10 Tips to Cool Off from Teacher Burnout
By Dr. Kevin Leichtman
We welcome a guest post from Dr. Kevin Leichtman from TLC Educate about teacher burnout and the ways you can tackle it. You can find out more about his work as an adjunct professor, former teacher and author at the end of this post.
Teaching is no easy task, especially in the heels of a global pandemic. Data continually shows an increase in burnout to a profession that has always been prone to it. Educators feel a strain to complete the ever-increasing demands of our vital work.
We all hope for global changes to education that empower educators and students alike. Many contributors to burnout are large, sweeping issues that must be faced and overcome by school boards and politicians before teachers get relief (issues like pay, class sizes, and working conditions).
However, your burnout will only increase while you wait (and hope) for those changes to take place. The most important thing any teacher can do for their career is to take steps to avoid burnout right now! There are steps you can take at this moment to protect yourself from burnout. Do not sacrifice your own health and career satisfaction waiting for change to happen. Take these ten tips to action and improve the quality of your job and life.
Tip 1: Mentorship
Every teacher should have two mentors: one within the school you teach, and one outside of your school (or even profession). Confident and capable mentors can keep you focused and optimistic. Seek out and choose your mentors wisely.
Tip 2: Self-Efficacy
A lack of self-efficacy is a strong contributor to burnout. You will always pull yourself to do more if you feel like you are not doing enough. Engage in confidence building activities and keep highlights of your growth and development. Build on your self-efficacy to beat burnout.
Tip 3: Positive Coping Mechanisms
How do you cope during challenging or frustrating situations? Many turn to harmful activities like drugs, drinking, binging on food/sweets, or binge sleeping. Your coping mechanisms either damage your health, leading to further burnout, or improve your health, making you resilient to burnout. Employ positive coping mechanisms like exercise, journaling, meditation/breathing exercises, and therapy/counseling.
Tip 4: Financial Literacy
If you work day and night, only to need to work more to pay your bills, of course you will feel burned out! Teaching is and will always be an underpaid profession, as teachers tend to do much more than they will ever be compensated for. Put time and energy into financial literacy. Know what your money is doing, how to balance your debts, and implement effective budgeting strategies. The more financial control you have, the less power burnout will have over you.
Tip 5: Physical Health
Burnout is associated with higher frequencies of physical symptoms. From common colds and flus to more complex issues like heart attacks, burnout can take a toll on your body. It is hard to feel emotionally strong when physical illness strikes. Consult your doctor regularly, take vitamins, eat well, and exercise. Make your body resilient and you will empower yourself to push back on burnout.
Tip 6: Engage in Positive Self Care Routines
Self care is active! Pick activities that give you active recovery and fuel your passions. Here is a big list of self-care activities to choose from, taken from the book "Teacher’s Guide to the Mental Edge.”
Tip 7: Feed Optimism
What do you look forward to in your profession? It is a question that we do not ask enough. More often, teachers talk about the tasks that they dread. If there is something positive we talk about, it’s a holiday or break. Remember, you joined the education field for a reason. Take time to honor those reasons and reflect on the excitement you have.
Tip 8: Seek Student Strengths
The more time you spend on student deficiencies, the more overwhelmed you will feel. This is a powerful contributor to burnout. A strengths-based pedagogy ensures that you build students up, while building yourself up in the process. Find the talents and skills that each of your students have and use those strengths to boost their confidence and ultimately, their success.
Tip 9: Avoid Isolation
Burnout becomes very dangerous when you begin to isolate yourself. As energy drains and cynicism kicks in, it will feel difficult to have conversations with peers, friends, family members, and coworkers. If you feel yourself isolating, know that it is where burnout becomes most powerful and destructive. Confide in your loved ones and push yourself away from isolation. If you feel unable to do so, therapy and/or counseling can provide a step away from isolation as well.
Tip 10: Prioritize
Burnout thrives where priorities fail. If your job becomes the “be all end all” of your life, then it becomes easier to feel overwhelmed and worn down. Write down your priorities and follow them through. Give yourself perspective in viewing your job and the role it plays in the context of the rest of your life - your family, passions, hobbies, goals, faith, service, and/or anything else important to you. Rank your priorities and spend your time on them.
These tips will get you started but it is up to you to put them to use. My wish is for every educator to enjoy a fulfilling, satisfying career with their health intact. With effort and care, you can produce those results.
Dr. Kevin Leichtman is a college adjunct professor and former grade school teacher in the United States. He received his Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University, where he studied teacher burnout. He is the author of “Teacher’s Guide to the Mental Edge” and “The Perfect Ten: Ten Students, Ten Mindsets, One New Definition of Perfection.” He co-founded tlceducate.com alongside his wife, Dr. Anala Leichtman.