Teacher Wellness Practices for Avoiding Burnout This School Year

The return-to-school as an educator can be both exciting and stressful. Learn how that stress can play a role in your classroom and what to do in order to prevent teacher burnout this school year.

Teachers are heroes. Teachers empower children with knowledge and life skills and inspire them to reach their full potential. Unfortunately, hero work is very demanding. Few people see the countless hours spent behind the scenes preparing lessons, decorating classrooms, grading homework and projects, and worrying about the kids they teach. It requires a great deal of time, energy, and mental and emotional capacity inside and outside the classroom — and that demand has only increased with recent events.

When the pandemic hit, educators had to master virtual teaching practically overnight, and the hybrid style of online and classroom learning proved to be a huge adjustment. An alarming report shows that teachers are almost twice as likely to report feeling job-related stress, depression, and burnout compared to the rest of the employed adult population. It’s no wonder that 1 in 4 teachers has recently considered resigning.

If you are an educator, it is more important than ever to take care of yourself. Make this school year the year you prioritize your wellbeing so you can give your students the best version of yourself. Here are some ways you can recognize signs of burnout and make necessary changes.

What Is Teacher Burnout and What Causes It?

Psychology Today defines burnout as a state of constant stress and anxiety that causes the individual to feel cynical, exhausted, ineffective, and unaccomplished. 

For teachers, this is generally caused by a combination of the following factors:

  • Pressure from parents, faculty, and local government
  • Demands of the profession around standardized testing
  • A lack of decision power
  • A lack of resources and support

Throughout the pandemic, educators have had a huge number of additional factors compounding their normal burnout. Not only do you now have to worry about the social and educational wellbeing of your students, but you also have to follow new health and safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the classrooms, which translates to more time at work — and more stress. On top of that, you might be concerned about contracting COVID yourself. When you consider how many people you interact with at work every day, this would not only be inconvenient but could also put your family, students, and student’s families at risk, especially if any of them are immunocompromised. 

But perhaps the most difficult aspect of the pandemic leading to burnout has been the experimentation with online and hybrid learning. Teachers have reported feeling like guinea pigs and having to work even longer days to learn new technology and adapt teaching plans to an online format. Along with the many technical difficulties posed by online learning, the teacher-student relationships (as well as faculty relationships) have suffered as a result. 

Symptoms of Teacher Burnout

Burned-out teachers may feel isolated and detached from students, unable to feel the same joy they used to feel from teaching. Other common symptoms of teacher burnout include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Lack of productivity
  • Depression 

The American Federation of Teachers found that 61% of teachers feel this way often or always. Even before the complications of COVID-19, statistics show that 50% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

Implications of Educator Burnout

With long and grueling work hours and high expectations, teachers risk neglecting their physical and mental health. You’re spending less time with family and friends and risk losing your love of teaching. And when a teacher is in crisis, it has a ripple effect on the lives of students, the education system, and the community. It can even jeopardize career health and life trajectory — that is, unless something is done about it. 

6 Tips for Alleviating Teacher Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

Although many of the causes of burnout are outside your power to control — and even though the larger issues surrounding teacher burnout may take time to resolve — changing the things you do in your personal time can help you manage your stress more effectively and slow the rate at which you burn out. Here are some tips and strategies to help you actively prevent burnout this school year.

Tip #1: Make the Classroom Fun Again

Consider stepping out of your lesson-planning routine and think up new ways to make learning (and teaching) fun for everyone involved. As you know, lessons don’t have to be serious in order for students to learn. In fact, they may retain information better when it is delivered in a fun or humorous way.

Don’t be afraid to crack jokes, incorporate crafts, show fun educational videos, perform skits, use props, play games, swap lectures for conversations, and engage with the kids. As you make learning more fun for your students, you may just find that your job becomes more enjoyable as a result!

Additionally, if you’ve been using the same books or media to teach for several years, consider switching to different ones so you don’t get bored. It’s all too easy to fall into a rote routine when you’re stuck with the same materials year in and year out. Seek out new textbooks and resources that incorporate fun for teachers and students alike.

Tip #2: Start With Small, Enjoyable Health Habits

In an interview with NPR, educators reported that school districts were attempting to help with burnout by offering resources like mental health seminars, counseling sessions, and yoga classes. But teachers said they’re so tired that even these self-care offerings feel like just another item on their to-do list. Teachers need fresh air, socialization, healthy meals, exercise, and time to relax — perhaps more than other working professionals.

