Strategies for Managing Stress for Teachers

 

In a previous post entitled, “Teaching is Stressful,” I wrote that I would provide thoughts on how teachers can manage their stress in a future series. I write this now because I know that teacher stress is building right now. It’s that time of year.
 
See the chart below to see a graphic of how the first-year teacher experiences stress.

 

This chart illustrates the typical experience of many first-year teachers. First-year teachers aren’t the only ones who experience stress because of school, though. By now many veteran teachers are hanging on, waiting in anticipation of Thanksgiving. The long weekend represents a respite from the stress of school.
 
I have written about this cycle that keeps some teachers stuck with the profession. That post is, “The Cycle that Keeps Teachers Stuck.”
 
Many people in the general public don’t understand what teachers experience. The fact is, though, that teachers in today’s classrooms are feeling a heightened sense of stress. I know because they contact me almost daily, and the number of calls has spiked earlier than usual this year.
 
There are many things that teachers can do to help manage and reduce the effect of their stress. But doing so means committing to taking better care of themselves.
 
The first–and least expensive–stress management strategy a teacher can adopt is staying hydrated.
 
I know the first reaction of many teachers is to say, “Are you kidding? Who has time to go to the bathroom?”
 
And I know it is true. Many teachers don’t get bathroom breaks for long periods of time. One way to manage that reality is to limit the amount of liquid they take in.
 
That approach is problematic, though. Your brain is made up of 75% water. Your brain will take precedence over other organs in your body in its effort to stay hydrated. That can have long-term negative effects on your heart, kidneys, and digestive system.
 
But your brain needs to stay hydrated because it needs water to function.

Flat infographic concept of everyday water drinking, water consumption

 
In a post on the website, “The Conversation,” as little as 1 percent dehydration negatively affects your mood, attention, memory and motor coordination.
 
Teachers need to be 100% present and able to think quickly and clearly. If you are even mildly dehydrated, you can’t be your best.
 
Staying hydrated also helps those who are prone to migraines. And it can help maintain a healthy weight. Often, people will eat a sugary snack thinking they are hungry and they are thirsty instead.
 
Start taking steps toward managing your stress by staying hydrated.
You may experience an urge to go to the bathroom more frequently at first. But once your body gets used to being properly hydrated, you shouldn’t have to go that often. Work out a system with a teaching partner to cover for you while you make a bathroom break, and you do the same for them.
 
Making yourself sick by not taking care of yourself serves no one, least of all your students. They need you to be on top of your game all the time. They pay the price if you get cranky and moody because you are approaching mild dehydration. Do yourself–and them–a favor and stay hydrated. It is a good first step toward managing your stress more effectively and proactively.
 
Want to learn more on how to manage your stress? Get a free PDF, “Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed.” It is my gift to you. I hope you will use to help you manage your stress starting today.

 

Speaking to the Issue of Teacher Burnout as a Guest on the “Always a Lesson” Podcast

A few months ago, I went in search of people who are offering podcasts related to education, and I found that there are many. In fact, many of them are connected through the Education Podcast Network. I reached out to a number of these individuals and connected with them through LinkedIn so I could follow their work.

In the process, I connected with one young teacher who is passionate about empowering teachers. She offers both a blog and a podcast and is a member of the Education Podcast Network.

Gretchen Schultek Bridgers who offers the podcast, “Always a Lesson” asked if I would be willing to be a guest on her podcast. I was thrilled to do that, and the resulting interview was released just this morning.

If you feel that you may be experiencing the signs or symptoms of burnout, don’t despair. There is hope. Perhaps you will hear something in this podcast that will spark an idea or generate an action plan. I sincerely hope so.

And if you have any questions about what you might be able to do if you decided that teaching isn’t what you want to do anymore, we should talk. Make an appointment for a no-obligation strategy session by using the form to the right of this message. It won’t cost you anything but a little bit of your time, and it may help you decide on next steps in your career.

Enjoy the podcast by clicking here.

Until next time.

Maybe You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

Young woman asking for help.

Since I help teachers who are experiencing burnout find alternative careers, I am often asked the question, “What else can I do besides teach?”

And my answer is, “That depends. What would you like to do?”

It isn’t a trick question, yet it seems to stump more people than it doesn’t.

