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Take Heed of These Warning Signs That You're Ready to Leave Teaching

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What do you do when the stress of overcrowded classrooms, an overreaching administration, and aggressive students becomes too much? Can you regain your love of teaching, or is it time to hang it up and look to another career?

Are You Thinking of Leaving Teaching?

Teacher burnout is an all-too-common phenomenon that contributes to the loss of thousands of teachers each year- about 8% of the teaching workforce according to National Public Radio (NPR). If you're feeling overwhelmed and fear it may be the beginning of the end for your teaching career, then read on. We offer some warning signs to look for, as well as a few tips to help you regain your balance and your love of teaching.

What Causes Teachers to Leave the Field?

According to Richard Ingersoll, Ph.D., there are many reasons why teachers decide to leave teaching. For him, it was a lack of respect both for him and his profession. For other teachers, it's the overwhelming pressure to achieve high test scores - often to the detriment of the learning environment. Teachers are also expected to work long hours, sacrifice personal time, and pay for many of their own supplies. They often do this without reimbursement and on depressingly low salaries. And, for an increasing number of teachers, the working environment is becoming so negative and politically charged they can no longer justify staying.

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While many former educators find themselves in administrative positions that allow them to continue to influence the lives of students, some discover they need to transition to another field entirely to regain their physical and mental health.

How Do You Know if You're Burning Out?

Even under ideal conditions, teacher burnout happens. Since conditions are seldom ideal, some level of career fatigue is inevitable. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, says Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., you may be suffering from the early stages of burnout:

  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Prone to illness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of enjoyment

A doctor should assess your symptoms, of course, but if you suffer from one or more of these ailments, it could be your body's way of telling you it's time to seek help.

What Can You Do if You're Burning Out?

For some people, the only way to combat burnout is with a change of career. If you've come to the end of your rope and can't take it anymore, that may be the wise course of action for you.

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If you're still committed to teaching and want to find the joy the profession once held for you, Jose Vilson has a few tips to help you do that:

  • Reframe the issue. It's easy to get caught up in other people's drama. Rather than allowing someone else to dictate how you should feel about a given issue, step back and look at the bigger picture. Remember what's important and why you chose to be an educator in the first place.
  • Have a meeting of minds. Spend regular time with your peers to collaborate. Leaning on each other, discussing areas of concern, and learning from one another is key to a healthy environment that benefits teachers as well as students.
  • Take care of yourself. It's often said and too seldom practiced: 'If we don't take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone else.' Whether you are a parent, a caregiver, or a teacher, taking care of yourself is essential to being effective. The future of our charges is in our hands. We can't do anything positive for them if we are overwhelmed and undercharged. Take a long walk with your significant other after work, practice meditation, learn to play an instrument, or take up a hobby. Whatever you choose, pick something that helps you to relax and shake off the stress that can come from teaching.

What if It's Time to Leave?

If at some point in your teaching career you find yourself waking up in a cold sweat at night, crying at the thought of coming to class every day, and not being able to imagine anything worse than another year as a teacher, it's time to move on. Not everyone can handle the strain of this profession - and that's okay. Knowing when it's time to go, rather than staying on and devolving into a villain from a mid-grade novel doesn't do you or your students any good.

But I caution you to think hard about your decision before you go. If you can manage to move beyond the burnout to become a better, happier teacher who inspires students to reach beyond themselves and achieve more, then I urge you to stay. While it might seem like you're fighting a losing battle at times, your efforts are appreciated. The world needs you and your rare gifts - our future may depend on it.

By Patricia Willis
March 2017
opinion teacher burnout

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