Do you aim for the ‘perfect classroom’ and the perfect ‘learning experience’? Do you think you have to be perfect—always ready with the perfect lesson and a backup, always in solid control of the class, never making a mistake? Aiming for perfection is a surefire route to teacher burnout.
I found the desire to be perfect combined with uncertainty and inexperience led to a lot of stress in my first few years of teaching.
As I have become more comfortable as a teacher I have realized, that sometimes it’s okay to not have everything perfect. And that sometimes it’s okay for students to work quietly on a worksheet so that I can recharge. This just becomes one of many teaching strategies that I use to cater to the learning needs of my students.
Because teaching is stressful—even when you’ve been doing it a while—and teacher burnout is real and unfortunately common, I want to share 5 tips I use to lower stress and avoid teacher burnout.
1. Bust Teacher Burnout with a Mental Health Day
Take a mental health day!! Mental health is as important (if not more important) than physical health. Nobody functions well when they are stressed, feeling depressed or anxious. When you are overwhelmed with everything you need to do, taking a day off can feel counter-intuitive (especially when you factor in preparing for a substitute). But often taking a mental health day allows you take stock and come back fighting—or at least more rested.
I regularly take mental health days. On these days I do not do teaching work or think about teaching. I do something to chill out and refresh—for me that is usually chilling out with a good book or playing guitar. For you it might mean getting to yoga class, knitting, take a long hike in the woods, puttering in the garden . . . you know what fills you back up. I bet you feel a little better just thinking about doing it.
2. Better Boundaries Help Stop Teacher Burnout
It’s really important to set boundaries with work and home. When you’re at home, then be at home. One way to help stick to this is to leave your teacher bag at school. If you work better at home than at school, then set clear times for working at home. (If you work at school set a time you will leave the school!)
Once you decide when you will work, challenge yourself to only work during that time for one week. See what gets done and what doesn’t. Maybe you let go of perfection a little (see #3) or decided to scale back or realized that some things just didn’t have to get done.
Setting better boundaries has definitely helped me with reducing burnout. I know this is hard, especially when you’re new, but it is definitely something to work towards and to keep trying.
3. Be Realistic to Avoid Burnout
I’m sure just like me you want to have that perfect classroom, with the perfect students, with the perfect everything…. But take a minute to reflect and be realistic on what is achievable with your students. Maybe just having students working in small groups in your class is a major accomplishment, so make sure you set realistic goals with your students, class and school.
And be realistic about what you have to do. Maybe the bulletin board isn’t quite what you pictured or you meant to create your own game. It’s OK to let somebody do the creation work for you. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for all your worksheets and games.
4. Practice Good Mental Health Habits Daily
Be proactive in being ‘mentally’ healthy to help you manage burnout. While you may think you don’t have time to add one more thing to your day, try finding 5 minutes for some relaxation exercises. You can even do it with your students, so not only was it helping me.
See how I used relaxation in my class in my article: A Kiss In Your Hand. In this article, I also recommend a book that you can use to help you introduce relaxation.
A gratitude practice is another mental health habit that doesn’t have to take a lot of time but can have great benefits in curbing burnout.
5. Be Aware of Your Stress and Stop It Fast
Realize when you begin to feel stressed and do something about it. Watch out for the warning signs. If you’re not sure what these are some signs could include:
- Feeling hot and have more perspiration;
- Having trouble breathing;
- A quickened pulse;
- Being irritable; and
If this happens, then have some self-care techniques to help you. Some ideas could include to:
- Take a break;
- Ask for help from colleagues/friends;
- Go for a walk;
- Have a sleep; and
- Take a deep breath and count to 10.
A Poster To Help
I have also put together a poster that I like to have close by as it helps remind me to manage my stress and manage the way that I’m feeling. If you would like a copy of the poster, fill in your details below so that I can email this to you.
These are tips that have helped me stave off stress and teacher burnout. To be able to care for your students and implement the kinds of learning experiences you want, it’s essential for you to find the techniques that help you manage stress and burnout.
If you have any tips that you use to help you manage teacher burnout then please share them in the comments below so other teachers can benefit.
One of the best ways I know to avoid stress and teacher burnout is to have the support and resources you need to do your job well. What if there was somebody to remind you that you can be an exceptional teacher and not be perfect? What if you had a mentor and a dedicated group of other teachers who were figuring it all out and sharing ideas?
The New First Year Thrive New Teacher Support Program provides the support and resources to help you flourish instead of burning out.