The frequency with which that exchange takes place makes me wonder. Have we been so conditioned to believe we have to take what we think we can get that we don’t dare go for what we want?

It is ironic, isn’t it? Teachers are often the very people who inspire and motivate their students to reach their full potential. Most people can recall that one special teacher (at least one) who saw something in them and made them feel like they could stretch themselves toward a goal that felt unattainable. Teachers routinely encourage their students to stretch outside their comfort zones. They see things in us that we don’t see or feel in ourselves. Right?

Many of the teachers I speak with on a daily basis, however, believe that their own options are limited.

And that makes me sad.

The typical conversation starts with, “What are the options for teachers? What else can I do with my education credentials and experience?”

My answer is always, “You can do whatever you want…but you have to believe that you can, and you have to be willing to take some chances.”

And there, I am afraid, comes the rub.

Teachers are not prone to be big risk takers.

That is not a criticism, but it is an observation, and it is based at least in part on my own experience.

Teachers like to play it safe. For the most part, we are rule followers as well as rule makers. We believe in rules, and we believe in practicalities. Having something “stable” may outweigh having something that feels less predictable.

Many teachers tell me, “I have to have a job with benefits.”

I get that. Getting a job with benefits was the main reason I took my first job. My mother was determined that I take whatever I could get because her insurance company would be kicking me off her plan within a few months of graduation. As a nurse, she was keenly aware of my need to “be covered.”

And I am not unsympathetic, I promise. Upon retirement, I started paying almost $600 a month for my own insurance because I wasn’t willing to take a risk that I would stay healthy.

So, having a job with good benefits is a good thing.

But I have to wonder if it is worth it if it keeps you stuck in a job your no longer enjoy?

Every individual has to make that choice for themselves. I am in no position to advise you to quit your job and not have a plan.

But I am suggesting that it isn’t helping you if you aren’t willing to look at all of your options.

These days, it is possible to have insurance without being tied to a job you don’t feel invested in anymore.

And it is worth taking a risk, perhaps, if it is one that would pay off in the long run.

The main thing I am suggesting is that you be open to possibilities.

Unless you are approaching retirement, if you are in the category of “burnt-out teacher,” it may be time for you to check your alternatives. But start with the right questions. What were you born to do? What is your true passion? What is your mission in this life? If you have a magic wand, and you could do, be, have, or accomplish anything in the world without fear of failure, what would you be doing instead of what you are doing now?

If your answer is, “Nothing. I was born to teach, and I plan to teach for the rest of my life” then that is great news! We need good teachers. We need dedicated and committed teachers, and I wouldn’t dream of encouraging you to leave.

BUT, if you are not enjoying teaching, and you think there must be “something else out there” that you could do instead, we should probably talk.

It’s your life. It’s your decision. And there is no time like now to start if you want to make a change.

Until next time.

                               It’s Your Time

 

Yes, Teachers Do Need Freedom, But Few Feel They Have It

I just read an excellent article by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair in The Atlantic. It is entitled, “Why Teachers Need Their Freedom,” and she describes how she and her co-teacher used some of the techniques offered in a book called Teaching Content Outrageously by Stanley Pogrow. I applaud Ashley for being willing to take a risk. I am sure her students enjoyed the lesson that she described in the article, and I do not doubt that engaging them differently make an impact.

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that teachers need their freedom when it comes to deciding how to teach effectively. They have been trained, after all, to do just that. The dilemma, of course, is that few teachers feel they have any freedom or autonomy at all.

For them to feel “free,” they would have to break the chains of restraint that most districts are imposing upon them.

 

I talk to teachers every day who feel the restrictions upon them in such a way that they feel chained–strangled, even–by the uncompromising demands made by their administrators.

I have to wonder if Ashley and her co-teacher would have used the lesson described in her article if it had been a day that they were being observed by the principal for evaluation. Perhaps they would have. It would have been instructive for the administrator to see, but somehow I doubt that they would have felt the “freedom” to be that innovative on observation day. I hope I am wrong about that. But even though they might have been bold enough to offer that lesson for administrative observation, I know many teachers who wouldn’t feel that kind of confidence.

In fact, the teachers who call me are talking increasingly about their profound sense of burnout with their jobs. They talk about feeling overly restricted by the demands of the administration to comply with rules that don’t make a lot of sense to them.

