As a teacher, you put in long hours and the emotional commitment can be draining. These mental strategies can help you keep your sanity and enjoy your time with your students.
Burnout is Real
Be honest, do you often:
- Feel overwhelmed?
- Dread another day in the classroom?
- Feel removed from friends and colleagues?
- Find yourself growling more than smiling?
- Have trouble making even simple decisions?
- Suffer from headaches or digestive irregularities?
- Have trouble sleeping?
These are just some of the symptoms of teacher burnout. According to a study conducted by Monash University in Australia, one in four teachers suffered from burnout in their first years of teaching. Of course, everyone responds differently to stress, but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms on a routine basis, you may be suffering from some degree of teacher burnout.
While you may not be able to control many aspects of your teaching day, there is one area where you have complete control: your mental attitude and thought processes. Let's take a look at some mental strategies that can help you maintain control and focus throughout the school day and bring moments of joy to teaching.
Accept Your Limitations
Unlike many professions, teaching does not lend itself to borders very well. What do I mean? Teaching is a 24/7 occupation because it involves your emotions as well as your mental energy. It isn't as simple as turning out the lights, shutting the door, and calling it a day. After your students leave, those empty classrooms are still full of emotional baggage you can't begin to deal with and problems you can't solve. It's really easy to begin to think that you have to do it all and fix it all. Stop! You can't and no one expects you to.
You must understand your personal limitations as well. If you are sick - stay home. You can't take care of your students if you don't take care of yourself. And while a substitute may not be the ideal answer, neither is your attempt to teach while you feel miserable. No one benefits. It also means taking time for yourself and your family. Take time to do something you enjoy every day - even if it's only 15 minutes! Read a book, listen to music, take a walk, cook a good meal. Most importantly, allow yourself to enjoy doing it.
Lastly, accept the administrative limitations that come with teaching these days. Common Core standards, No Child Left Behind, assessments...the list goes on and on. You can't even bring homemade birthday treats anymore! As pointed out in an article on TeachHub.com, these limitations can be really challenging for teachers, many of whom have creative personality types.
Teaching is a challenge, and sometimes the system doesn't make it any easier. But, your attitude towards it can impact your ability to teach and will rub off on your students. It doesn't mean you can't fight for change, but it does mean that making the best of the situation will make everyone more successful in the end.
Stop and Enjoy Your Students Every Day
Most teachers teach because they love to work with students. When the pressure of standards, assessments, and administrative responsibilities begin to build, it can be really easy to become so busy trying to make it all work that you forget why it is you chose to teach in the first place. As your frustration builds, so does the tension in your classroom.
I challenge you to stop and enjoy your students. Kids are hilarious, and I guarantee funny, touching, and just plain happy moments are happening all around you - you may just be too distracted to see them. Give yourself permission to take 30 seconds and laugh, smile, or shed a tear. And then, write it down. Buy a fun journal and keep it on your desk or use sticky notes. You'll be amazed at all the great things that happen, but you'll never remember them unless you take the time to write them down.
I promise you that once you start, it will get easier and easier. I would also bet if you give it a chance, the behavior in your classroom will get better, and your kids will feel appreciated and loved. The assessments and classwork will get done one way or the other - making your kids feel special and important will make you a better teacher and your students better learners.
Learn and Teach Mindfulness in Your Classroom
Imagine walking past an elementary school classroom: the room is quiet and the students are all sitting, eyes closed and breathing deeply. The teacher is at the front of the room and in a near whisper asks her class to listen...
According to a recent article posted by National Public Radio (NPR) station WESA in Pittsburgh, this is a common scene in some Pittsburgh public schools. The practice is known as mindfulness, and it's finding its way into classrooms around the nation.
Mindfulness employs calming techniques, stress reduction, and breathing to help restore balance and peace. In the classroom, it can benefit not only the class but the teacher as well. In Pittsburgh, for example, teachers have founded CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education) and are training a cohort of educators in the practice of mindfulness. The goal is that they will take the techniques into their classrooms and that some will go on to teach other educators as well.
CARE's research has found that mindfulness does indeed reduce teacher stress and increases their effectiveness. Their research has also shown that it has positive impact on academic performance. The results were so impressive that they are currently being reviewed by the Journal of Educational Psychology.
To read more about mastering mindfulness techniques and utilizing them during your teaching day, check out our post on Mindfulness for Teachers. There are also lots of online resources - try Mindful Schools or the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.
Teachers have the hardest and the happiest job in the world. Never forget how important you are and don't let the challenges outshine the rewards!