Virtually every educator has experienced teacher burnout. We talk with Esmeralda Rodriguez (New York '15) about her experience with burnout, its connection to teacher demoralization, and how she stays inspired when the going gets tough. We bet you'll catch yourself nodding in agreement!
How would you define teacher burnout? In what ways might this feeling of “burnout” manifest?
Teacher burnout is the physical and mental stress caused by the teaching profession, which may be due to the workload, perceived lack of support, appreciation, or acceptance. At times, as teachers, we feel that we are tired, stressed, anxious, nervous, sleepless, overworked, and under-valued in the profession. This causes us to feel as though our work is unimportant.
Describe a time in your teaching career when you’ve felt burned out. What do you think contributed to this feeling?
Last year, when I was working as a dual language teacher at a public school in Manhattan, I felt that my time, contribution, efforts, and willingness to do my best were undervalued. During that time, I felt that everything I did was seen by administrators as wrong. This led me to think that maybe I was just not fit to be a teacher, which led to an imbalance in my career routines and outside work routines.
Do you see a difference between feeling “demoralized” versus feeling “burned out”? How might these differences affect teacher retention?
There is actually a connection between teacher burnout and demoralization. I feel that the reason teachers burn out is because societal attitudes may lead to us feeling demoralized. So much is expected of teachers, yet we are not supported, praised, or provided with the development we need to become the teachers that we all wish to be. Because of this, teachers experience stress that causes them to burn out and leave teaching.
What keeps you inspired year-to-year? What actions, habits, or hobbies do you engage in to stay fueled?
I had to focus on my purpose and think about the things that I love about teaching, which are my students, their parents, and our community. After that, I started to separate my work and personal life. I started to exercise and care about my diet. I took time to read books and watch TV that I like. I started to celebrate my own growth, and I was finally able to enjoy living and working in New York City. Doing these things helped me survive burnout because it helped me clarify my ideas and center myself on my own goals.
What are three high-priority routines or systems that can be developed to support a strong start to the school year?
Start thinking about what are your strengths and areas of growth are as a teacher and think about how you will work on improving your growth areas.
Read books that can help you improve practice and attend workshops that interest you.
Develop a schedule outside of work that can help you manage your time wisely.