It’s the time of year when teaching is so hard. Endless days of inside recess, testing season looming and no break in sight. Student behavior is getting intense and patience is wearing thin. I’m going to say it again: Teaching is SO hard.
We all have horror stories. Things that happened at school that made you go home and polish your resume. Being told to “shut up”. Watching a kid from your classroom window walk to his car and cut your class. The one hundredth time you told a student “we don’t call classmates gay”. Hearing about how one of your students won’t be back because they are going into foster care. Losing a student to cancer. Losing a student to suicide. Seeing a low achieving student punch a kid in the face just weeks before graduation. Explaining why it’s not funny to draw a swastika with permanent marker on your hand. This.is.all.real.life.
As overwhelming as all of this is, teaching is truly one of the most rewarding professions out there. I’m not just saying the usual teacher fluff, I really believe it is one of the most impactful ways to interact with your community, culture and future generations. We interact with hundreds (thousands!) of young people and help guide their future selves. We model what it looks like to be a caring and responsible adult. We matter.
As a young teacher, I was completely overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility. I obsessively wanted to be my best, act my best, teach my best and give every student the best interaction every single time. Of course, this is impossible. I’ve eventually learned to be the best version of me at school while still keeping my personal life and personal needs in focus too. It didn’t happen overnight!
Even after teaching ten years I still have moments of complete doubt. The pressure I put on myself along with the pressure society puts on my profession can bring me to a screeching halt. My supply closet has come to be a place I can hide from my responsibilities and refocus before I have to step back on the stage that is my classroom during my most challenging days. I’ve sat and eaten lunch in the dark, done yoga, taken personal phone calls and cried while eating chocolate cake. I’ve even had a full blown panic attack in there when I was struggling with a newly developed anxiety disorder.
This is one of the times of year I find it important to focus on why I continue to choose education as my profession. Teaching is extensive and nuanced, and I have to remind myself is okay to feel confused and exhausted! Here are four things I try to remember when I’m feeling burned out:
- YOU CAN START OVER EVERYDAY
- YOU HAVE A BUILT IN SUPPORT SYSTEM
- IT’S ALMOST NEVER PERSONAL
- YOU REALLY DO MATTER.
YOU CAN START OVER EVERY DAY. Teaching is cyclical and seasonal. Something you struggle with one semester or even in one class does not have to be your curse. You can choose to change and adapt your routines and expectations to continuously improve your classroom environment. Every day you can adjust how you do something, treat someone or react to a situation. Sit down and reflect on the most frustrating part of your day or week and think about how you can adjust to make it better. You have the power to build your own little culture, so enjoy forming the small part of your world you actually have some control over.
YOU HAVE A BUILT IN SUPPORT SYSTEM. Find your teacher friends and build a positive support system at your school. Vent when you need to, but make sure you surround yourself with positive people who love what they do or at least find humor in the insane chaos that is #teacherlife. Teacher friends are legit, they are the people who care about the same students you do, participate in the same school culture and understand your work life more than anyone else.
IT’S ALMOST NEVER PERSONAL. Teachers take a lot of the brunt of our students’ frustrations and personal battles. I have witnessed so many emotional outbursts, fits of anger, refusal to do anything in class and it almost always goes back to a problem at home or a social situation. Once I get a kid one-on, they almost always tell me they were upset about a bigger issue outside of the classroom. Even if they don’t always show it, a teacher is often one of the most stable and caring adults in a kids life. Be the kind and supportive adult they need even if they are acting out towards you.
YOU REALLY DO MATTER. I know it sounds cheesy, but teachers really do change lives. We shape young peoples beliefs, skills and self-perception. Our actions guide their future and you’d be hard pressed to find a person that doesn’t have a teacher that helped make them who they are as an adult. Even on your worst day, with your worst class, during your hardest year (which isn’t always year one!) you have a positive impact on your students.
Teaching is the most rewarding, complex and self-defining experience. You constantly look inward while watching your affect on large groups of young people. It is okay to be overwhelmed. It is okay to cry it out, run it out, binge it out or blog it out. Give yourself some grace and find healthy ways to deal with the stress teachers layer on each day.
Remember why you started in the first place and find your safe haven to ride out the tough days.
What do you remind yourself when you’re feeling burned out?