Realistically, you don’t need a lot of extra time or energy in order to take care of yourself. You don’t have to take a 90-minute yoga class or sit through an extended therapy session in order to get exercise or find emotional release. Instead, focus on short and simple activities that sound enjoyable to you rather than tiring. Some examples could include:

  • Taking five minutes alone in your car after work to meditate and listen to your thoughts while you play some calming music
  • Taking a 15-minute soak in a hot bath if your muscles are tense from the day
  • Taking a quick bike ride with your family through the neighborhood if you haven’t been outside or stretched your legs recently
  • Spending a few minutes on the phone with a friend or relative if you’re feeling socially isolated
  • Meal prepping lunches and/or dinners on Sunday nights if you want to eat healthy but don’t have time for cooking during the work week 

Everyone has 15 minutes to spare in the day, and sometimes that’s all it takes to recharge your batteries.

Tip #3: Connect With Other Educators

If your school is online or experimenting with a hybrid model this year, you might feel isolated from your work friends and other faculty members who understand what you’re going through. Even if you aren’t having lunch in the breakroom together or popping into each other’s classrooms anymore, you can still connect with other educators on social media groups. 

These groups are a powerful tool you can use to find support and get advice from people in the same situation as you. They will provide you with a sense of community and belonging — and you might even find a friend or someone that you can connect with or who has mastered the work-life balance and can offer you helpful advice. 

Tip #4: Organize Your Desk and Classroom

It’s too easy to let books, papers, and other learning materials stack up around your home, office, or classroom when things get busy. If you don’t have a system for managing these items, it can lead to feelings of frustration when you can’t find things you need. Being surrounded by clutter can make you feel overwhelmed, leading to disorganized thoughts and anxiety. 

According to Intermountain Health, organization goes a long way in alleviating stress, depression, and anxiety while improving focus, productivity, and relationships. Whether you’re teaching from home, at school, or both, make your environment conducive to work by ensuring everything is organized in an intuitive place for yourself and your students. 

Organization is a big undertaking, but you can start small:

  • Give everything a home: When everything has its own place, you can put it away when you don’t need it and clear your mind. For example, you know exactly where to retrieve the forks at dinner time because they have an established place. Make it the same for school supplies so you know exactly where to find them when it’s time to use them. Labeled bins are an affordable solution for this purpose. 
  • Take a day or two to declutter: If you’ve been teaching for a while, you have probably accumulated a lot more stuff than you actually need or use. Go through files, books, props, papers, and other materials and put everything you don’t use into a box. If you don’t want to throw those things away, donate them or give them to a new teacher who could use them. You’ll feel light and free when you’re surrounded only by items that have a purpose.
  • Use a paper planner: If you’re using your phone to keep track of events and deadlines, you can easily overlook and lose important reminders in the dozens of notifications and pings your phone gets every day. A paper planner is a visible reminder with the sole purpose of keeping your life organized. Use your planner to color code meetings, test dates, parent-teacher conferences, and more so you can anticipate upcoming events and never miss a beat. 
  • Keep a brain dump list: Teachers have a lot of different things to do in a day, so they often keep multiple lists going at once or try to remember everything. But the more places you keep your to-dos and notes, the easier it gets to lose those lists and forget things. Instead, consolidate everything in a brain dump list in your planner. Whenever you remember something to do, write it on that list so your mind is clear and free of the stress of remembering a mental to-do list throughout the day.
  • Stock up on supplies: Part of a good organization strategy is regular restocking. Make sure you have sufficient supplies on hand at the beginning of the year. Whatever you use most during the school year — whether you like to use loose leaf paper, construction paper, pencils, etc. —  buy it in bulk so you don’t run out at inconvenient or stressful times. 

Tip #5: Invest in an Ergonomic Desk Chair

The classroom is a more enjoyable place to be when it’s comfortable. You spend a lot of time sitting to grade papers, proctor tests, and prepare lessons, make it easier on yourself with an ergonomic chair or lumbar cushion. Without a good chair or support pillow, you won’t get the support you deserve, you’ll likely tire out early in the day, and you will probably go home with aches and pains. Make teaching more comfortable with a new chair built for your physical needs and habits.

Tip #6: Limit the Amount of Extra Work You Give Yourself

Some teachers think they have to grade or provide feedback on everything a student touches during the school day. Not only is this not necessary, but it can also burn you out faster. Instead, consider having students peer-review each other’s essays or self-grade pop quizzes as a class. You could also award participation points for certain tasks and assignments so students can breathe easier knowing that some activities are solely for the sake of learning rather than for a grade.

Enjoy a Happier, Healthier School Year

Don’t be discouraged. You may implement one or more of the tips above and still experience burnout. Overcoming teacher burnout will take time, patience, and consistent effort — but we’re confident that a renewed dedication to yourself will lead to a happier, healthier school year for yourself and your students this year.