How to Avoid Burnout as a New Teacher (And Advice For When You're Just Plain Overwhelmed)
Today I looked at the calendar and realized that this is the last full week of October. All I could think was, what happened from the end of August until now?!? Well, if you're a teacher, you probably know where it went. It went to setting up your classroom, teaching kids to walk in a line, creating behavior charts, and class picture day and a thousand little things in between.
Each year and each class is different but this season always has one thing in common: it's quite honestly the most tiring month of my life. As I already pointed out, there are a million and one things going on and if it's not going on right now, it's on your to-do list.
Everything piling up on your back-to-school to-do list can lead to a serious case of burn out. It's no surprise that a 2003 study touted that nearly fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession (a more recent study by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics amended it to only 17 percent, but still). The work/life balance is always a struggle and any good teacher wants to give everything of herself. But if you want to do your best in any job, you've got to take care of yourself. Here's what I found worked for me and keeps me from getting overwhelmed.
Find your friends at work
When I first started my idea was to keep my head down and just do the work. I figured that I would be super focused. Keeping my co-workers at bay, I'd avoid all the drama that you'll find in any workplace. Do this and I'd be the best teacher ever.
I was totally wrong. Being new at something is totally stressful and even the smallest problems (like walking into your room and it being so hot that the papers on your desk are warm) seem impossible to solve. It's a one way ticket to burn out for sure. It's totally normal to want to stay in your classroom, cube, or office but it's incredibly difficult and lonely to operate without support.
Instead poke your head out the door and strike up simple conversations to find potential new friends. My conversations always revolved around the copy machine being jammed. I'm talking really simple, guys. Eventually you'll come across people you trust to vent to about that problem student and that darn copier. Then you'll find people to invite to Wine Wednesday and that's when you know you've made it as a teacher. Just kidding. Kind of.
Schedule out your down time.
If you think only bloggers fall into the comparison trap, you've obviously never met a teacher. I think Pinterest and Instagram were meant to torture us. Every classroom looks perfect with fluffy tissue paper flowers and every lesson plan is cute to the point of six hours of prep work. I felt like I had to be seriously on my game. That meant that every free moment was spent making things for my classroom or planning things for my students or thinking about my students.
Do you want to know what burn out feels like? Falling asleep with your head on the desk at work, scissors in hand, as you cut out just one more heart for your Valentine's Day themed door. I'm all for pushing yourself to do your best but there's a line between being your best and giving up all free time in the name of work.
Instead schedule your down time. It's so important to make room to just...be. If you're tired and stressed, it doesn't matter how adorable your classroom is or how perfect your lessons seem. Scheduling it might sound like overkill but you'll feel me if you've ever pushed yourself to burn out. So find a time to watch that movie on Netflix or paint your nails or read a non-academic book. Being fresh and ready to smile and welcome your students is what really matters.
It's okay to say "no"
When you're starting out in any new job, in teaching or elsewhere, you are conditioned to say yes. Yes means you'll never miss that perfect opportunity. Yes means you'll impress the boss with your commitment to the job. Yes means you're on top of things.
I am a hardcore advocate for saying yes BUT it has its limits. Saying yes can lead you down the path of having too many commitments needing your attention. Too many commitments means you're struggling to do your best work. It also means you'll find yourself trying to balance five projects at once and almost forgetting what your real job was to begin with.
Instead take a deep breath and make a choice. Where do your real priorities lie? Tie your choices into what you like to do outside of work. I always help plan Read Across America celebrations because I love reading and books and Dr. Seuss-themed crafts. I'm all about promoting positive behaviors but I'm terrible at planning minute to win it games so I don't work on the school spirit committee. Figure out what you're good at and put your heart and soul into it.