Teacher Burnout Is Real – How to Prevent It
The teaching profession has long been known as a job that can exhaust even the most enthusiastic educator. But lately, additional factors have further exacerbated the risk of teacher burnout among those who’ve chosen to devote their hearts and energies to a career in the classroom.
This article sets out to shine a spotlight on the serious issue of teacher burnout — whatever the cause or combination of factors — and offer ideas for stressed-out teachers to recover from burnout or prevent it entirely.
How real is teacher burnout?
Very real, according to information compiled by the University of San Diego:
40–50% percent of new teachers leave the classroom within the first five years
Nearly 10% of new teachers leave before the end of their first year
Over 15% of teachers switch schools annually
Job satisfaction among teachers is at the lowest rate in nearly 25 years
The U.S. Department of Education reports that during one survey year 4% of public school teachers were physically attacked at school and 7% were threatened by students with acts of violence
According to an EdWeek survey, more than 25% of teachers said job-related stress leads them to think often about quitting, and 16% said they dread going to work every day. In a Gallup survey, 46% of teachers reported high daily stress.
Symptoms of Teacher Burnout
You will likely know it when you feel it, but here are three of the chief symptoms of teacher burnout (Prodigy):
Cynicism – a sense of detachment from work or life, loss of enjoyment, pessimism and isolation
Feelings of ineffectiveness – Apathy, hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, poor performance
Physical and emotional exhaustion – Always tired, unable to sleep, forgetfulness or trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression, anger
Learners Edge offers a lengthier list of teacher burnout symptoms, including:
Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
Change in appetite
Quicker to anger
Decreased desire to attend social gatherings
Other physical issues like headache, stomach ache, heart palpitation, chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, brain fog
15 Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout
There is no shortage of advice for educators on how to prevent teacher burnout. We’ve reviewed a lot of them and curated the following ideas for you from several excellent sources:
1. Stay healthy – “Staying healthy is the single most important way to keep yourself happy and motivated throughout a school year.” This means creating regular time in your schedule for enjoyable exercise and also prioritizing getting a restful night’s sleep. (AES Education)
2. Make time for “me time” – Much of preventing teacher burnout is about self-care, so “don’t be afraid to schedule calendar time for yourself” to do the things that you enjoy and find rejuvenating. (We Are Teachers)
3. Smile – When caught up in all the conditions that are causing you stress, it can be tough to just smile. But it’s worth it. Smiling and laughing “physically changes your body chemistry” and can help “spark something inside you to keep moving forward.” Plus, the Association for Psychological Science asserts that “smiling not only improves your mood but others’ as well.” (TeachThought)
4. Talk to your colleagues – “No one understands your frustrations and challenges better than your colleagues. Communicating with your peers is one of the best ways you can prevent burnout because they can offer you the best support. ... You’ll probably help your fellow teachers at the same time!” (AES Education)
5. Set professional development goals and conquer them – “For some teachers, professional development can feel overwhelming, but it’s also really important and keeps you grounded on what matters. It can also help you remember why you got into teaching and feel better when you’re feeling burned out.” (We Are Teachers)
6. Avoid conflict – “We all know avoiding conflict seems almost laughable when you wear the label teacher, but it’s an important skill. Do it as much as possible.” Conflict can be ubiquitous at school, “so avoiding it saves a lot of time and energy on our part. You do this by adhering to that old saying, ‘Pick your battles’.” (TeachThought)
7. Solve problems quickly and efficiently – “When you can’t avoid the inevitable, solve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible. Strike the issue, use your gut to guide you, then let it all go. This keeps worry at bay and therefore saves you a lot of wasted energy.” (TeachThought)
8. Monitor your feelings – “Be hyper aware of how you feel. The first signs of feeling overwhelmed materialize differently with every person, but remain aware of [such feelings] and you’ll be able to control them by taking a step back from work, even for a few moments, just to observe.” (TeachThought)
9. Leave schoolwork at school – Create boundaries that help you keep work at work, and home at home. “This requires you to say no sometimes — to both personal and professional opportunities — but these boundaries will make you happier as a person.” (AES Education)
10. Take a day off – Sometimes, when you’ve really had it “up to here,” it may be a good idea to just take a day off. Consider treating yourself to “a day that’s not a holiday or a sick day, it’s just your day. When you return to work, you’ll be able to teach with more power and insight than before.” (TeachThought)
11. Slow down – “If taking a day off isn’t possible, just slow down. Skip the coffee and just take a break. Sit and stare out the window for minutes at a time. Walk slowly to your next meeting. Breathe fresh air. Remember the beauty of taking your time.” (TeachThought)
12. Teach in the moment – Another way of slowing things down, “mindful meditation uses breathing techniques to bring you closer to the present moment. Being in the present means being more proactive and controlled in difficult situations. In a recent study, subjects who spent more time practicing this showed increased levels of gray matter according to brain images.” (TeachThought)
13. Create small sanctuaries – “Your sanctuary doesn’t have to be the house and it can’t be the office. It can be a garden or a walk around a garden. It can be a drive to Starbucks for a Frappuccino. Sit there for at least 10 minutes, listen to the music and people watch. It might even be your bathroom. Create small spaces just for you in the different places you occupy in life.” (TeachThought)
14. Find support – “Find support in the form of superiors, co-workers, friends and family. Sometimes all you need is someone to guide you, to tell you what to do, especially if you’re too engulfed in an emotionally draining situation.” (TeachThought)
15. Don’t be afraid to find a new job – “If your current position isn’t allowing you to be the teacher you had imagined you’d be, perhaps there is another school or a different grade that is better suited for you.” (We Are Teachers)
Recovering from Teacher Burnout
The most notable recommendations for recovering from teacher burnout mirror the recommendations for preventing teacher burnout.
