In order to show up for our students, we need to show up for ourselves. It is our duty as teachers to try and fill our students with knowledge, but when we are running low on energy and feeling depleted this is nearly impossible to do effectively. It is during these times that we must remind ourselves that we cannot pour from an empty cup. Teacher burnout is real. Regardless of whether you are an online or brick and mortar teacher the early mornings and long days can leave you feeling spent. No matter how much you love your students there will be periods of time during your career when your fuel tank runs dry and you need to take a step back. When we begin to feel this way it is a signal that something needs to change and very often that we need to reexamine our priorities. Whether you are reading this blog pre-emptively or are looking for ways to get yourself out of a funk I hope you find these tips and tricks to avoiding teach burnout helpful.
1) Recognize the Signs.
There is no shame in teacher burnout, trust me, we have all been there! What is important is to pay attention to the signs and the emotions that cause us to fatigue and learn how to counteract them. Fight the urge to keep pushing through and allow yourself to slow down. Pay attention to what is happening in your body. Are there particular times of the year where you begin to feel more tired or overwhelmed? Is there a certain time of day when your stress level rises? This is all-important information. If you can recognize what is triggering these emotions (mounting deadlines, particular students, personal relationships etc.) then you can more effectively face them and find solutions. For example, if you notice you feel most anxious right before the start of a class with a new student then you can intentionally carve out time to sit quietly 15 minutes before class and do something that relaxes you such as deep breathing exercises, sitting quietly with your morning beverage or doing a little yoga or light stretching. Taking frequent notice of your emotions and thoughtfully figuring out ways to counteract these draining emotions will make your work more enjoyable.
2) Take a Break.
If you have the luxury of vacation or sick time use it! If you are an independent contractor and can create your own schedule take advantage of this perk and design a schedule that truly works for your life. I recognize this can be difficult because of course your students will miss you if you decide to take some time off or if you have to move your schedule around, but, be honest with yourself, if you continue to push through your feelings of exhaustion what kind of teacher will you be? Will you have your usual patience and charisma? I cannot speak for everyone but I know myself and when I am running low on energy my teaching suffers for it. This is neither fair for my students or me. I owe it to both of us to take time away to recharge and come back to the classroom with my usual gusto. I am not suggesting you need to take extensive time away from the classroom (although maybe you do), but taking a day or two here and there to practice self-care will pay off in the end.
In my own personal experience, I find that every few months I begin to experience mental fatigue. I have taken this information into account and made the executive decision to move my schedule around. Instead of teaching 6 days a week I decided to take at least two weekends off from my usual early mornings teaching with Vipkid. At the very least this gives me four days a month to sleep in and get the rest my body needs. If I know that I have a busy day or week with outside deadlines or activities I will take the time to rearrange my schedule again and teach fewer classes or close my short notice slots. These tiny changes give me the breaks I need to recharge so I can be my best self for my students.
3) Separate your WorkSpaces and "Play" Spaces
As an online teacher working from home I often find it difficult to relax when my workstation is also my kitchen table or couch. Unlike teachers with a physical classroom my work and "play" spaces sometimes intermingle. There are times when my kitchen table is also my online classroom or I find myself lesson planning from my bed or couch. While at times this cannot be avoided it also means that spaces that should be dedicated solely to rest, sleep, or pleasure have been tainted by work. Now, when I enter these spaces and should be relaxing my mind drifts to ideas of work and things I could be doing instead. By separating my work and play/rest spaces it allows me to switch gears with more ease.
For example, if you have an office/classroom outside of the home, do your best to keep all work-related items there so that when you return home it is a signal to your body that work is over and your mind can focus on other things. You can do the same thing in your home whether it is designating an area, table, or room in your home to do work. Try your best to keep these areas separate. Physically separating your work area and your spaces of relaxation means that when you cross that threshold you send a signal to your body that it is time to rest and leave thoughts of work for another time. It is time to shift into a different mode that will allow you to fully recharge your batteries.
Ask yourself, does this need to be done right now? Of course, there are certain times of the year that may be busier than others, whether it is a work deadline or something happening in your personal life. Bills need to be paid, tests need to be graded and you have to attend that meeting. However, all of these things do not need to be completed simultaneously. Take a look at your to-do list and figure out what needs to be done now and what you can hold off for later. Remember to prioritize your health and wellness and include self-care on your to-do list. If you are a list person you can literally add self-care into your daily schedule. Whether it is 10 minutes quietly sitting with your coffee before class start or an hour yoga class on Saturdays your mental and physical health should place high on your list of priorities.
As with any career, there will be highs and there will be lows. The key is learning how to best support yourself so that your batteries stay charged and you can bring you A-game to the classroom!
Feel free to comment below and share the ways you avoid teacher burnout.