Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Teacher Zen: How I Keep from Getting Burned Out

Those who are not in the business of education just don't understand how hard it is to be a teacher.  Sure, school may be dismissed mid-afternoon, but that does not mean that teachers are dismissed.  Most of us arrive to school well before 8:00 a.m. and do not leave until 5:00 p.m. or later.  Sure, we have a planning period, but it is spent grading, planning lessons, making copies, emailing, contacting parents, and in meetings (just to name a few of the tasks).  And during class time, we have to be completely on point, helping one student with their work while keeping an eye on several other students off task across the room.  In a school day, there is not a single moment of rest for a teacher, leaving us feeling drained by the final bell.  But for many of us, we still keep working when we come home, finishing up grading, lesson planning, writing letters of recommendation for students, or whatever else the bureaucracy demands we complete by a certain date.  Or, if there is not some kind of paperwork to complete, we come home and think about what still needs to be done at school or continue to worry about a student that we still haven't been able to reach.  The reality is that teaching can and will rule our entire lives if we let it.  And because of this, many teachers (usually of quality) become burned out after a few years and call it quits.  But I have found that there are some ways to approach these tasks so that this doesn't happen.

First, you have to leave school at school.  I teach 130 seniors and 50 sophomores, and I bring home grading maybe twice each school year.  How is this possible you ask?  I stay late at school.  I usually do not leave the building until 5:00 or 5:30, which is a little painful sometimes, but I am much more likely to get work done in an empty school building with Pandora playing softly in the background than I am seated in my comfortable chair at home with my adorable dog who is wanting to play.  And let's be real, when I'm watching television, I want to focus on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, not the pile of papers sitting in my lap.  Now, I realize that staying late at school is not possible for some teachers because of children or some other obligation, so maybe coming to school early would be a better option; you just have to figure out what works for your schedule.  But I promise, spending a little more time in the school building will make for a happier, more balanced life at home.

Also, let me let you in on a little secret: if you don't get that pile of papers graded before the end of the grading period, no one will know or care.  In my first year of teaching, I can remember working like a maniac, trying to get every little piece of work graded before the end of each grading period.  But then I finally realized that I am essentially my own boss in the classroom and that it was my own deadlines that I was trying to meet.  Since this revelation, I have given myself a bit of a break.  This is not to say that you should let work sit around for long periods of time, but if you've been working on a stack of essays and they still aren't done when it's time to go home on Friday, odds are they can wait until Monday to be finished.

Another thing I like to do is keep a running list of everything I need to do, from grading to planning to little menial tasks.  Each day at school, I tackle the next most important item on the list and focus on just that task until it is complete.  These lists keep me from forgetting what needs to be done and help me to prioritize.  Also, it feels awesome to cross things off.

Although teaching is time consuming, you have to remember to make yourself a priority.  If you are feeling run-down, it is hard to be your best self in the classroom and at home.  What are some things you do to keep your sanity during the school year?


  1. One thing I have become very good at this year is keeping school at school. I grade at school and if it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done. When I come home, I have already punched out. With the amount of hours and time we truly put into our job, there needs to be a cut-off. So, home is home... and school will still be there tomorrow. I also drum..... very loudly. Great release!

    1. I love that! What happens at school, stays at school