Feeling burned out? This one’s for you. Join me on this episode of the Teacher Career Coach podcast, where I chat with Amber Harper. Amber is an educator, author, speaker, podcaster, and teacher burnout coach. She’s the founder of The Burned Ii Teacher and author of Hacking Teacher Burnout. Follow along for tips on identifying the causes of your burnout and the actions you can take to make a change. If you need some inspiration to help you with teacher burnout, follow along! Amber empowers teachers like you to believe they deserve (and can achieve) a happier and more fulfilled career and life without leaving the profession.
Recap and BIG Ideas:
✨Instead of letting your emotions drive your response to burnout, shift your focus to finding potential solutions. Consider the changes you can make in yourself and your environment.
✨Your career is not wh0 you are. It is part of your life. It’s okay– and healthy– to set boundaries (i.e., time).
✨Whether it be a grade level or district, leaving a toxic environment can make a huge difference in your experience. (And burnout.)
✨Burnout is not one-size-fits-all. There are different reasons for burnout and, therefore, different appropriate actions you should take to help with your specific type of burnout.
✨Burnout is a call for change and a call for action, whether it’s automating, delegating, eliminating, or simplifying.
✨You can’t expect different results if you don’t change your beliefs and take different courses of action.
✨ Always look for ways to reflect and simplify to make both your life and career better, giving you the balance you desire. Consider strategies like batching and blocking your time to help.
Amber’s Experience With Burnout Inspired Her to Help Other Teachers.
Daphne: Hi, Amber. Thank you so much for joining us here today.
Amber: Thank you so much for having me, Daphne. I’m so excited to be here with you.
Daphne: So Amber, you are the name behind Burned In Teacher and specialize in supporting teachers with discovering ways to identify the types of burnout that they have. You also help alleviate those symptoms of burnout.
What makes you so passionate about supporting teachers with burnout?
Amber: Wow, we could talk for three hours about this. To give a little background I taught full-time in the classroom for 12 years. However, there was a time where I did step away from the classroom for about six months before going back. I feel like my entire career, I was riding this roller coaster of burnout. And there were many different reasons for that burnout, depending on the season of life I was in.
Every time that I asked for help, or I said, “I’m struggling. I’m so frustrated. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m exhausted. I feel like I’m burning out.” Anytime I would ask a friend for help, I would always hear, “This is the way it is. Join the club.” There was a notion that you had to join the burnout club and just power through it.
If I went online to find help, I would read things about getting more sleep or going for a run. You know, doing something for yourself. Talk to a friend. Well, talking to a friend always turned into venting because they would just throw more fuel on the fire. And I already took very good care of myself, drinking a lot of water and working out every day. I’ve been doing that for over a decade and I was still feeling miserable.
And you know, I have great friends. I had great friends when I was teaching. And we would go out together and have dinner and drinks. We would joke and laugh and have fun. And then we would go back to school and it would be the same old rhetoric. It would be about how awful our administration or parents or kids were. Sometimes it’d be about how there was always so much to do. It was whatever the venting session would be at that time.
Finally, after trying to put those blinders on and power through it and vent to friends, it finally just all came to a head. And I’m futuristic and I’m an activator and I just want to keep going until it’s all okay. And as hard as I tried to push through it, I finally had a really embarrassing public breakdown in front of my teaching colleagues. And it had nothing to do with teaching. It was something else that pushed me over the edge.
And so I do this work for those teachers who, like me, really wanted to have a system and have the support and have different conversations, but can’t find them anywhere. That teacher that’s crying all the way home from school and all the way to school. The teacher who has to peel his or her fingers off of the steering wheel and give themself a pep talk to go inside and teach kids.
For me, the really challenging part was that I loved what I did. I loved teaching. It wasn’t that I hated this profession and hated teaching kids. It was just that I wanted answers. I wanted support. I didn’t want to settle anymore for venting sessions as a way of dealing with it all. I didn’t want to keep being told to go for a walk or take deep breaths.
I identified those things as a temporary fix or a temporary mental distance. I wanted to do something that would have long-lasting effects. I’ve learned that when you’re experiencing burnout, one or both of two things has to change. And one of them is you and the other is your environment. And I wanted to work on myself, but at that point, when I was teaching full time, I didn’t even know how to work on myself. I knew that things in my environment were frustrating me. But I didn’t know about who I was and what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. And that’s an overarching reason behind why I do what I do. Because we can’t keep having the same conversations and expect different results.
How to Shift Your Focus To Be Solution-Oriented.
