35 Ideas to avoid Teacher Burnout
Part 3 of 3
So you’ve made it this far: well done! Today we finalise this three part article on avoiding teacher burnout. In yesterday’s post we looked at a further dozen ways of de-stressing your teaching experience. With twenty ideas down on paper, let’s look at my final fifteen for your consideration. Happy reading…
- Down tools (at lunch time): if you walk into most staff-rooms at lunch time, you will typically see teachers working at their practice whilst hastily finding a moment to put some food in their mouths (often without chewing – that takes time) before running back to class. If you want to avoid burnout you need to do two things. The first should be an everyday habit: don’t eat at your desk or work-space. Lunch is much more than eating; it involves relaxation, digestion, reflection, digression. Secondly, take a moment to organise an off site lunch at a local park or cafe with some colleagues or family, once a week. Every time I have done this I have found it beneficial. And you know what, when I was off-site, things just continued as normal. Just tell your front office you’re going out for lunch, in case of lockdown/fire/emergency situations when you need to be accounted for. .
- Slow down: no one expects you to race around like a headless chicken. It’s something I struggle with I admit. I just get so focused on a task that I tend to go after it until it’s done. But it’s not healthy. Teaching is a marathon not a sprint. Make sure you hang around long enough to make it to the finish line. .
- Soft areas: where can you go during a tea break that is free from distractions like students, work demands etc? Think about this today. If you have a 15 minute break, the last thing you need is sorting out an unforeseen problem that someone has kindly shared with you. I’m not suggesting that you should do this on every non-teaching segment: for instance during scheduled planning and preparation time, it’s professional to be at your desk working. But those tea breaks might be better spent in a student free zone/ work free zone. Better still share a funny moment and a biscuit with a friend at the same time. . .
- Get an extra Mass in during the week: I have always found that when I have had trouble on my mind and the stresses of life on my shoulders, going to Mass and Holy Communion, especially before work, leaves me feeling a hundred times better and Our Lord never fails to help me to put things in perspective. . .
- Carry around a pocket sized spiritual book: one of my favourites that I can dip into at any moment when I need spiritual help is Uniformity with God’s Will by St Alphonsus Ligouri. Whatever your favourite is, have it close by: a moment of reflection and conscious contact with God can bring situations back to normal. .
- Whatever you do; make sure you do it! We all fall foul of procrastination. Avoid it like the plague. It kills our free time and sends our stress levels through the roof. One habit you can form is to have a to-do list ready every day. Attack the hardest, meanest job on it first. But make sure it’s a job and not a project. Remember that jobs are actionable items you can do now to completion. Idle moments accumulate into hours of unproductive wasted time. Just get on with something if you don’t want to be doing it at the weekend! In a previous post I recommended David Allen’s Getting Things Done and I do so again on the basis that it’s the best book I have read in this area. .
- Earn and expect respect: You are a qualified, normally university trained, professional. Two things: act like it, then expect and demand to be recognised as such, both in how you are treated and how you are remunerated. If you feel like you are being treated like a dog and paid like an inmate, then don’t expect to avoid meltdown anytime soon. .
- Make someone smile: you can do this overtly or covertly; both are equally effective. But how do you do it authentically? It easy, treat them how you would like to be treated: the Golden Rule. Bring them a coffee and a chocolate out of the blue and thank them for being a good colleague. Leave them a note on their desk on a Friday, thanking them for all their hard work. It’s easy and it makes you feel good too. .
- Learn to say no: this is important. Some teachers worry about this, especially new teachers. But the fact is, if you are already busy, stressed and heading for a sick day, how is taking on more work going to help you? So if you are requested or even instructed to do another non-core task that will wear you down and kill your non-work life, politely talk to the person, say no respectfully and if it helps, explain to them that you are fully engaged and unable to commit to work that you can’t fulfil. This actually attracts respect from fellow professionals. .
- Classroom Consequences: many teachers leave their classrooms looking as if they have been dragged through a hedge backwards. They just haven’t understood that without a behaviour management plan which includes Classroom Rules that have been enforced, then they will always live a life of stress and anxiety as a teacher. That’s unhealthy. So get that behaviour plan sorted, post it and explain it in your classroom and make students follow it and take the consequences of non-compliance. This helps you to free yourself emotionally from stressful behaviour decisions in class and impersonally work the plan. It also strengthens the characters of your students. Last month I recommended Bill Rogers’ work: Classroom Behaviour as an excellent behaviour management resource. A good friend of mine once said that the elephant in the room was behaviour management. I still believe this to be true. If you get that sorted, you will be winning all the way. .
- Pray: pray with your students before and after class, at noon say The Angelus, Grace before and Grace after meals etc. Make it a habit. Make your class a place of God. Moreover, pray for your students and colleagues; for their welfare and salvation, for their conversion and their commitment. God will give you graces for doing so. .
- Make it automatic: lots of time consuming tasks can be automated, lowering overall stress levels. If you have information about a school project to communicate by email for example, have you set up email groups for one click forwarding? How about setting up email filters to automatically forward incoming mail to a particular folder or to another recipient? Rather than arrange a meeting to brainstorm a school project, how about emailing group members for their ideas by a deadline and then have a more productive face to face meeting later? The truth is, there are so many little things we could be smarter at and more time efficient with. Take some time to use them or learn how to use them. .
- Wind-down at night: relax with a glass of wine and a good book. Better still to do these things with your spouse or other family members. Get interested in their day, share some moments and thank God for your blessings. .
- Reward yourself: my favourite is a planned holiday. Knowing that you have a trip on the horizon where you can unwind, spend quality time with family and the like does wonders for stress levels. All work and no play is just not good for you, or for the folk around you. . and finally… .
- Move on: sometimes, despite our best efforts we have to move on when we see the writing on the wall. If you are working hard, being professional and doing everything in your power to deliver for your school community and things are not falling into place, it might just be that no amount of tweaking will put off the inevitable car-crash. Often you won’t be the problem: systemic issues, poor leadership, workplace weasels (see above) whatever. It’s important to recognise that your talents will probably be better put to work elsewhere, and every now and again there is no other way.
Despite the length of this article, I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface of the factors involved. However be assured that taking one or two little steps can make all the difference to reclaim some sanity. Teachers do wonderful work and your place in society is hard to put a price upon, so make sure you stay in for the long haul by keeping your stress levels within manageable levels, and avoiding teacher burnout.
Let me know how you get on, or if you have any other ideas, share them! Oh, and please share this series if you found it helpful. God bless.