Just this week, a teacher who cares deeply about her students said to me, “I feel that I am out of integrity with myself because I am doing things that I don’t even believe are in the best interests of my students.”

She was referring to the endless round of tests that she is required to administer. Learning is taking a back seat to testing. It doesn’t seem to matter to the people in charge of schools these days if any authentic learning is taking place. Everything hinges on how well the students do on their various tests.

 

Student filling out answers to a test with a pencil.

People, in general, like to feel that they have some control in their lives including how they conduct themselves on the job. When you feel that every move is prescripted and every decision is made by someone else, it tears at the individual in a fundamental way. I believe that this is a cause of the rise in teacher burnout that I am witnessing just anecdotally.

The teachers who call me say without exception, “I still love my kids. I love teaching, but it’s all the other stuff I don’t want to do anymore.”

I know how they feel. Part of the reason I left education and started this business is that I could not bring myself to participate in the teaching of arbitrary standards and administering tests that have little real meaning. I long for the days when I was treated like a professional. And most of the people I talk to feel the same way.

I wholeheartedly agreed that teachers DO need their freedom. I wish they had it. I wish they felt like they could declare it for themselves. Few feel that they have that freedom, however. And the result is teacher burnout on the rise.

BURNOUT

 

If you happen to be one of those teachers who feels that your job is causing you undue stress, the first order of business that you should address if your stress level. I invite you to download a free PDF on stress management that offers some simple but effective strategies for managing your stress and becoming more resilient. To get the free report, click here.

 

And if you think you might be suffering from symptoms of teacher burnout, you may also download another free PDF that offers 7 questions that will help you determine if you are burned out and your level of burnout. Get that PDF by clicking here.

 

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.

Until next time.

A Major Challenge Teachers Face as School is Starting

Sometimes, the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.

I have to say I do not envy teachers who are headed back to school this fall, and for those who are already at it, I hope you are doing okay. What is happening in the country at the moment is hard enough for adults to understand. I cannot imagine trying to explain it to children. Yet, at some point, depending on the age and maturity of the children you teach, you will need to try to explain it.

Most classrooms operate like mini-democracies.

Students are taught basic fundamentals of respect for adults in the room and their classmates. They are told that it isn’t okay to hit, bite, or punch their classmates, although I am told that hitting, biting, and punching is on the rise in some areas. (I was told this by an HR person for a large school district, so I trust it to be an accurate depiction of what is happening in some places.)

Bullying is not allowed in our classrooms. In spite of that basic premise, we are all well aware that bullying has become a national epidemic.

As teachers, we emphasize the importance of fundamental fairness and respect for authority and for one another in our classrooms.

We also teach that facts matter. And (I hope) we teach that history, when ignored, has a bad habit of repeating itself.

We don’t just teach the fundamental curriculum. We teach students the importance of caring and sharing and having empathy for one another.

How in the world does a teacher teach these fundamental concepts to impressionable children when the leaders of the free world–and I am not just talking about the President of the United States but any leader in Congress or any state official who is guilty of arguing on national TV that somehow, two wrongs make a right? Because at the moment, that is exactly what I hear many of them are doing.

I am writing this post because I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing adults argue that just because one group did something wrong it is somehow okay for the other group to do something wrong.

THIS IS WRONG.

Two wrongs do NOT make a right…they make for two wrongs that build on one another and only exacerbate an already bad situation.

As teachers, it is your challenge to somehow communicate that in spite of whatever your students may be hearing on TV or in community discourse, fundamental goodness, honesty, integrity, and justice are not things of the past.

We must keep those concepts alive if we are to survive as a civil and just society. It is imperative that every teacher in the country make this their number challenge for this year.

Please don’t succumb to cynicism.

I know it is easy to get sucked into the nastiness. Please hold yourself above the fray. Please remember that we need you to stay strong. We need you to be good role models for our children.

Don’t give in out of weariness that all this craziness is creating in all of us. You may be the only example of goodness that your children get to see! It is up to you to be a light. It is up to you to bring about an understanding of what civil discourse is all about. It is up to you to try to maintain a cool head in spite of the confusion going on around you.

