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5 Ways to Tackle Teacher Burnout

Teacher burnout is real. Fortunately, there are tactics and tools to help you thrive and feel energized while changing lives in the classroom.

January 23, 2020

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

If you feel cynical, wiped out, and overwhelmed, you could be experiencing burnout. And it’s not just affecting you: Burnout can affect even the most high-performing and productive teachers in the workforce.

What’s important for teachers to understand is that in the mission-driven, high stakes world of education, these feelings happen to so many people, but there are tried-and-true tactics that can help you address burnout. Here are a few of the ways you can tackle burnout.

Identify Your Strengths

 What gives you energy? What drives and empowers you? Think hard about the strengths and traits that sustain, energize, and engage you in the classroom. Whether these are art and creativity, technology, humor, or social and emotional development, take an inventory and find ways to infuse them into your daily lesson planning.

When examining your strengths and passions, take into account the classroom activities that have always come easiest to you, or the lessons you always return to, in contrast to those which zap your energy and patience. 

As educators, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others, whether it’s in terms of teaching styles or just how another educator’s room looks. However, keep in mind that the strengths and talents you possess are authentically yours, and the enthusiasm you have for them is infectious and will motivate you and your students.

Seek Out Experts

For school leaders looking to implement structures that address burnout staff-wide, there are consultants and companies that can help. One example is Julia King Pool (Chicago ’08), a former longtime educator and Teach For America alum who, after leaving the classroom, became founder and CEO of Burn-in Mindset, a consulting company whose mission is to advance the science and practice of educator and student well being. 

The program invites principals and five of their teachers to participate in one-on-one consulting and individualized coaching. Each teacher and school leader participates in directed activities shaped by positive psychology, with the goal of developing a team of expert early adopters who will model desired behaviors for their colleagues.

To give your students as well as yourself an added dose of Zen, you can also consider partnering with a yoga or mindfulness program in your area that brings yoga to the classroom, like the alum-founded Zen Works Yoga.

Practice Mindfulness (With Technological Help)

Incorporating breathing and mindfulness techniques are excellent ways to quiet students' minds and your own. Studies have shown that taking a few sips of breath every day can lower blood pressure and help you stay present when times get tough. Thankfully there are apps to help. 

Headspace has partnered with Teach For America to offer no-cost subscriptions to its award-winning app. All TFA corps members and alumni educators are provided free annual subscriptions and free renewals to Headspace. Experience how meditation can help you stress less, focus more, and even sleep better. Get started today. 

Calm is one of the most popular mindfulness and meditation apps. It’s also free for teachers in K-12 classrooms. Sign up to get free access to Calm’s subscription service and access a vast library of guided meditations, mindfulness exercises, and soothing tunes to keep feeling calm and blissful or even put you to bed. Through the Calm Students Initiative, teachers can opt-in to receive best practices to introduce mindfulness to the classroom as well.

Interview a Veteran Teacher

Everyone has that peer, mentor, or friend whose work ethic and stamina they admire. Seek out someone who is amazing at teaching and who has worked over the long term at your school. Ask them questions such as: What do you like about your work? What sustains you? How do you stay optimistic? What gives you energy? What gives you a sense of self-efficacy? Be open and honest about the challenges you’re facing, in the classroom and in fighting burnout. 

Learning from other educators firsthand is not only a grounding experience, but can also help validate the challenges you’re facing in the classroom. After all, it feels good to be heard, and know that you’re not alone.

Avoid Thinking Traps

It's easy for us to get stuck inside our heads. And before we know it, we've created a new angst-filled narrative within minutes. Thinking traps are exactly that: inaccurate, negative thinking patterns that aren't true most of the time. Popular traps include fortune-telling or predicting an activity will go wrong before it starts. Catastrophizing makes you believe that if something has gone wrong during your lesson that the whole unit will be ruined. A parent may become upset, and you start blaming yourself for the entire experience; that's called personalizing.

Try to take the time to live in the present, and label these moments and thoughts appropriately as unlikely projections before they develop and get out of hand. 

Those on the frontlines of education know--teaching is stressful and the stakes are high. That said, you are never alone. There will be times you feel overwhelmed, and consulting a mental health specialist can provide crucial support and help that you can't get on your own. 

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