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Words of Wisdom

Veteran teachers share 10 strategies to avoid classroom burnout.

Have you ever doubted your ability to be a good teacher? Felt that if one more thing went wrong you might explode? Been so weighed down by meeting your students’ needs that you didn’t think you could make it one more day in the classroom? These are all classic signs of classroom burnout, and they often occur in the first years of teaching. Perhaps you’ve even thought that you made the wrong career choice? Educators love to share teaching ideas and resources with each other, so we asked some teaching veterans to share their tips on avoiding classroom burnout.

1. Eating well and getting rest are important, and so is having a personal life outside of school. Do not bring work home with you. Try to finish your work at school. It is important to strike a balance between your home and professional life. It’s great to make a quick appearance at school events like ball games, but then leave and enjoy the rest of the evening as you choose. Keep in mind you don’t have to do everything, and you have the right to say “no”.

2. Try to go to a workshop once each semester. Even though it is a lot of work to be out of the classroom, you need a chance to recharge professionally. Always try to remember why you entered the profession. You likely thought you could make a difference in someone’s life. Investing in your own professional development will help you remain positive about what you do. Your positive attitude communicates to your students how much you care.

3. Avoid listening to other people’s gripes and complaints. They WILL let you know how they feel about school leadership, policies and directives. They will also try to recruit anyone and everyone they can to side with them. As much as possible, stay out of workplace politics. If you can also avoid the gossip mill, life will be much simpler and you will be happier.

4. Always have a folder ready to go for a substitute teacher in case of an emergency. Include free time activities with a list of guidelines and procedures for your class or school. There is nothing worse than waking up with the flu and not have anything prepared for your class.

5. Imagining that your child or another child in your family is one of the students in the classroom can help you stay positive and focused. Thinking about the kind of teacher you would want in the classroom of a child you loved can be a great help in staying focused and positive with your students.

6. Keeping up with everything is a real challenge. But if you put in a few extra hours to stay organized, you’ll be able to walk away with less stress. Staying current is the best way to avoid stress. When you do your job right, you aren’t stressed out by worrying about what you should have done differently.

7. Allow your mentors to help you solve problems. They have been where you are and understand how difficult the job can be. It’s okay to admit that you need help and to lean on others for support and insight.

8. You need to be having fun and finding joy in your work. To make it in the classroom long term, teaching has to be a good fit for your personality. If you are feeling burned out, there may be a career change or a certification change in your future.  There is nothing wrong with that. Listen to your inner voice.

9. Show interest in your students outside the classroom—in the halls or at school events. Invest one or two hours at school watching a play, chaperoning a dance, or helping with a sporting event. The “class clown” may suddenly be transformed, in your mind anyway, to the star of the show, and you can use this information to build new conversations with the “star” in class or to chat about with “Mom” before you discuss the problems his talent can cause when not reigned in, in the classroom setting. These affirming conversations go a long way toward creating a positive classroom atmosphere where less disciplinary intervention is required from the teacher, and that is one huge step toward a more fulfilling teaching career.

10. Sometimes, the solutions for burnout are right in front of us—30 some, to be specific. Our students count on us and deserve nothing less than a caring competent teacher. Sure, some days it is more of a challenge to pull off that confidence and enthusiasm, but "fake it, till you make it." And it always happens. Some child will accomplish something you did not think they would master, and your batteries are recharged, once again, and you remember why you wanted to become a teacher.

Thanks to these NEA members for contributing their wisdom for this article: Janene Groff; Vicki Evans; Matt Mertes; Sheryl Brock; Margaret Crawford-Hiebl; Jennifer Cook Miller; and Belinda McMahan.

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