It is a heavy burden, and I am sorry to lay it on you, but I worry about where we are headed if cooler heads–and kinder hearts–don’t prevail here.

 

Respect/disrespect give and earn respectful a different and other opinion or view

I write this blog for “teachers in distress,” and I am usually writing for those who have considered that maybe they have come to the end of their teaching career. I help those folks figure out what else they might do instead of teaching.

But today’s post is dedicated to those teachers who are showing up in the nation’s classrooms now and in the weeks to come. You must meet the challenge ahead of you. I don’t envy you, but I am glad you are there. Your children need you. Your country needs you.

Equality Rights Balance Fair Justice Ethics Concept

 

Whether you teach civics or history or math…whether you teach 5th grade or kindergarten…we need you to be the voice of reason. We need you to bring a sense of balance and justice and ethical decision-making to your job every single day. We need you to teach your children about fairness and individual rights. We need you to do all of these things.

Thank you for being a teacher. I appreciate you more than you can possibly know and today more than ever.

Until next time.

 

 

It’s “Back to School” Time!

Back to School

It’s “Back to School” time! Sales for school supplies, school clothes and shoes have all started. Even if the school doesn’t start for you until after Labor Day, you have already started thinking about going back, I bet.

In my last post, I recommended that if you are a teacher and you are contemplating your return to school for another year, it may be a good idea to do a “gut check.”

After writing about that, I had teachers tell me that they literally feel sick to their stomachs when they contemplate going back for another year.

That isn’t good.

Here is what I know for sure.

If you go back with an attitude that you are just hanging on by your fingernails, your kids will sense it. You aren’t going to be having any fun, and neither are they.

It bothers me that teacher burnout seems to be on the upswing. After all, if everyone left teaching all of a sudden, what would happen to our kids? Who would teach them?

On the other hand, if you are a teacher who is experiencing the pain and heartache of burnout, it is a cinch that you aren’t doing your best work anymore, and you owe it to your kids to either get your burnout handled or look for something else to do.

Taking care of the burnout may be the simplest approach. Have you taken advantage of the free e-book I wrote a couple of years ago on stress management? If not, I invite you to take a look at it. It is a simple, straightforward approach to 7 strategies for managing stress more effectively and proactively. Burnout is the result of stress gone unmanaged for too long.

Take a look at the book and download it by clicking here:  http://kittyboitnott.leadpages.co/ebook.

Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain                               Overwhelmed ebook

If you aren’t sure if you are experiencing burnout, perhaps you would benefit from checking out my free 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout Assessment. To download the assessment for free, click here:  https://kittyboitnott.leadpages.co/7-signs-of-teacher-burnout/.

If your burnout goes beyond needing simple stress management techniques, it may be time to explore other career alternatives. As a Career Transition and Job Search Coach, I specialize in helping teachers who are feeling burned out explore their career options.

For many teachers, just knowing that you have options helps alleviate some of the sense of being stuck where you aren’t happy anymore.

So, I urge you to take note of how you feel as you consider going back to school this fall. If you are excited and looking forward to it, good for you.

If you are filled with dread at the prospect, it may be time to get help. Contact me by visiting my website at TeachersinTransition.com.

Sign up for a complimentary Discovery Session. I would love to talk with you to see if I can help.

Until next time.

 

The Doctor Prescribes Summer Vacation to Treat Teacher Burnout

If you are a teacher, you will recognize the truth of this statement:  Summer vacation is the best medicine for treating teacher burnout.

dog sunbathing

Many people–those who have never taught and don’t know a teacher well–don’t appreciate that teachers can suffer from burnout. They think you have a great job. One such insensitive soul recently wrote to me, “Teacher burnout? No other profession had one day off for every day worked! And many of those work days end at 3 PM.”

This individual has never taught a day in his life. Nor does he know or care about a teacher.

From the outside looking in, people think teachers have it easy, though. They don’t understand all of the work that goes into planning, grading, department meetings, faculty meetings, professional development meeting, IEP meetings, parent-teacher meetings, etc., etc., etc.

They don’t appreciate that when you are a teacher, you take on the burdens of your students. Because you care about them, you do everything in your power to help them. You face multiple challenges a day. By the time summer comes around, you need–and deserve–a break.

