Avoiding burnout

I never thought I would be “one of those teachers.” You know the one(s) who complain about everything, second guess the administration or balk at any change. The ones who are counting down the days until they can take early retirement. (I have even seen some have running countdowns on their phones or laptops ticking off each second until retirement!) The ones who have become cynical about everything and hardened to anything.  How could that ever be me? Teaching was the ONLY thing I ever wanted to do. I can’t even remember considering another profession.  

Let me set the stage here. I bet some of you can relate. I was the oldest of four children. My grandma taught third grade at Sunnyside. Every June, when Sioux City would finally dismiss for the summer, she would clean out her classroom. She would literally find a big cardboard box and throw old worksheets, remnants of workbooks, old encyclopedias, Weekly Readers, and sometimes the motherload of all—an old teacher’s manual! Grandma would load the heavy box up and bring it down to our farm where I would “teach” my siblings all summer long in our hot (no air conditioning) attic unless they escaped when I turned to put something very important on my chalkboard. My mom (aka the principal) was always downstairs cooking or baking or cleaning and would tell me to let the kids have a break when I would come down and yell at them to return. I also loved to pack my younger sisters up in our little red wagon, throw in a picnic, and as many books as I could and drag them up a hill under a little shade tree and pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder teaching in my one-room schoolhouse.  (That is still a dream of mine!)  

From those examples, you can tell teaching was literally in my blood! Fast forward...So how do I go from only wanting to teach and share my love of learning to now thinking of educating as a job and dreading every day! This happened in the blink of an eye, but more like 25 years. I hate to say the “b” word, but I am there. In my current position, I go into districts and lead professional development or teach classes virtually for the agency. It is so hard to put on a happy face every day and fake how wonderful teaching is. Let’s be honest here for a minute. Teaching is hard! Teaching during a pandemic is even harder! I worry about all the wonderful teachers we’ll lose after this year. I worry who will be left to teach my own children. Will they be negative every day in class and not instill a lifelong love of learning? Will  they not give them their best and demand that my children do the same? How do we overcompensate for that dreaded “b” word? Have you figured it out by now?  If not, burnout… How did I get here? More importantly, what can I do to get back to loving my profession and sharing that passion with others?  

First of all, we need to give ourselves, our colleagues, and our students a lot of grace. Second of all, we need to remember what ignited that passion in the first place? Third, we need to find ways to combat those negative feelings and emotions. 

In my last therapy session, my therapist asked me how I want to see myself. I said adjectives like balanced, confident, connected, and accomplished. When I was leaving she told me to think of things I could do to get myself to where I wanted to be. As I type this article, I am also writing down my action steps. I am going to stop and do a body scan and think about the emotions I am feeling and what I need to do to feel better. Maybe I need to text a friend? Maybe I need a glass of water? Maybe I need to get up and move? Maybe I need a hot bath? Maybe I need to listen to a funny podcast? I am going to list all of these ideas out and choose one when I am feeling burnout and frustrated. I am NOT going to be “one of those teachers!” 

Are you with me?