It’s the end of the year, students’ desks are empty, the playground is a ghost town and the hallways are extremely quiet. You’re exhausted all the time and have just enough energy to organize your classroom, signaling the school is out for the summer. Now, teachers, picture this. It’s the first Monday of the summer break, and you have no motivation or energy to get out of bed. You’re tired. You’re more than tired. You’re confused, overwhelmed. Why is that? Why doesn’t it feel like summer? Because you’ve burned yourself out. Teacher burnout is real.
Teacher burnout is real. It’s the talk of the summer on a global level. Teacher burnout is an extreme form of chronic stress that negatively impacts teachers physically, mentally and emotionally. This is regardless of whether they are experienced at or passionate about their jobs. 1 out of 4 teachers see their jobs as highly stressful, and in another study, 46% of teachers report high stress on a daily basis during the school year. That’s not a good sign, is it?
FOLLOWING THE SIGNS
Teacher burnout has become a modern-day second pandemic. Although it was happening long before the current COVID-19 pandemic, over the last two years, it has accelerated and many more teachers suffer from it. However, teacher burnout is something that can be easily avoided or recovered from. How? It’s easier to avoid or remedy when you know the signs you need to keep an eye out for.
1 - Physically tired and having sleep issues
Are you exhausted even if you sleep for a very rare full eight hours and hesitate to get out of bed for hours, maybe even days? Do you sleep any free minute you get? Or are you having trouble sleeping even though you’re exhausted? Both are extremes and signs of physical fatigue. Any unusual tiredness or sleep patterns can be due to stress or burnout.
2- Emotional and Mental Fatigue
Are you finding yourself taking sick days to avoid work? Are you anxious non-stop? And when you’re not, you’re low on energy from the first hour of your day? Then you could be experiencing emotional exhaustion. And if you avoid it or brush it off at its early stage, and continue pushing yourself, the burnout can intensify into feelings of anxiety and depression. Your mental and emotional health and well-being should never be compromised. Always speak to a doctor if you notice that your feelings of sadness or other emotional states are affecting your daily life.
3- Negative attitude and mindset
We’ve all had moments when we feel “triggered” or “set off”. But if it gets frequent and you notice that you’re more irritated or frustrated than usual, especially around students or colleagues, it can be a red flag. These moments can shift your mindset and give you a pessimistic attitude and outlook towards work – or life – without you realizing it. The next thing you know, you start complaining about everything, feeling resentment towards the demands of your job, other people’s behavior and the choices they make.
4- Overwhelmed and underappreciated
So much to do, so little time. Am I right? Teachers can get extremely overwhelmed when there’s not enough hours in the day to get the job done and also have enough time to rest and live their lives. Teachers feel overwhelmed when there aren’t enough hours in the day to maintain a healthy work and life balance. One of the underlying causes of feeling overwhelmed is not feeling appreciated. When teachers feel like all the work and energy they put in isn’t paying off, being recognized or compensated. This can also lead to resentment of school staff, their school, their job or even themselves.
5- Loss in all its forms
Have you lost interest in things that used to make you happy? Loss is the most common sign of teacher burnout, and it can be anything and everything. From loss of creativity and imagination, to lack of patience or enthusiasm. You could also lose the motivation or drive to keep teaching. The most common reason teachers leave teaching for good is stress. This is the strongest sign that you are burned out and need to rectify it before things get worse.
6- Self Isolation
Do you feel like staying at home alone and not going to work? Do you feel like shutting out the world and the people in your life? Are you avoiding social interactions and events with friends or family? Self isolation is a big sign of the stress you feel from your daily life. Having a deep desire to be alone and have nothing but peace and quiet and staying in your own little bubble. This is when you know that you’ve exerted all your energy which caused the extreme and immediate need to isolate. Take action before it leads to teacher burnout.
7- Brain fog
When you’re running on empty, you can become more forgetful, misplace things and unable to concentrate for long stretches of time. A lack of regular sleep patterns can amplify these symptoms even more.
SUMMER RECOVERY TIME
Now that you’re familiar with the signs, make sure to always check in and be more self aware of your emotional and physical state to identify any of the signs. Once you identify the signs, you’ll be able to remedy the situation easier. Here are some of the ways you can recover from teacher burnout this summer.
