Avoiding burnout is crucial to keep teachers in the classroom teaching.
I am sure we have all been there… Stressed and tired, hyper and fuzzy brained after one (or 4!) too many coffees… Just trying to make it through the day. Teaching is hard, it is AMAZING but hard. I’ve worked all sorts of crazy jobs (try 6 days at sea on a tiny fishing boat or 12 hour night shifts in a potato factory), but I have never been as tired as I am after a days teaching. Often I find myself falling asleep on the sofa by about 6.30pm.
I think we are all of the same opinion about the challenges that teachers face. But some will resent it more than others and leave the profession. I know I almost did.
There came a point where it was getting to be just too much. I was miserable, my partner was fed up with how gloomy I was all the time. It was taking over my life. Anyone I spoke to, at any point of the day, would get an earful from me about teaching. It consumed my conversations and even my dreams.
Once I had got to the point where I was Googling ‘alternative jobs for teachers’ I knew I needed to make a decision. Was I going to quit this profession and become another victim of the shocking statistics around teacher retention? Or was I going to do something to make my situation better, in the teaching profession.
As it happened, moving countries to teach abroad* was just the move I needed (not drastic at all 😂). Seeing a new school, with new ways of teaching reignited my passion for teaching and I learned to work with the job, instead of battling against it. I stopped taking my laptop home, and I learned how to switch off at the end of the day. *Disclaimer, I am not suggesting that you need to move countries too… That was already in my plans!!*
Part of this was due to realising that, no matter how hard you work, you can never be the perfect teacher, all day every day. So, I used technology and planning to my advantage, I have outlined some of my techniques below:
- Set up Google Classroom for each class. It takes a bit of forward planning to start with, but saved me so much planning time later on down the line, plus you can add to it as often as you like.
- For my senior classes with exams I set them up with websites/YouTube videos/PPT’s to help them with revision, along with revision tasks and past exam questions to practice.
- For my junior classes, I would set them research tasks and give them some useful web-links to get them started on the right track. I would also put up all my PPT’s from class for any students who had missed a lesson, or if a student wanted to go back and look at any content they may have forgotten.
- Started a massive independent science investigation with my year 9 class. This took us a whole term, and every child was doing a completely different science investigation of their own choice… Here is a link to a booklet I designed to guide students through this process. It might sound like mayhem, but it was great for a number of reasons:
- It decreased my planning, I was facilitating the learning, not planning it, that was down to the students! (this means I wasn’t planning for 3 lessons a week for a 10 week term, winner!)
- The students took complete ownership over what they got to learn – increasing accountability and engagement.
- They spent most of the lessons over that whole term practicing a variety of science skills (trialling methods, collecting and analysing data, researching, conclusion and evaluation writing – there were so many great opportunities!), which is the whole point of junior science right?!
- Quizlet Live/Kahoot/Education Perfect: There are so many amazing education platforms out there now, each that are useful in their own way.
- Quizlet Live: I have only just started using this, and OMG! Where has this been all my life! (Well, teaching career…). It is fantastic and the students LOVE it! I particularly like that it organises teams randomly and the students don’t seem to mind if a computer chooses their team mates (?!?), so it has been fab for mixing up students in the class and getting them working together to win, believe me, it gets super competitive!! Regular Quizlet is also good for revision for junior and senior classes and there are loads of pre made sets on there, so you don’t need to do a thing. The best!
- Kahoot: I mean, Kahoot is the best for a bit of down time in the class, a quick spot of AFL or as an exit ticket. The kids love it, the music is fantastic… What more is there to say? Oh, I find the inappropriate nickname thing so annoying, but I avoid this by telling them I want their name to be an element from the periodic table, works a treat! If you go through the pre-made ones and save them to your favourites so they are there ready, you can save yourself some planning time. I use them last lesson of the day a lot, you know when the students think it is ok to try and pack up and evaporate into the ether 10 minutes before the bell…
- Education Perfect: This is a NZ specific education platform, but I am sure there are equivalents for other countries (e.g. Educake in the UK). This comes with a bank of resources already prepared, inline with the curriculum, and you can add to it as well I believe. The great thing with this is it lets you see the students progress live if you decide to use it in lesson time. I mostly use it for homework/cover lessons when I am not in/or in a lesson if the kids (and I) need a break from the heavy learning. Sometimes they are happy to sit and answer questions quietly on the computer and I can see exactly who is on task on my computer, it is a good way to break up a busy week and requires zero planning on my part! Oh, I also like that you can set up class/year group/multi year group competitions on it, fun!
So after finding more and more ways of reducing my own planning time, it has actually allowed me more time to enjoy my job and be less resentful. I have more time to look into pedagogy I am interested in, it has given me time to write this blog!
Now I am in a position where I love teaching more than ever, in fact, probably more than I thought I would. I really feel like I have found my vocation. I love education and want to do my best to bring something to this extraordinary world that I get to be a part of every day, it is a gift.
But it has taken me time to realise that being the perfect teacher is not sustainable. Find a way to make it work for you. Be selfish. Move schools until you find a good fit (Move countries if need be!). Have a lazy lesson every now and then. Take a mental health day if required (the school will carry on running without you…). Go away for the weekend without feeling guilty about not doing any marking/planning. Get back into nature or do some exercise. Go for drinks and a nice meal. Remember that your health is always more important than your job.
Find the balance, it will be better for you and your students in the long run!
Oh, but I still fall asleep by 6.30pm most evenings… When I find a cure for that I will let you know.
Do you have any suggestions for avoiding teacher burn out? Please leave me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!