Daphne: One of the things that I heard you say that I wanted to touch on a little bit was just the fact that you found yourself venting and being surrounded by people who are venters as well. This is something that I feel like I’ve always struggled with. If I had the chance to sit down and talk to you about the last and very toxic administration that I had, I could do that for a very long time. And one thing that I started to realize as I pulled myself back from that situation and started to heal and grow with personal development was that venting is just negative energy. It’s almost like reliving that experience. It’s not moving forward or doing anything actionable.
One thing that I try to teach people inside the Teacher Career Coach course, is to notice how much time they spend on venting. Then try to pull back from being emotions-focused and be more solutions-focused. Struggling with burnout can make you forget that there might be something in front of you that you can focus on. So, just be more focused on solving that burnout before it becomes too late.
Amber: That’s absolutely true. I teach something very similar to the teachers I work with. Burned in is actually an eight-step process that I walk teachers facing burnout through. One thing we talk about is refocusing from being problem-aware to being solution-aware. When we look for solutions instead of problems, we activate what’s in our brain called the reticular activating system. When you think about what you want, your brain will flip the switch and look for more evidence of that thing you want in your life. Whatever it is, it is abundant and it’s there.
What happens is when we were having the conversations that I was involved in, we were looking for more reasons to prove that our administration sucked. We were looking for more reasons to complain about, like how these new initiatives were so ridiculous. That’s not helping anybody. And it certainly wasn’t helping me. And this is not to say that the administrator was not a very good leader. He wasn’t for me and there are bad leaders out there. But there are also really good ones. And I think that when we change the conversation by starting to think about what we can do and what is in our control and what solutions we can come up with together, we start to realize how much control we really have by just changing our thoughts and changing the words that follow.
Take Control By Evaluating What’s On Your Plate.
Daphne: To add to that a little bit more, I think when somebody hands you far too much work it’s important to acknowledge it’s too much work. Ask yourself, “How do I get through this amount of work in the shortest amount of time possible? How do I take other things off of my plate? What solutions do I have even in this capacity? Is there any way that me and my grade level team can just delegate responsibilities and streamline the process?”It sucks, and you can send one or two crappy text messages to one another about how bogus it all is. But, in my opinion, burning yourself out without finding a solution to the problem just kind of exasperates the issue.
Amber: That’s 100% true. And this is where we have to start to change the narrative in our mind where we have to do it all. Instead, we need to focus on simplification, delegation, or elimination. I used to say, and I hear teachers say it now, “There’s so much on our plates, and nothing ever gets taken away.” Well, if nobody else is coming and taking things off of your plate for you and explicitly saying, “You don’t have to do this anymore,” that’s when you have to practice what I consider scary hard self-care.
You need to sit down with your administrator. This is where you’re going to realize if they really do want to help lead you through this or they don’t. And you may already know the answer. Sit down and say, “I’m working 60 plus hour weeks. Can you help me understand what could go away or what I could simplify?” And you may get some really great answers. You might just be the only one that has even considered sitting down, seeking to understand what’s being expected. You might just get some really good answers that you didn’t know existed.
However, if you don’t get those helpful answers, then you get to choose what to do next. Maybe you’re going to do the simplest, most basic version of certain tasks just to get them done. Or maybe you’re going to take other things off your plate altogether. I know Angela Watson has talked about that quiet subversion where you step back from some of the things that are on your plate. There were things that I chose not to do anymore, despite the expectation to do them, and nobody even noticed. There were also things that I was telling myself that I had to do, that nobody else had told me that I had to do. I had to kind of pull myself back and recognize that I was being forced to do these things that were taking time. So, I wasn’t going to do those other things anymore.
Daphne: I found myself really struggling with going above and beyond without getting any recognition for it. You just want the best for the students, but you have to pull yourself back and take that emotion out of it. You have to think about things like, are you not going to be able to hit your object if you take that extra thing off of your plate? It’s not about figuring out the bare minimum you can do for your students. That’s not what I mean. But do you need to laminate that thing? Do you need to make six different extension activities, just in case somebody is done? Or can you just have something a little simpler, like the reading corner at the end of the day?
A lot of it has to do with decision fatigue. You are trying too hard, and you already have all of these other things on your plate. Then, when you’re constantly reaching to overachieve, those are more decisions on your plate. And you’re just getting further and further into that burnout cycle.
Your Career Is Just PART of Who You Are.
Amber: It’s interesting because a lot of teachers are those high-achievers or the overachievers. They’re the ones that want to give the best of themselves all the time. But they do that without any boundaries around what matters most to them outside of teaching. And this is where I have conversations all the time about what you would do with more time if you had it. And they’ll say to me, “Amber, I don’t even know. I don’t even know what I like anymore.” They’ve made teaching who they are holistically. And that’s not a healthy approach to any career.
We attach ourselves to the work we do by saying my career is my entire life, which is not healthy. And I think that destigmatizing that and saying, “It’s okay that you’re not dedicating your entire 24 hour day teaching and being the last car in the parking lot or the last person to close their computer is not a badge of honor.”
