Regardless of our industry, we all risk the feeling of burnout. In the case of teachers, it’s compounded by several factors. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), one in five teachers feels tense about their job, nearly 100 percent of the time, as opposed to one in eight in similar professions. The reason for this is teachers have demands coming from multiple directions, such as disgruntled parents, oppositional students, frustrating budgetary guidelines, lack of syllabus creativity, insubstantial pay, and work-life imbalance, among other reasons. There are ways to avoid burnout, but it’s essential to watch for the signs and take the appropriate measures to be your own advocate before things escalate.
Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs is a graphical representation of all the things human beings require. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. At the very bottom are physiological needs such as a healthy diet and getting enough sleep. Without these needs being met, it’s exponentially more challenging to fulfill the more cognitive-heavy needs, such as self-actualization. It’s important to take time for yourself. Eat a healthy breakfast, and don’t skip meals. Whenever possible, take a power nap, especially before tackling hours of evening grading. It may seem counter-intuitive to make time for exercise. Still, the benefits of any amount of cardiovascular or strength training help maintain oxygen and blood flow and make for clearer thinking. They also serve as self-care examples, something which cannot be emphasized enough.
In addition to taking care of yourself, it helps to follow an interactive teaching model in your classrooms. Studies have shown that people have a greater attention span when they are part of the conversation, as opposed to being lectured. As you engage your class, ask them for ideas to develop lesson plans, and encourage lively class participation. This will create an environment where multiple voices are being heard. Asking them to come up with grading rubrics and assignments together will give them a sense of ownership in the decision, leading to motivation to excel.
Another way to avoid burnout is by helping others. Simply put, it’s nice to be nice. Kindness for others is an excellent dopamine boost. Help out a fellow teacher who is struggling by sharing your own experiences. Motivating others is a very satisfying feeling. If you have time, volunteer for a cause you believe in. This has the added effect of a gratitude journal and gives you a fresh perspective on all the things you have in life.