How to Prevent Teacher Burnout: Why Putting Yourself First is Important

As we come around to the last week before Spring Break, I cannot get over how tired I am starting to feel. Each day as I count down to Spring Break seems to get longer and longer. From the time that the students get into their desks until they tidy up and stack their chairs seems like it lasted a week. My marking bin is way more full than I would like to admit and I know that I am leaving things that can wait until next week until next week.

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I know that I am tired, but that I have been way more tired in my teaching career. I might be tired going into the Spring Break, but I am still functional. There have been times where I have gotten home from teaching and had very little left to give to my family.

Teaching is a giving profession. And, unless you make yourself a priority, it’s easy to burn out. Here are 3 reasons why putting yourself first is so important:

1.) We know the saying that in case of facemasks falling from the ceiling on an airplane, to put your mask on first and then to help others around you. You can’t help people if you are unconscious on a plane just like you can’t help your students if you are walking around, just going through the motions of your day, in a burnt-out state. If you are exhausted, it is very hard to teach.  Take care of yourself first so that are able to take care of those around you.

2.) You deserve it. We all deserve to live a happy, healthy life and to feel energized and invigorated in your day. You only get one life. Make sure that you don’t lose sight of what’s important to you while in the business of teaching. Your physical and mental health deserves to be a priority.

3.) Your students deserve it. You are amazing and your students deserve you at your best. Students thrive best when you are on the ball, putting your best effort into lessons, connecting and laughing with students, and being able to react appropriately and immediately to whatever the day throws at you.

Here are some strategies to help make sure that you are putting yourself first:

1.) As much as possible, take one day per week to do NO WORK. No marking, no prep, no housework, no shopping, no driving your child across town to soccer practice. Granted, this may be impossible, but try your hardest to take one day and do nothing that you would define as either a chore or work. Instead, fill it with things that bring you energy and joy. Maybe it is gardening, or reading for pleasure, or going for a hike, or laying in bed until noon, or having your best friend over and playing Settlers of Catan all day. But, make a conscious effort to take one day per week and fill it with as much soul-nourishing activities as possible.   

2.) Get physical (que 80s music). Exercise is one of the best ways to cultivate more energy. I personally aim for 20-30 minutes each day and use Obe fitness which is a monthly streaming service with a series of exercise classes. You can sort it by fitness class length, type, body focus and other filters. I particularly like it because I can filter in classes that are 5 mins. If I am having a day where I really don’t want to work out, I will convince myself to only work out for 5 minutes. Inevitably, I complete a 5 minute class, want more and end up tacking on another couple of 5-10 minute classes.  

3.) See a physician. If you are concerned that your exhaustion may be caused by more than just working your butt off, see your physician. You may be low on vitamins or have a medical condition that is contributing to your exhaustion.

4.) Make sure you are getting enough of the things you need. Are you getting enough sleep? Water? Healthy foods? These things might seem obvious, but I think everyone has been guilty of forgetting these things at some point or another. Keep a filled water bottle on your desk and try to finish it before lunch. Do some meal planning and pack nutritious lunches. Get enough sleep for your body (7-9 hours for most adults). Make your physical health a priority. 

5.) Make sure that you take some time off every day to relax and unwind. It’s hard to fall asleep if your mind is racing a million miles an hour from the tasks of the day. Try to leave the last hour or so before bed as a time to unwind. Have a bath, read a book, connect with your partner or friends. Aim to complete the dinner clean-up and any work tasks that you have so that this last chunk of the day is set aside for just relaxing. 

6.) Take your breaks during the day. Taking breaks is a key way to become more productive. Take your lunch hour and breaks as a time to regroup for the rest of the day. Sit and eat with co-workers or go for a walk. Try not to work through lunch, even though your marking bin may be tempting you to do otherwise. 

7.) Get organized and prioritize. You have likely noticed that all of the above take time. It is time well-spent on you. But to help with this, get organized and find ways to make things more stream-lined both at home and at school. At home, look for ways to make your household chores go faster. I meal-plan quick meals and pre-order my groceries on my way home from work on Fridays. I only go to the grocery store once a week so I make sure I am all planned so that I can get everything in one go. It’s also nice not having to get groceries on the weekend.

At work, aim to spend your time on the things that are the most meaningful. Try to eliminate any tasks that are time-consuming and have little return for your students. It will never be possible to do everything. There will always be one more things that you could do to prepare for the next day. Prioritize and aim to get yourself out of the school at a reasonable time.

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