Dealing with other people’s kids is hard—especially the difficult ones who hate school and everything associated with it. We enter the classroom with the mindset that everyone will learn and sit quietly and do as they are told. Sadly this doesn’t happen all the time, which causes great angst, frustration and stress. Too much angst, frustration and stress leads to burnout. It makes you feel as though what you do and how you do it just isn’t right. You may even tend to think there’s something wrong with you when, in fact, it’s simply one of the stresses of the job. It leaves you feeling drained and exhausted without any warning that you’re experiencing the symptoms of someone who is burned out.
Understanding that burning out is something that happens to most people in high-contact careers like teaching helped me tremendously. Knowing that I did the best I could in a difficult and damn-near-impossible situation helps the guilt I’ve carried the past few years. My faulty reasoning was based on the fact that I had survived six years of substitute teaching. In my own mind I was a seasoned veteran the first day I began teaching full-time.
I had no idea I had entered a career where everyone experiences some degree of burnout during the course of his or her career. Some burnout really does begin during student teaching. Sometimes it takes a few years to start the slow burn that eventually worsens if left unmanned.
It’s inevitable when you have constant contact with the same group of people for 180 days (an average school year) or more. It makes perfect sense that you would begin to question your ability to do your job at the same level and with the same intensity you once did because it’s impossible to maintain the same level of enthusiasm and dedication you may have had during the early years of your career.
The sad part is that I knew none of this when I started teaching. I didn’t learn it in any of my education classes and it was never a topic in any of the professional development meetings I’ve attended the past 17 years. It’s like this dirty little secret doesn’t really exist and teachers are left to deal with a disorder that leaves them blaming themselves when, in fact, it’s an inevitable part of the profession.
The most recognized burnout test was created by Dr. Christina Maslach, Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. The Maslach Burnout Inventory can be accessed via the Web for $15. In a New York Times article Dr. Maslach explained the test asks questions in the following areas:
➡ Emotional exhaustion can result in being emotionally overextended, drained and used up without any source of replenishment. It’s the chronic feeling that you just can’t face another day.
➡ Cynicism or depersonalization means a loss of idealism. Particularly in the health professions, it can manifest itself as having a negative, callous or excessively detached response to other people.
➡ Reduced personal efficacy signals a decline in feelings of competence and productivity at work.
“While most people think job burnout is just a matter of working too hard, that’s not necessarily true. Professor Maslach and Professor Leiter list six areas that can result in burnout: work overload; lack of control over the work; insufficient rewards; workplace community problems, such as incivility and a lack of support among co-workers; a lack of fairness, such as inequality of pay, promotions or workload; and a conflict between one’s personal values and the requirements of a job.”13 But burnout isn’t always a bad thing. It can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.
Burnout can be a gift that allows you to pay attention and choose a different path. In her book, The Joy of Burnout, Dr. Dina Glouberman writes, “I am in the rather unusual position of arguing that although there is a great deal wrong with our society, our work-places, our relationships and our lives, burnout is ultimately positive if we are open to its message. This is because it asks us to become more of who we really are.”
When I was crashing and burning I did a lot of soul-searching and realized that I would not be able to continue to teach for the next 20 years. Every year seemed harder than the last and I had no idea how to walk away from a job that was my only source of income. It wasn’t until I was faced with the prospect of getting a “Needs Improvement” rating on my biennial evaluation that I began investigating my exit strategy and submitted my retirement letter.
Excerpt from Teaching Can Kill You: How to survive and BE HAPPE in the classroom p. 28.
Things you can do today to battle burnout:
- Take the Maslach burnout test to see where you fall on the spectrum.
- Talk to a counselor, therapist or life coach to help you deal with your feelings and create a plan to feel better.
- Make time to do things that make you happy.
- Refuse to take work home. Try your best to make time to lesson plan and grade papers at work so that you can enjoy every moment of your free time at home.
- Make a plan to exercise regularly because it reduces stress and makes you feel good.
Doing these things changed my life and gave me the courage to go back to school to get a professional coaching certification and a masters degree in organizational management which made qualified to work as an executive coach to help burned our teachers who desire to reinvigorate their teaching careers or change careers to do something they are more passionate about. I also work with school administrators to help them become more effective leaders or find other work as well.
If you’d like more information on how to banish burnout contact me today.