You wake up one morning sweaty, out of breath and with a throbbing headache. You take every pain medicine available, but you still feel like crap. Determined to finish out the school year strong, you continue to teach until the last day of school. Despite your optimism you still cannot "shake" the feeling that maybe teaching is not the career you can stay in for the long run. You find yourself feeling:
- under appreciated for the work and hours you put in the classroom
- confused about expectations and priorities of your ever changing jobs
- concerned about job security with education budgets being slashed
- overcommitted with the ever changing responsibilities of a teacher
- resentful about duties that are not properly compensated
If you feel like this, you may be experiencing teacher burnout.
Not only is teacher burnout a real condition, during the last months of school it can seem like a insurmountable feeling to overcome. During the last eight weeks of school this is traditionally the time when teacher burnout is alive and kicking down our door. We not only feel physically tired from all of the end of the year shenanigans, but we are mentally burned out.
We start to do the following just to make it through the day:
- It takes us longer to get out of bed in the morning and by night fall we're falling a sleep on the couch.
- We grimace at the thought of having to stay after school extra days to grade papers.
- You get annoyed by the littlest things that occur in your classroom.
- You find yourself using your planning period to search for jobs OUT of education.
With teachers knowing, recognizing and experiencing burnout, we still find ourselves barely hanging on to our sanity by the last day of school. So the age old question remains -- how can teachers take these last couple of days of school and make them their best?
1. Decide what's important to finish the school year strong.
How many teachers have been in this predicament? You have exactly 20 assignments ( a mixture of homework and projects) that you have to grade before you can close out your grade book. You're staying up all night just to get them graded and many times are walking into the schoolhouse "cross-eyed" due to lack of sleep. When you get to your class your's irritated and you're going through two to three red pens a day by the amount of grading you're doing. So what do you do?
I recommend to take a "step back" and decide what's important. If all of the graded work is homework does it make sense to grade every single piece of it? Would it be better to choose a couple of homework assignments to randomly grade and focus on higher weighted assignments? If you have a little longer left in school and want to assign homework, but don't have the time to grade it, would it be better to assign homework from an online system that will instantly grade it for you like Study Island, USA Test Prep or Carnegie Learning? The point of grading is to give feedback to students, but many times if you get behind in grading that short window of time when feedback is effective can be lost . So to avoid predicaments like this, try to organize your time and be selective with your grading.
2. Plan activities in the summer that have NOTHING to do with school.
Toward the end of the year, it never fails, I start to receive emails about summer opportunities for me to teach summer school or lead a summer program. While the pay seems great, I always reply "no" because I realize that all money is not good money. You see I use my eight weeks in the summer to do what I like to do. Sometimes I decide to run a half marathon or take swim lessons, while other times I elect to sit on my porch and just relax. Whether I plan a summer full of activities or a decide to just relax, I realized years ago that teachers need to take the summer to work on their dreams and ambitions.
The ideas seems so simple, but after servicing children (and their parents) for 200 days straight, all educators need a break. The break should have nothing to with education and should allow us to relax our brains for a moment. I usually recommend that teachers try not to work during the summer and instead use that time rejuvenate their love for education. That may mean being at home and watching reruns of "Breaking Bad" or spending your time catching up on our recreational reading. I've watched co-workers of mine, use the summer to do recreational things such as running marathons, traveling over the world or taking on a totally new career. As you plan your summer think about that and use your time to rejuvenate your ind and soul.
3.Reflect on what you've learned this school year.
A couple of days after school is out, our minds are still spinning about what happened during the last 180 days of instruction. Many times while we're grimacing about situations that weren't so wonderful, we are also smiling about all of the things that were awesome. So instead of letting those experiences die, why not take time to journal how your school year actually went? The only way to became a better practitioner is to reflect in your time in the classroom. So use this summer to journal what worked well in your classroom and the areas that you need to work on for the following school year. Maybe you spent too much time at your school and you need to schedule more time for you to work on yourself. Reflection is a powerful self awareness tool so schedule out a few hours a day to reflect and renew your mental state.
4. Realize that the shenanigans with closing out the end of the year have nothing to do with you as an educator.
How many times have we had an angry parent want a conference on the last day of school to discuss a grade or worse, to demand more work in order for their child to pass. While experiencing these harrowing incidents with parents, your principal or other co-workers, it's important to realize that craziness is bound to happen at the end of every year. The difference is how you respond to it. For example, whenever I'm confronted with a parent who is upset about a grade, I always bring all of my "artifacts" that I've collected from trying to help their child. If a parent gets too intense during the conference, then I always excuse myself and let my administration handle the parent. The point is, I realize that the end of the year is stressful for parents, teachers, students and administrators so anything done during that time, I don't take personally.
In the end, teacher burnout is real and in order to overcome it you have to employ some strategies for your mental and physical health. To read The Educator's Room first published book, Keep the Fire Burning: Avoiding Teacher Burnout, please click here.