5 smart ways to prevent teacher burnout

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Natasha Flanagan, HR Manager, The Aquila School
Natasha Flanagan, HR Manager, The Aquila School discusses why teacher wellbeing matters and how burnout can be avoided 

We have all been affected in some way by what we have learnt at home, school, college or university. The impact that educationalists make on our lives dictates our choices, the way we think and the lessons we teach our children.  As Henry Brooks Adams said “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” 

The wellbeing of teachers has a direct link with the effectiveness of teaching and the achievement of students, and hence of immense significance.

Wellbeing has often been associated with negative mental health issues, stress and burnout. However, it is important to think of wellbeing in a more holistic way so that we can achieve optimal results when tackling these issues. Taking care of yourself first is most important before you can take care of someone else. It includes more than just coping with negative situations – it also includes a sense of living a great life and living it now. What does this mean? It means living a good life and functioning well – not only in your job but also in other parts of your life. 

Another crucial aspect that can play havoc with both physical and psychological wellbeing is burnout. A teacher’s work is never done – they are constantly thinking about their pupils, their lesson plans, the resources they need to prepare….so on and so forth. Constant thoughts about work creates a stressful environment where teachers often feel that perhaps they have missed something, or not done something right, or have a million things to do the next day.  

You didn’t hear your alarm ring so you’ve to now rush to work…you forget your lunch in the process…you reach school just as the last bell rings…you drop your bag and all of its contents spill out…you reach your class but your computer just won’t turn on…you suddenly wonder “did I turn off the iron at home”?…your computer comes on just as the class bell rings…you finally get it on and see a whole lot of emails – one from the principal with a gentle reminder of an upcoming deadline…you finish your classes and head home an hour later than usual…you finish your marking and finally fall into bed with a heavy head. Does this sound familiar to you? Then you could be experiencing burnout.

Teacher burnout is more than just a bad day every once in a while. It’s ongoing anxiety that can have serious negative effect on your work and life. Many teachers feel the pressure to be perfect. They can often feel emotionally and physically drained.

It is important to understand and accept these feelings to be able to take the next steps in achieving a better work-life balance. There is no shame in admitting that you need help once in a while – we all do. 

1.Talking about it is important – speak to someone you trust about the way you feel; it could be someone at work, at home, or even a perfect stranger in the form of a certified doctor.

2. Switching off or taking a break – sounds good but very difficult to do. Teachers are naturally built not to do this; hence it must be a conscious decision every day to take a break or to switch off for a bit. Get up from your desk and go get a cup of coffee, speak to a colleague about the football match yesterday, or the shopping trip you took over the weekend, or just simply take a walk around school. Work stays at work and home is for ‘me-time’ or ‘family-time’.  We work to live and not the other way around.

3.  Practice self-care – really? it’s very real and very important. What can you do to take care of yourself? Think about it – if you do not take care of yourself first, would you be in a position to take care of anyone else? When the flight attendant gives us instructions before the flight takes off, she always asks the adults to put on their oxygen masks before putting one on for their children in case of emergency. Why is that? If the adult is not conscious, how would he/she be able to take care of the child? Similarly, you need to find a routine that works for you – take a warm bath first thing once you are home or sit in your favourite spot with your favourite book or listen to your favourite song once you get home; cook or bake; take a walk alone or with your pet who has missed you the whole day; or simply practice some meditation. 

4. When you feel hopeless, find perspective – some teachers care so deeply for their pupils that any trauma endured by a pupil has a negative impact on the teacher. It’s important to realise that this is out of your control. 

5. Find your people, they get you! – find those who you can connect with, people who support you and your life goals, people who perhaps have gone through similar issues and have come out stronger. You are never alone. 

There are always ups and downs in your life – the key is learning how to enjoy the ‘up’s’ and face the ‘down’s’ head-on.  Know that you can always take time to regroup and reset. Your next group of children or teaching year might be your best one yet!