I experienced this at my first school. There were some teachers that were appalled that people were leaving at their contract time. And I think it’s disappointing to me that there is that kind of judgment attached to people that set boundaries around their time and say, “I’m done after this time. I’m going to do the best I can with the time I’m allowed. And I will ask for help if I need it, or I will simplify things if I have to. But teaching is not my entire life.”
Daphne: I was definitely one of those teachers. My last year was so toxic and I felt like there were a lot of eyes on me and whispers from the administration if I did go home at a certain time. I felt like there was unnecessary pressure that if I wasn’t there past a certain hour, then I needed to be watched even further. Or if I wasn’t overly prepared for every little thing that I did, they were going to put more on my plate and ask me to prove more to them.
And that’s something that, unfortunately, I think comes with the environment that they’re in. But it’s one of two things. You work on yourself or you change the environment. And if you feel like it’s your school environment that’s doing that to you, think about different districts for the following school year. Or even just different grade level teams, if it’s just somebody within your grade level that’s making you feel a little bit uncomfortable. Because there are negative cultures out there. And unfortunately, it can sometimes be part of teaching where there might be people who make us feel lesser than and don’t understand the emotional struggles that we’re having on the back end as well.
Amber: Definitely. I’m so glad that you brought that up because my first experience teaching was actually right out of college taking over another teacher’s classroom in the middle of the school year right out of college, and that experience was great. But when I got the following year, when I got my own classroom in first grade, that is exactly what I experienced. There was a toxic culture in this grade level where people were literally afraid of the grade level leader. You do not want to tick her off. And me being who I am with my personality and having all these ideas and new things I wanted to share, thinking everybody’s better together, I was always met with, “That’s not how we do things around here.” And I was like, What in the world is happening?
Changing From a Toxic Environment Can Make a Big Difference.
I don’t do well in those hierarchical or almost bullying-like situations. It was like, “No, you will do what we have done for 15 plus years, no questions asked.” I felt bullied in that situation. And the other thing that was really challenging about that situation was that my mentor that I was assigned was awful to me as well. And she worked with this team. She even told me to do exactly what they say and try to keep the peace. I was told to ask her what she does and ask her for her resources to make her feel good. I was expected to do those things, too and then tell her how much it was helping me. It was a nightmare.
Luckily, I was pregnant my first year. So, at the end of the year I got to leave in April. I took the first nine weeks off of the following year. Then, that second year, I was moved to second grade and it was like I got into a spacecraft and flew to another universe. The second grade team was a dream. And I had no idea.
Daphne: That just a change in the environment would make such a huge impact on you.
Amber: And I am telling you, it was just literally down the hall and it was a completely different experience. Then I was moved to third grade and it was even better. It’s insane to me that I had convinced myself that was how teaching is and that I couldn’t do it as my career. I could not continue to be told to bow down to somebody who has a totally different teaching philosophy than I do. And thank goodness that people outside of that grade level saw the potential in me. It wasn’t my administrator because he literally told me we were going to try this one more year. He made me the problem because he was afraid of her too. It was ridiculous.
So, it was that time that I realized a change in grade level can make a huge difference. And I’m telling you two buildings in the same district can have a totally different culture.
Daphne: I actually changed school districts and it made things worse for me. It helped solidify the decision for me to change careers. But I think that even trying that is something you have to try to make sure that you are giving this career a full chance if you are unhappy and you haven’t made different grade level changes or tried a different school or district. If you can identify what it is that is impacting you, remove yourself from that situation and then give the career a try.
The Quiz That Can Help You Identify Your Type of Burnout and Take Appropriate Action.
I think something that happens with a lot of teachers who even talk about career transitions or who are going through some sort of self-reflection and really working on themselves as far as burnout is concerned, assume these actions are going to take a lot of work. Either focusing on alleviating their burnout, or on a career transition. And when you are already burnt out or you’re already stressed out, the idea of putting more things on your plate feels almost impossible, especially if you just can’t really imagine that you’re going to get the desired result.
I think a lot of people who struggle with taking that first step are hindered by the fact that they don’t believe that they can be happy at this point. They don’t believe that they can either find a new job or they don’t believe that they can put systems in place that help them enjoy this career again.
Do you find that happens a lot with people in the very beginning stages of working with you?
Amber: 100%. So this is a really great time for me to talk about a first step that only takes about three minutes and then what happens after that. I want to give teachers something that I couldn’t find whenever I was searching for solutions. When I would search for symptoms and strategies to fix burnout or to get out of burnout, or to beat burnout, I would find a Pinterest post of all these cute images of things you can do to temporarily distance yourself mentally or numb yourself.
