to give.

I felt like I could do everything for so long, but finally it caught up with me.

That’s why, if you subscribe to the Talks with Teachers podcast, there was a six month gap in between episodes. It is why the next version of The Best Lesson Series is still in the works (although I am happy to say that it is nearly done!).

Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, believes that there are three tell-tale signs of burnout. They are:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Although I never reached the depths of cynicism and detachment, nor did I feel ineffective or lacked accomplishment, I did ride a roller coaster of emotions.

Reflection

This summer I spent a good deal of time reflecting on how I could continue the work I loved. I loved being in the classroom. I loved reflecting on my teaching and writing blog posts about it. I loved taking to teachers for the podcast. I loved coaching. And when those Twitter chats are rocking on a Sunday night, there’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from creating it.

If I wanted to continue doing what I loved, I knew that I needed to work smarter and more efficiently.  I had to have systems in place to maximize my satisfaction and minimize my frustrations.

As a result I developed a series of habits that serve as checks and balances in my life.

And it has made all the difference.

Writing Habit

I have been able to post on Sunday mornings without fail because I have kept the following schedule:

  • Sundays — publish and have next Sunday’s blog topic decided upon
  • Mondays and Tuesday — research on that topic
  • Wednesdays and Thursdays — Rough outline and early-stage writing
  • Fridays and Saturdays — Final draft, title, image, SEO, and email newsletter

In the past I would wait until Saturday night to start writing, and I would spend the first hour starting at  blank screen.

This schedule ensures that I am never working too hard any one day on a blog post. If I can’t do research on a Monday, I still have Tuesday to get it done. If I have a basketball workout with on Wednesdays, I can still work on a first draft on Thursdays.

Because this schedule has worked so well for me, it has opened up time for me to publish new podcast episodes as well as write guest posts for Edutopia.

The Journal Habit

I have to confess: I’ve never been good at keeping a journal… until this year.

I have tried the Bullet Journal as well as the Self Journal, I have bits of journals in several notebooks and I even purchased the Day One app. But nothing stuck. As a teacher, I didn’t like those journals that had me scheduling every hour of the day. As a classroom teacher my days were pretty routine — teaching periods, preps, and a duty.

But being reflective, thinking about who I wanted to be in the classroom, and listing the small, concrete steps I could take to get there is something that I wanted to do regularly. I just couldn’t find the right journal to do so.

So I created my own.

Each morning I spend five minutes before school writing in The Daily Teacher.

I answer three simple prompts:

  • I will make a difference by
  • I will teach my students
  • I will accomplish

At the end of the day I record the lesson that I learned, giving me a chance to reflect on what transpired in my classroom and how I can grow as a teacher and a person.

I highly recommend using The Daily Teacher. It takes minutes a day, and looking back on your classroom each day is something that is deeply satisfying.

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The Teacher Leader Habit

I once learned that the gesture Namaste is used in yoga to represent the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

I have kept that idea in my back pocket as I work as the College Board advisor for AP Lit., serve as the Lead English Teacher in my building, and try to be of service to a larger teaching community.

My goal each work day is to have one genuine and meaningful connection with another teacher so that I can learn from them, and they, in turn, might learn something from me.

It has takes many forms:

  • sitting down with a teacher in my building and talking shop
  • Sharing ideas with members of the AP Lit. Voxer community
  • Starting a conversation with another teacher on Twitter
  • Replying to a comment on a Facebook teaching community (my favorites are EdutopiaAP Literature and Composition, and 2ndary ELA)
  • Interviewing a teacher that inspires me for a future podcast episode

 

Being a reflective and connected educator has me in a state of constantly learning important things that lie beneath the surface. It enables me to be an interested person outside the classroom so that I can be interesting when I am with my students.

These three habits — writing, journaling, and connecting — are what have given me renewed energy at a pivotal point in my career.

Great Ideas Are Coming Your Way!

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One thought on “The Antidote to Teacher Burnout

  1. Thanks Brian. I was able to stay engaged and happy in the classroom through the Northern Virginia Writing Project network. Talking, sharing, writing and learning from invigorated peers kept the classroom fresh and intriguing. The network transcended the politics of the building and kept me focused on helping students find their voice and passion. Also, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and downtime!

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