The teacher on summer vacation will feel carefree for the first time in months. They take charge of their own schedule. They can relax and read when, whatever, and where they want. They can meet friends over leisurely lunches.

There are no lesson plans to prepare and no papers to grade. They have no parents to call and no principals to please for the next eight to ten weeks, and it feels heavenly.

I know this because I was a teacher and school librarian for over 30 years. I experienced the freedom of summer vacations a few years during that time. Most summers, I wound up working because I needed the income. I still recall the lazy days of summer during the vacations I was able to take, however.

Unfortunately, summer vacations are partly responsible for keeping teachers stuck in the profession long after it feels satisfying. Over the summer months, it is easy to forget the frustration of the previous year. By mid-summer, when school supplies go on sale, most teachers start to look forward to the beginning of the new year.

This is partly why teachers stick with teaching even when they are deeply unhappy. I have written about the cycle that keeps teachers stuck in this blog.

If you are a teacher who has complained about your job for the bulk of the past school year, you need to take a look at that post. Letting summer vacation lull you into inaction delays what may be inevitable. If you are a teacher who thinks that you have made a wrong career choice or that you are ready for a different choice, I recommend that you don’t wait. Start investigating your career alternatives now. Consider what your dream job would be if it isn’t teaching after all.

“Dream Job” is written in the sand.

I recently hosted a webinar about how to create a plan for leaving teaching, and one of the participants commented that she wished she had started making her plan five years ago. It reminded me that there is no time like now.

In fact, it reminded me of the adage that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now.

You can’t change the past. You can’t predict the future. You only have now. You get to choose how to handle the present.

Your dream job does not have to remain a dream. We currently live in an emerging economy where people are creating their own jobs every single day. They are retooling themselves. They are recreating themselves. I did it. You can too!

I am excited at the possibility that we are on the cusp of a new economic era. One in which people are doing more of what they love. They are creating work for themselves that they not only love and feel satisfied doing, but they are contributing to the world in a meaningful way. It is possible. Millions of people of doing it right now. You can too, if that is what you want.

Enjoy your summer vacation. You deserve it. You earned it. But don’t let the time slip away when you could be looking into your various options.

Truth is, you may decide that teaching is what you were meant to do, and you will decide to stick with it. Making that decision will help you will feel more empowered than you did before. You will feel more in control of your own professional destiny.

If you decide that teaching has lost its attraction to you, however, there are many other things you can pursue instead. You just have to be open to looking into them.

If you are open to examining your alternatives, you may be interested in a free guide on the 10 things you should consider if you think you are ready to make a job or career change.

Get this 95-page guide on the 10 specific considerations you may or may not have thought of and how to deal with them. Click here to get your FREE copy.

If you haven’t looked for a job for a while, there is a lot you don’t know and haven’t thought of. This guide will help you avoid some costly mistakes.

Do you need help looking for your next career opportunity? Why not try out a 20-minute complimentary Discovery Session? Just click here for my calendar. I would love to chat with you about your possibilities.

Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP is a former educator and Past President of the Virginia Education Association. After over three decades teaching and advocating for public education, she retooled and reinvented herself. She became a Certified Life Strategies and Stress Management Coach and a Career Transition & Job Search Coach trained by a nationally known career expert. Kitty specializes in helping teachers who are suffering from teacher burnout. She is the owner and CEO of Boitnott Coaching, LLC and the founder of TeachersinTransition.comTeachersinDistress.Wordpress.com, andKittyatCareerMakeover.CoachesConsole.com.

Not sure is you are experiencing teacher burnout? Check yourself with this free checklist. Click here:  :  https://kittyboitnott.leadpages.co/7-signs-of-teacher-burnout/

Business man in office with burnout syndrome at desk

Teacher feeling burnout.

In addition to one-on-one coaching, Kitty provides training and workshops on stress management for educators and busy professionals who need to learn how to better manage the stress in their lives in addition to career transition counseling and job search advice.

Work should be fulfilling and FUN! If you aren’t living the life and working at the job or career of your dreams you need to consider what changes needed to be made. Contact Kitty for a Discovery Session now.

It’s TESTING TIME for Teachers and Students

If you are a teacher, you are probably already feeling the pressure of testing time, and it isn’t even April! I have started getting messages from teachers who are too busy to think about what they might want to do next year career-wise. They are in simple survival mode.