However, some helpful recommendations specifically aimed at teacher burnout recovery and rejuvenation are offered by A Teacher’s Best Friend. This site’s teacher burnout recovery tips are broken down by category:
Physical recovery – Tips here emphasize sleep; exercise; gentle restorative activities like yoga, walking, stretching; staying hydrated; and fueling yourself with “delicious, comforting, and nutritious meals.”
Emotional recovery – They recommend talking about your situation with supportive people, journaling, treating yourself to some silence now and then, taking to time to reflect on the good stuff as well as the bad, and other favorite, relaxing activities (guilty pleasures on TV, etc.) that connect to your “emotional diet.”
Cognitive recovery – “Our mental energy can become depleted on the cognitive level making it difficult to make decisions, or desire to grow and change.” One way to address this: “Take breaks where you don’t do anything – just be. Give yourself as much time in between activities as possible. Give yourself a margin to just BE.”
Spiritual recovery – “Spiritual recovery is all about reigniting the drive and motivation needed to engage in your life in a meaningful and purposeful way.” Noting that there is a “difference between a ‘good tired’ from working hard at something you love and ‘burnout tired,’ which is when the joy and excitement about life is gone,” they suggest:
Get into nature – “Go for a hike. Put your toes in the ocean. Get into nature however you most like to experience it.”
Connect to your being – “Meditation, prayer, spiritual reading [and] poetry are all things that can help you connect to your broader purpose and meaning in life.”
Connect back to your “why” – “Go back through your memory to find moments that inspire, encourage, and motivate you.”
Meet with a coach or therapist – “Sometimes we are so far ‘gone’ that we need some external support to reignite this side of ourselves. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help when you need it.”
Relational recovery – “Teacher burnout can leave us lonely and isolated, so it’s important to reignite the sense of belonging that we all crave.” You can practice relational recovery by:
Going to coffee or lunch with a friend
Engaging in meaningful conversation
Allowing someone to do something nice for you
Doing something nice for someone else
For a first-hand glimpse into one teacher’s experience with burnout, check out “The Steps I Am Taking to Recover from Fall Teacher Burnout” by teacher-blogger Stephanie Hampton.
Banish Burnout: An Educator’s Guide to Stopping Burnout Before It Stops You!
Indulging your inner student is another great way to prevent and recover from teacher burnout. A passion for lifelong learning is a common denominator among most teachers. So treating yourself to a course — for professional growth or pure enjoyment — can be a great way to push back against potential burnout.
One such course, offered 100% online by the University of San Diego’s Division of Continuing Education, is “Banish Burnout: An Educator’s Guide to Stopping Burnout Before It Stops You!”
Ideal for new and veteran teachers, as well as administrators, it is designed to help participants “learn how to recognize and ward off the overwhelming feeling of burnout.”
In addition to a wide range of practical, professional growth courses on such topics as classroom management, bullying prevention, remote teaching strategies and more, USD offers a wide range of online courses that engage educators in exploring personal passions connected to their profession. For example:
Helpful Resources to Address Teacher Burnout
In addition to some of those cited above, there are voluminous resources available for teachers seeking to address teacher burnout. A quick sampling includes:
Teacher Burnout FAQs
Q: What is teacher burnout?
A: The National Education Organization (NEA) describes teacher burnout as a “temporary condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to do the job.”
Q: How serious is the issue of teacher burnout in the education community?
A: A few notable statistics help answer this question: 46% of teachers report high daily stress, more than 25% say job-related stress leads them to think often about quitting and 16% say they dread going to work every day.
Q: What courses are available to help educators cope with teacher burnout?
Our personal favorite is one that’s offered 100% online by the University of San Diego’s Division of Continuing Education, “Banish Burnout: An Educator’s Guide to Stopping Burnout Before It Stops You!”