TEACHER BURNOUT IS REAL
This marks my tenth year of teaching. This year also marks my first time to truly experience teacher burnout at this degree. I’ve heard of the term but to experience it first-hand is unreal. I’ve always loved teaching. I get a surge of energy when I enter my classroom, when I interact with my students, when their light-bulbs go on when they learn something new. But this past year it’s as if that surge was slowly dying out. I know, I know, you’re thinking it’s only October! How in the world can you experience teacher burnout when you’re riding off the coattails of summer? Well, teacher burnout silently carries throughout the years if it’s not addressed properly. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain what exactly is teacher burnout.
There are four stages in teacher burnout:
Stage One: Rigidity + Closed-Off to Input
It is often reflective of self-neglect, including failure to stay in bed or stay at home when sick. People ignore warning signs and insist that they are fine despite subtle stressors and changes in demeanor.
ME: In August, I went home early two days in row because I couldn’t handle the stress. I NEVER did that. Also, I knew something was wrong when I didn’t want to be at school but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone because I thought it was a sign of weakness.
Stage Two: Irritability + Quickness to Anger
It takes a toll on your mood and emotional self-regulation. Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and failure to adhere to normal routines (like your favorite morning run) can exacerbate these feelings of irritability, depersonalization, and loss of sense of personal accomplishment.
ME: Blogging is my space for creativity, a place for self-expression, a time for renewal. I’m naturally a creative person but there was no strength left in me (at the beginning of this school year) to create. All I wanted to do was go home and binge watch Top Chef.
Stage Three: Paranoia + Self-Medication
In the later stages of burnout, extreme fatigue, isolation, and depression are upsettingly common. Studies show that 25 percent of teachers are diagnosed with depression. Teachers may turn to self-medication such as alcohol and tobacco to help mitigate these feelings.
ME: I felt extremely fatigued. I’d usually workout five days a week, but I couldn’t find the strength because I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. So what did I do? I reached for coffee. I’m a two cups of a coffee a day kind-of-girl, but at that point, I was reaching for my third and even fourth cup which led to horrible sleep patterns and more fatigue. It was a vicious cycle.
Stage Four: Emotional Exhaustion + Career Failure
Stage 4 of burnout is the leading cause of teacher attrition rates, and drives the on-going turnover in today’s schools. Teacher attrition and burnout is due to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion — feeling as if you’re stuck but are unable to improve your situation.
ME: I felt pigeon-holed in my profession. It felt like there was no way out especially since I invested so much into this career. NOT A GOOD FEELING.
So how in the world did I get to this place? I’ve taught at small schools where combo-grades are the norm. Because of its small size, every year is different for me. My first year I taught kindergarten in the AM, then religion and music in the afternoon. My second year I took on a TK/K combo plus my usual religion and music combo. My third year was dedicated to a full-time kindergarten/first grade combo. My fourth year I inherited second grade. So now I was teaching three grade levels: kindergarten (3 students), first (7 students), and second grade (6 students) with a total of 16 students. On top of that, I am our school’s yearbook editor, raising a family, and last year my husband left his full-time pastoring career to become a full-time photographer. Every year brought new challenges. And at the end of each year, I am left drained.
The beginning of this year marked something different: 21 students in three different grade levels - 8 in kindergarten, 5 in first grade, 8 in second grade. If you’re a non-educator you won’t get it. You can’t empathize with me. Secretly, I hated it. At first, I didn’t express my feelings with anyone. However, by week three, I was letting everyone know of my current situation - that I wanted to quit and leave teaching. If you knew me, this was shocking news. I was completely invested in teaching. But even when I was sharing my feelings, l felt like I was stuck in a dead-end. I thought I was burdening people with my complaints, so I stopped. I didn’t want to be known as that person. By then, I was developing tight knots in my shoulders, dark bags under my eyes, struggling to get out of bed, losing weight, distancing myself from my loved ones, growing impatient towards my students, and being irritable and cross towards my children and husband. I was not liking the person I was becoming. It was concerning.
… to be continued …