And I get it.

During my last 20 years of serving as a library media specialist at the elementary school level, I served two schools. The first school struggled for the first year or two after testing mania took hold in Virginia, but once we figured out what we needed to do and we actually had a curriculum to follow, we got accredited and it was fairly smooth sailing each year. Teachers were concerned, of course, and the spring drill began there just like it does most other places, but nobody was losing sleep worrying about whether the school would meet accreditation standards.

That changed when I changed schools in 2001. I moved from a fairly affluent suburban community to a Title I school with a majority minority population. The year I arrived was the year after the school had finally reached accreditation status after years of being on the state department’s list of “failing schools.”

The photo below sums up how most of my colleagues felt for half of the school year.Business man in office with burnout syndrome at desk

In fact, I recall the tension beginning to build as early as February…months before the tests were to be administered. The climate on our campus changed dramatically. You could feel the tension as though it were a palpable substance. Teachers worried…would they be able to get their kids through this year or would we go back to being blacklisted by the state?

I was there for eight years, and that anxiety from February through June never stopped. Each year, teachers and administrators brainstormed new ways of trying to drill the standards into the children so they would pass the standardized tests.

I wasn’t a classroom teacher, so during each spring testing season, I was called upon to proctor. It always made me sad. I watched the teachers fret and the children struggle. The students all knew on some level that the stakes were high. They tried very hard. And each year, from 2001 until I left in 2008, they managed to pass, but that never alleviated the concern that they might not.

This is the time when stress really ramps up for teachers. They begin to lose sleep, staying up late making lesson plans or grading papers, or brainstorming ways to get their kids to understand better what they need to know for the tests.

They begin to eat more because they are stressed out. They begin to forget about exercise. Who has time? They start to gain weight but are too busy to do anything about it.

They leave off getting together with friends for the same reason. They are just too busy and preoccupied to be very sociable.

I get it. I’ve lived it. But here is what I know for sure. Taking on the weight of the world during this season will maybe mean the difference of a point or two on a student’s test, but it could ultimately make you sick.

Stress gone unchecked can raise your blood pressure, cause early onset diabetes, bring on heart attacks, and gastrointestinal issues.

This is the time of year when you need to take better care of yourself. It is more important now than ever!

Download my FREE eBook, Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed:  a Guide to Managing Your Stress and Creating a Greater Sense of Work-Life Balance. 

I can’t guarantee that you will feel as stress-free as this woman:  

stressfreewoman

But I can guarantee that you will learn some strategies that may help you cope more effectively during these last few months of school.

I also invite you to attend a live, FREE workshop entitled, “Stress Management Tools for Teachers.” 

To register, click here.

During this 60-minute class, you will learn more about the seven specific strategies that I recommend for you in the book. These are strategies for you to practice not just during the spring testing season, but all year long. You need to take care of your health! If you wind up sick, what happens to how your students prep for their big tests that are coming up?

Don’t let the testing season bring you down! “Do your best and forget the rest” as Tony Horton says. You need to be present for your spouse and your own children, after all. Heck, your students will be negatively affected if you are stressed out and cranky because you feel overwhelmed with work responsibilities.

So what do you say? First download the free eBook here.  Report cover Final (1)

Then sign up for the workshop, “Stress Management Tools for Teachers” here or click the button below.

Big red sign up now button

Photos by Shutterstock.

Until next time.

 

 

 

The Cycle that Keeps Many Teachers Stuck

clock-apple-phone-books

The career of teaching is unique in that it is one of the only jobs of which I know that allows you to complete a  full cycle, experience a period of rest and practically complete separation from the job, and then the start of a brand new cycle each year. If there is any job like that other than that of a college professor, I don’t know of it.

The school year in most parts of the country starts around August or September and ends in May or June, allowing students and teachers alike a full 6-8 weeks away before coming back and starting the cycle again.

The cycle that is embedded in the typical school calendar is part of what keeps teachers stuck–sometimes for years. They hang on from vacation to vacation. And certain specific emotions accompany each part of the year.

For example, at the beginning of the year, there is a certain sense of anticipation that is almost palpable. In fact, for a few weeks before the first day of school, the excitement mounts as school supplies appear on store shelves and preparation for the new year goes into high gear. Teachers and students alike enjoy the first day of school and the ensuing first few weeks. Eventually, however, the honeymoon period wears off as the routine of day-to-day school activities get under way.