1- Sleep and self care
Sleep! You cannot recharge your body or even your state of mind without it. Sleep is a top priority when you’re burned out. Set intentional bedtimes, wake-up times and naps if necessary. A strict schedule can help reset your internal clock. Practice self care and hydrate your body. Hydrating and fueling up is key. Teachers often get dehydrated which leads to fatigue and brain fog among many other effects that eventually lead to burnout. Water is amazing and it does wonders for your body.
2- Establish your own work life balance
Teachers tend to be excellent caregivers and that can work against them sometimes. It’s in their nature to do more and take on more responsibility. Don’t add extra pressure and overextend yourself. Be good to yourself. Avoid taking on more than you can handle and don’t make your life revolve around work. Know your limits and set clear boundaries between your work and your life. Set your office hours and stick to them at all times. Practice time management and restraint to help you achieve your perfect work-life balance.
3- Relational recovery; focus on your relationships
It’s very tempting to avoid social events or spend more time with loved ones when we’re physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. At least for me it is. Sometimes I just want to cancel plans with friends, go home and sleep early. But did you know that spending time with friends or family helps you recharge? Yup! Not only that, but it gives you a chance to reconnect and catch up with the people you love. So don’t forget to plan a coffee date with your sibling or a dinner with some of your close friends. Be like a butterfly and socialize.
4- Shift your mindset; positive vibes only
This might just be one of the hardest tips to implement. Shutting off negative thoughts or anxious feelings is harder than it looks, especially when you’re completely drained, riddled with worry and filled with anxiety. But focus on the good; be it the good memories you had or the new ones you’ll make this year. When you feel hopeless, worried or negative thoughts are creeping in, shift your perspective and turn negative into positive. It’s harder than it looks, but not impossible.
Remember why you started teaching, what you love about it. Remember the love you have for each and every one of your students. Remember that all bad things will eventually pass. Journaling, creative activities like painting or playing an instrument can shift your mindset. Also, like attracts like. So surround yourself with positive people – at work, and out of it.
5- Exercise; body, mind and soul
Our body is listening to what we think and say. When you feel burned out, you have no energy or motivation to move, let alone exercise. But that’s exactly when you should push yourself. Make time to stay regularly active. Avoid the “couch potato” syndrome. Do some gardening, walk your dog, practice yoga, ride a bike or go for a jog. You’ll thank yourself later.
Physical recovery aside, don’t forget to tend to your mental health and do things that feed your soul. Emotional recovery is just as important. Make time for the people and the hobbies you love. When was the last time you watched your favorite movie? Or read a new book collecting dust on your shelf? Or picked up a paintbrush? Teachers are extremely busy throughout the year that they hardly find time for all these fun things. They end up with a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out). But this is the time to change that.
6- Keep on learning
Some of the teachers that I know are also students in life who love to learn. Try something new this summer. Read your favorite teacher blogs. Listen to new audiobooks or podcasts. Take an online summer course or workshop. Take up a new hobby. Exercise your mind like we talked about before. Expand your education in the areas you’re interested in. Who knows, you might find a new passion along the way, besides teaching.
7- Reflection and looking forward go together
Take some time this summer to rewind and remind yourself of all the good moments of the past school year. Allow yourself to reflect back on your accomplishments over the past year before moving forward into new goals and challenges. There are many places opening up again all over the world, and schools may go back to traditional classroom environments or hybrid learning. Regardless, there will always be challenges and obstacles entering a new school year. Mentally preparing yourself for any challenges you can anticipate can help you in the fall. Connect back to your passion and reason for why you became a teacher. Then create your lesson plan for the next school year with a positive and fresh perspective.
It’s safe to say that teachers have one of the most challenging jobs out there. Working hard and actively searching for ways to improve our commendable traits of many teachers. However, it could also lead to the need for perfection and leaves little to no time for rest or relaxation.
A long day of teaching can make anyone feel really tired. So imagine doing it day in, day out. Doesn’t look pretty, does it? I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it, so I commend every single teacher for going through it.
So, when you find yourself burning out in mid-June, and the summer heat is not the only cause, just know that you are not alone. Many educators suffer from teacher burnout but with the help of these tips, you can easily get back up on your feet, in time for the new school year. Taking time for yourself during the summer will allow you to make even more time for your students during the school year. I believe that the best medicine for teacher burnout is a summer vacation. Reset, relax and renew your passion for teaching over the summer.