Teachers and others in the caring professions have to walk a fine line to build and maintain their resilience if they want to prevent burn out. In the education world, a popular figure subscribed to teacher burnout is one out of two teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their career. We're not sure how many leave after the firt five years, but rest assured, some do.
The odds are good if you are a teacher, you will encounter or experience burnout in your career.
There are no guarantees that you can prevent yourself from burnout out. However, there are some safeguards you can put into place to lessen the likelihood that burnout will eject you from your chosen profession.
1. Set firm boundaries between your life and your work. Would you expect a banker to be available to you after work hours? No. Teaching is your profession, not your identity. Turn it off when you leave, and leave at a resonable hour.
2. Speaking of identity, you need to have one outside of work. Cultivate relationships outside of work – join a group of people who enjoy a hobby you enjoy. Don’t let those lifelong friendships wither. Get involved with a cause you care about.
3. Cultivate relationships at work. Take the time to know your co-workers. Giving them the gift of your time and attention is more valuable than anything else you could give them. Collaborate on projects. Isolation is one of the key reasons teachers quit teaching.
4. Be selective about extra work commitments. You do not need to be on every committee, or involved in every single decision. Be selective. Choose an area you are most interested in, and focus on that.
5. Avoid making frequent assignment changes. Clearly you do not have total control over the teaching assignment you are given. Especially in this economy, it’s not likely you will get to be choosy about your assignment. However, you need to be careful to not change your teaching assignment if you don’t have to. Teachers who frequently change assignment, or end up teaching outside of their specialty often end up - you guessed it – burned out.
6. Take the time to meet your needs. Get enough sleep. Get some exercise. Give yourself some quiet time every single day. Eat food that is good for you. Drink your water. Make time to use the bathroom – teachers have a high incidence of urinary tract infections. Use your sick days or personal days.
7. Remember why you became a teacher. These days it’s not so easy to become a teacher, so nobody enters the profession by default. What drove you to work so hard to get that teaching certificate? What do you love about what you do?
8. Have a Plan B - Of course everyone has a bad day or week. Sometimes you get a particularly difficult class, or a difficult administrator and have a bad year. If you start having several bad years in a row, then you need to have an alternative in mind. You should always have a backup plan to teaching. How did you earn money before you became a teacher? What are your interests outside of work?
All you can do is your best. By taking care of yourself, you can share your best self with your students, your co-workers, and the important people in your life.
Frances Bozarth, MS Ed has conducted research on why teachers leave the profession, and is a wellness facilitator at The Institute for Educator Wellness. Her passion is facilitating the well-being of teachers, and former teachers.