In general, teachers are just as excited as the kids the first few weeks of school. If it is a “good year,” the teacher will count his or her blessings, and the year will proceed in without much incident.

If it is a “bad year,” however, that is another story. What constitutes a “bad year?” Teachers will know the answer to this question, but for those who haven’t experienced it, let me recount what a “bad year” was like for me back when I was starting my 2nd year of teaching.

There are 180 school days in the school year for my state not including teacher workdays and holidays. One hundred and eighty days of students.

I started my countdown on day #179.

I remember telling myself as I drove into my apartment complex after the 2nd day of school, “Only 178 more days.” That was 40 years ago…I remember it like it was yesterday.

Why was it a “bad year?” I didn’t have “bad” kids. In fact, on paper, they should have been a dream class! They were all bright with IQ’s hovering around 120, and they were all from nice, middle-class families. In fact, they were all in the band, so they had that in common. They were also incredibly poorly behaved with little or no impulse control, even for 6th graders.

I had a set of twins who were so similar that the only way I was able to tell them apart was the color of their tennis shoes. One of them forged his mom’s signature on a homework assignment…so I had to call Dad about that. Dad didn’t question that the twins were a handful. What he questioned was whether I had the experience I needed to manage them. (He was right to wonder given my relative inexperience.)

Another one of my students that year was like the Charlie Brown character, “Pig Pen.” He traveled with a cloud of chaos and clutter around him all of the time. His desk always looked like it had just exploded papers from who knows where. Maneuvering around his desk was impossible because his books, book bag, coat…and everything else he owned…was strewn in the aisles around him. He was a sweet kid, but I bet today wherever he is, he has left a trail of clutter in his wake. He could not seem to help himself.

I had another student who would occasionally sit on the floor and rock back and forth, hitting his head on the radiator. Nothing would console him when he was in one of these moods, and class would come to a screeching halt while I tried lamely to calm his ragged nerves over whatever the distress of the moment happened to be.

Another student…Richard…never stopped talking! He was extremely good-natured, likable, and entertaining…he is probably very successful today and a leader somewhere…but he was physically unable to restrain himself from talking…so I put him next to me at my desk so I could keep him close to me and away from his neighbors. It didn’t work.

I had yet another student in that class who was such a contrarian that if I had said the sky was blue, he would have wanted to argue that it was green instead.

The point is that this class never gelled into the highly functioning group I wanted them to be…the way the class I had the year before had or the way the group I had the year after did. There was always some drama going on with them, and teaching them English and Language Arts was more than a little challenging.

It didn’t help that the teacher they had before me went out on sick leave around the middle of October, and their long-term sub was too easy going and didn’t have the classroom management skills needed for the group. Neither did I given that I was still new and still learning. But that is what I mean by a “bad year.”

During a “bad year,” things just don’t as well as you might like. What keeps most teachers going is that for every “bad year” they might have, they will usually have a couple of “good years.” At least that was the case for me. I had a great group the year before and the year after. In all of my 33 years as a practitioner, I only had that one really “bad year.”

That doesn’t mean that the rest of my professional career was perfect, however. I was often frustrated with the low pay and the lack of respect I felt people had for my chosen profession. At one point, I even sought out a career counselor to investigate other types of work that I might do. Finding nothing suitable, I decided to go for my Master’s degree instead. If I was going to stay in education, I thought I should at least maximize my earnings.

Each year for the full 33 years of my career, I experienced the same cycle of excitement about the first of the year, sometimes feeling tired and frustrated as early as October and early November, hoping for a long weekend over the Thanksgiving break. I decided that you can do almost anything no matter how tired or sick or frustrated you are for the few weeks between Thanksgiving and the Winter Break. The New Year represented another fresh start, and then we would get into the slog of February and early March. I would start to look forward to Spring Break. Then, toward the end of my career, we started the testing season around the time of Spring Break. Testing season consumes all else. In my last school, the anxiety around the spring state tests was palpable. The school had been an at-risk school at one point, and each year, the fear was that the kids wouldn’t make the cut this year. I was there for eight years, and that fear never went away.

