Burnout is real and it could happen to anyone of us at any point in our career. I know of 3 teachers who have come close to the edge and another 3 who have left the profession because of burnout.

It is often said that the first two years in teaching are your hardest, but it would be a mistake to assume that experienced teachers cannot succumb to burnout as well. Experienced teachers will be expected to take on more roles adding to what is an already ever increasing workload. Add this on top of a stressful life event, such as divorce or the death of a family member, then the likelihood of burnout increases. 

However, I’ve learnt recently that burnout will only happen if we allow it. More often than not, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to this. So, here are 6 parameters I set myself to prevent teacher burnout.

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Take health and well-being seriously

If I heard the words ‘health and well-being’ five years ago, I would have rolled my eyes back into my head faster than the snarkiest of teenagers. Images of healing crystals, yoga retreats and day spas would come to mind.

This isn’t health and well-being.

Health and well-being is about being aware of how this job can affect you, both mentally and physically, and then taking concrete steps to manage our workload and stress levels. Over the years I’ve become aware of my own warning signs of when I’m starting to burn the candle at both ends. Don’t ignore these signs, your body is feeling like this for a reason!

My warning signs are:

  • Arriving into the carpark and not wanting to get out of the car

  • Wishing that the workday was over already

  • Not wanting to socialise with others in the staffroom

  • Not enjoying the job as much as I used to compared with other terms

  • Waking up exhausted after having a full night’s sleep.

If you’re regularly experiencing symptoms like this then it’s time to do something differently.

 

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got

My go to strategy when I feel burnout creeping in is to become more efficient at what I do. This strategy does work but it does have limitations, more about that later. To reduce my marking workload, I learnt how to automate my marking using google forms and saved myself from the laborious task of marking multiple choice questions. To improve my productivity I implemented block scheduling, I started to batch similar tasks to save time and mental energy and I learnt how to prioritise what tasks I should complete first by using an Eisenhower matrix.

Being open to implementing new ideas is incredibly important if you want to operate at a higher level. New ideas take time to implement but I can confidently say that these four productivity hacks have helped me to stay on top of things.

 

Work stays at work

I’ve found that this was my first year where I couldn’t implement a new ‘whizz, bang’ strategy to reduce my workload and therefore my stress. And when you’re stressed and overworked, you’re not giving the best version of yourself to your family. I’ve had many conversations with colleagues about ‘taking home the stress’ and I know I’m guilty of passing on my exhausted state and bad mood onto my family when I get home.

But no more.

This term I decided to isolate my work life from my home life and not let them mix, like oil and water, completely separate. So, I set myself a parameter of only completing work at school and I’ll only complete work at home unless I absolutely have to. This includes emails and making sure sick days remain as sick days.  

I don’t want to expend the remainder of my mental energy by doing work at home and leaving nothing for my family. This is how children become unhappy and how marriages breakdown. We give a lot of ourselves to the profession and it’s important that we intentionally hold back on giving even more of ourselves to our job.

While I might be spending more time at school, I have enjoyed reclaiming my home as a workfree sanctuary.

 

Establish start and leave times, then stick to them

To stay within my parameter of only completing work while I’m at work, I have been arriving at school a bit earlier, around 6:30am, to complete all those tasks that require silence and concentration. When applying the Eisenhower matrix I talked about earlier, I consider school hours as being for those ‘urgent and important’ tasks and my early morning starts are dedicated for those ‘not urgent but important’ tasks that need to be done.

Since using this strategy, I have never felt more on top of my work.

When it comes to finish times it depends upon my children’s routines. I try to stay at work til 4:30pm-5:00pm so I can complete everything at school. I do leave work ASAP on Fridays at 3:30pm. After all, it isn’t called TGIF for no reason.

Any tasks that are ‘not urgent but important’ can wait til next week!

 

Change up your night routine

Without quality sleep you cannot do this job effectively. Electronic devices are the worst thing you can have in your bedroom while you’re trying to get to sleep.

Not only are they a massive distraction they can also affect our body’s internal sleep clock. We have specialised ‘light sensitive’ cells within our retina that tell us when it’s daytime or night. If we are exposed to a lot of light at night, then our body still suspects it’s daytime. To work with this biological fact, part of my night routine is to make my house and bedroom as dark as possible. I also decided to create a charging station outside of my room to remove the urge to check my phone at night.

Since making these changes and getting to bed at 9:00pm, I’ve been able to claim about 1-2 hours of extra sleep.

 

It’s a marathon, not a race; it’s about the journey, not the destination

The most important parameter to set for yourself to prevent burnout is to have the RIGHT mindset for teaching.

Teaching is a passive skill that improves over time. While we can always do things to improve our effectiveness, we cannot rush this process; no matter how much work we put into supercharging our career. We need to try new things, implement new ideas, listen to feedback, experience failure and so on. We need to experience the discomfort of growth and learn from it.

This process takes time.

Those teachers who try to be everything all at once, who want to become the best teacher in the world, who completely commits themselves to the profession won’t be the teacher who lasts 60 years in the job. If you don’t feel like this is enough and you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, then remember this quote from Jodi Picoult.

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Implementing strategies and putting in place parameters to prevent burnout takes time but you must do it. If you don’t take burnout seriously and invest endless hours into your work, you’ll end up as just another burnout statistic. There is one more thing I want you to do having now read this blog. Log your hours at work and when you work from home. If there is anything that will make you reconsider how long you spend at work, then this is it.

I hope this blog has given you food for thought.


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