Last night while having some Malaysian food with a good friend of mine who teaches music at a local elementary school, the conversation turned to another good friend of ours, a former teacher who ended up leaving the profession due to burnout. My friend nodded her head knowingly.
“Yeah,” she said, sounding resigned. “I think Jenny (a third friend who teaches high school English) is going to burn out this year, maybe next.”
We then moved on to other topics, but today I’m still thinking about it. The idea of teacher burnout is widespread, and to a certain extent, so accepted that it seems sometimes that teachers who don’t burn out are the exception. There are few other professions where such high turnover is as readily accepted. The USDOE, in a recent study, found that only 20 percent of teachers left teaching involuntarily between 2011 and 2012.
As someone who works on the technology side of education, I routinely see exceptional teachers going above and beyond to help their students. In fact, this “by any means” attitude is an inspiration to myself and those on my team. But we also see teachers as they burn out, frustrated for many day-to-day reasons. According to the USDOE, one in ten teachers won’t start a second year as a teacher.
As a school management system that believes in the power of data, Schoolrunner believes in a day where teachers have the right information at the right time to make the right decisions for their students. A day where a school’s student data system is a source of support for teachers who work to be more agile and strategic in their chosen craft, instead of a source of frustration. A day where teachers can spend their Saturdays enjoying brunch, and not sorting through reams of spreadsheets.
With this in mind, I’ve hacked into the tech world in order to bring you a few useful tactics you can use to fend off burnout and turn the profession you worked hard for into a long-term passion for learning & teaching!
Start a Squad
Classroom management is a challenge for any teacher beginning to feel the effects of burnout. Having a supportive team around you can be incredibly beneficial, and can help stave off burnout. Seek out team players at your school and make them your day-to-day resource for best practices and tips. Share what you’re doing when it comes to things like data, student interventions, classroom management – anything that feels overwhelming.
And be a resource to them as well! You never know what you’ll discover while working through a problem with a colleague. Fall can be a particularly stressful time for teachers, with interims, reporting, and other duties all hitting at once. Make creating and providing support your new #squadgoals.
The Secretary of Education recently shared this blog post on how important innovative teaching methods can be. Innovation can turn into action, which can turn into impact, which can elevate not only your approach to teaching, but the team on which you work.
Find a Mentor
At Schoolrunner, we often talk about how much schools and tech startups can have in common. Dedication to a common goal, unexpected events, a focus on growth, and adaptability. A common tip for people new to business or tech is to find a mentor.
This applies to teachers too! Finding someone that you admire and are inspired by is a great way to navigate the challenges of teaching.
In fact, the same USDOE study noted above shows that a mentor can increase your likelihood of long-term teaching by almost ten percent. The USDOE uses the example of teachers being assigned mentors by their school, but you can make this happen even if it isn’t a policy at your school. Your mentor can, but doesn’t have to, be a teacher or school leader in your community. Classroom management, professional development, personal job satisfaction, adopting the right technologies – a mentor in a variety of fields can help you to navigate all of this and more.
The Coping Trifecta
Some days are tougher than others. In any challenging job, having go-to mechanisms for getting through the tough moments can lead to lower stress levels and help tough tasks seem more approachable. Set up at least three different coping mechanisms that you can either have with you or incorporate into your day.
Here at Schoolrunner, one School Happiness Coordinator enjoys baby goat videos when a day gets stressful, while our Director of Operations is a fan of kicking things (or “kickboxing class,” as she calls it.) Maybe aromatherapy helps you relax, or doing a handstand puts you in a better mood. Don’t cut out these moments of sport or relaxation when things get hectic.
Sure, having a positive attitude internally is important. Bad attitudes are contagious – we can see evidence of that in any workplace with a Negative Ned or Debbie Downer. But it’s also important to spread that positivity around.
Communicating positive results in class to families, or celebrating kids when they hit important milestones or overcome challenges helps to build a culture of positivity around you. It’s always exciting to hear stories from the teachers at our schools about the power that positive interactions with parents, families, and students can have on the school and the teacher, as well as on the students.
Sometimes it just feels better when you admit that things are stressful. We may have heard the old adage, “fake it til you make it”, and of course a positive mental attitude can take you a long way, but faking it might keep you from getting the support you need.
It can be a challenge for teachers to recognize when they might be on the path to burnout – and it can be challenging for school leaders and administrators to spot teachers that are burning out before it’s too late. Check out our blog post on “How to Spot Teacher Burnout” if you’d like to read more.