Once we got through the testing season, it was downhill to summer vacation. And that is the cycle that teachers typically experience.

This is also the cycle that I believe keeps teachers stuck in a profession that may or may not serve them any longer. Matthew Boomhower sums it all up pretty well in his blog post, “Emotional Stages of a Teacher’s Career.”

Picture

The point is that when I talk with teachers who are feeling the painful symptoms of burnout by the time they are into year 9 (or 18)–they can relate to this cycle. It is the cycle that has kept them coming back year after year until they decide they just can’t do it anymore.

If you are suffering from those symptoms of burnout (and if you aren’t sure, you should down the free checklist of 7 signs of teacher burnout here), you should acknowledge them and consider if you can continue in the profession or if it is time to consider alternatives.

If you aren’t sure, you should check out my presentation on the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout. You might find the information useful. I hope so.

So, if you can relate to this cycle, let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Let me acknowledge that I know not all teachers feel the symptoms of burnout, and I am glad that is the case. Our students need and deserve teachers who want to work with them and be with them. I am concerned about the teacher who has hit the point of no return and is having such a miserable time of it that all he/she can think any more is “there must be more that I can do than this.”

Why Teachers are Leaving, and Why We Should All Care


As another school year winds down, I find myself communicating with dozens of teachers each week either by phone or email. The conversations run along similar lines, and the theme remains consistent:  “I love my kids. If I could just teach, I would be happy to continue, but there is more to it than loving kids, and I just can’t do it anymore. Can you help me?”

This conversation breaks my heart every time I engage in it, but I do so because I want to help those teachers who are experiencing the pain and heartache of burnout.

Without exception, the individual with whom I find myself talking is smart and talented and started out with high expectations and pure intentions. Each one once had a sincere desire to be a great teacher. The experience of each person I have talked to has varied from five to 26 years. Some have been in one school, and others have been in different schools, but the story lines are similar regardless of whether the teacher in question is calling from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, or Richmond, VA. “I just can’t do it anymore. Can you help me?”

unhappyteacher

I tell each of them that I can relate. I left public education after being one of its fiercest advocates four years ago. I took early (I mean early) retirement because the idea of returning to a classroom to teach to curriculum standards I didn’t believe in and administering tests that are a travesty were unpalatable options for me. I left teaching and public education prematurely because I was burned out after four years as President of the Virginia Education Association. In part, I left because I knew I didn’t have the physical energy or stamina to take on teaching middle school English. I hadn’t taught English since 1980! Mostly, I retired early because I didn’t have any desire to participate in a system that I believe is counter to what is in the best interest of children.

So I quit–I took early retirement–and I now help others leave the profession sooner than they had thought they would so that they can discover what other career paths they can pursue instead.

My new mission in life is to help others accomplish what I have managed to accomplish for myself:  find work that plays to their natural strengths, their talents, and their natural abilities.

Work shouldn’t feel like such a chore.

Are you experiencing teacher burnout? Not sure? Download the 7 signs of teacher burnout by clicking on the button below.

For the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout Click Here

For those who are not teachers, here is why you should care about the epidemic of teacher burnout that is rampant and affecting teachers all over the country. If they all decide to quit, and the ones who are eligible all retire in the next few years, who will be left to teach?

Charter schools have become the rage, but they haven’t delivered in spite of all the hype about them. I don’t believe they are the answer.

And even if charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools were suddenly to provide the answer, they cannot possibly address all of the needs of all of the children who currently have a barely surviving public system to support them.

I worry about the future of public education in the country, but I am dedicated to the individual teachers who call me asking for my help. On a macro level, I think we are about to experience a teacher shortage of epic proportions. I worry that no one seems to care.

On a micro level, however, life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t enjoy…no matter what it is.

If you are a teacher experiencing the pain of teacher burnout and stress, here is a “cheat sheet” of suggestions for how you might better manage the stress of your current situation. Click on the button below:

For the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout Click Here (1)

Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, or just a citizen with a passing interest in what is happening in the world, I believe you should care about what is happening to our teachers and in our nation’s schools. The grinding nature of the job has become too much for too many, and they are looking for a way to escape. I am here to help them, but I also worry about the vacuum that is being left in the wake of their leaving.

We should all care about what is happening to public education in our country…before it is too late.