I wanted to help teachers to take action right away. So, if teachers take my teacher burnout quiz, it will help them to identify more than just saying, “Okay, I’m burned out.” The quiz was created to quickly help you to put some action behind what type of burnout that you are having, because not all teachers are burning out because of a toxic environment. They are burning out for other reasons.
Burnout Is Not One-Size-Fits-All. (The Different Kinds Of Burnout.)
So with this quiz, you come out with three different results and possibly even come out on the other end as not burned out, but something is off. So one of those burnout types is burned and unbalanced. So this is where you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it. The burned and unbalanced is where you’re working 60 or 70 plus hour weeks. You’re working nights and weekends. You’re exhausted. And while you do have a lot on your plate, you love the work. It’s not that you hate your school or that you hate teaching, which I don’t think a lot of teachers do. But this is really solely focused on the problem of not knowing how to manage all of this work.
Daphne: And that is exactly where I’m at. So, I want to make sure that everybody listening knows that you can leave the classroom and still be a workaholic. You can still love exactly what you’re doing but burn yourself out in the process.
Amber: 100%. And actually, I went through burnout a year ago, in November of 2019. I was ready to hang it up. And I chose this. My boss was putting too much on my plate and I’m the boss! So this is why we want to process these things and learn about ourselves before we just assume that the answer is to leave. Because if we are a workaholic, we’re going to be a workaholic at the next job and we’re going to burn ourselves out there too. So, that’s that first burnout type.
The second burnout type is burned and over it. We always have a lot to do in situations where we are serving and we are doing something important. But, in addition to that, you have become part of a toxic culture in your grade level, your school, or your district. There’s negativity and apathy either from your principal or colleagues or your students and their parents. They’re not showing up for zoom calls, or you’re doing all this work and the principal just never seems to have anything good to say. So, this is the burned and over it teacher.
The burned and bored teacher is the third result you could be. The burned and board teacher seems to have it all together or it looks like they’ve got it going on. However, internally, they may be having these feelings that they want to do something different but don;t know what that thing is. That may not even be necessarily leaving education, but they just want to take the next step in their career. And a couple of things could be happening. They’re either having that negative self-talk, like, “What do you think you could do besides being a teacher?” Or, “You’ve always been a teacher. What makes you think that you could do anything else?”
Or they want to do something different, but don’t know what it is. Or maybe they’re not being honest with themselves with the fact that maybe they are ready for a big leap out of education and to try something new. They’re worried about what that would look like. They don’t want to be seen as a quitter. So, they might be telling themselves and others a different story than what’s going on in their head and heart. And so this is that burned and bored teacher.
Regardless of What’s Causing Your Burnout, It’s a Sign to Take Action And Make a Change.
Finally, the last result that you could get is not burned out, but something is off. You don’t have a desire to leave the teaching profession, but something is just kind of creeping in and saying something’s wrong. Something’s not right. Something needs to change. And all of this to say that I truly believe that burnout is an opportunity. It’s a call for change. It’s a call for action. And that’s where it really came up and bit me because I continued to say, “Nope, I’m not going to get burned out. I’m not going to pay attention to this. Yes, I’m struggling. Yes, I’m crying in my car. But that’s a “me” problem. Okay, I just need to deal with it and keep going.”
If teachers are taking the time to find this quiz, or they find the Burned In Teacher podcast, they want an answer. Teachers are “quitters.” They’re trying things, but they’re only finding these temporary solutions that don’t offer that long-term support. So, teachers can take that teacher burnout quiz for free. It’s six questions. It takes three minutes or less. It’s a really great first step.
I’ve sat in a room full of teachers, I mean, wall-to-wall teachers, who would come to a breakout session. And they take the quiz and they go from being hunched over to sitting back in their chair with relaxed shoulders. And they’re like, “This is exactly how I’m feeling. I’m not crazy. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a bad teacher. This is normal.”
Thousands of teachers have taken this quiz. So, I know that it’s offering that validation. The next step is to become activated and start to do that inner and outer work.
Daphne: I love that you touched on those different types of burnout because if you’ve only really been burned out in one role before because maybe it’s the only position you’ve ever had or you haven’t changed any of the environmental factors, you can’t tell the difference.
But I can tell the difference of what my burnout looked like four years ago versus what my burnout looks like with trying to do too many things with the Teacher Career Coach. It’s a different type of burnout where I’m excited and I’m pushing myself too hard. It’s not that the work just doesn’t stop piling on and I feel depressed and I can never keep up with it all and I’m just so burned out. They feel very different. But neither is healthy. They both need to be addressed.
Learn About The Success Path For Burned Out Teachers.
Amber: Exactly. The great thing about this is that this is something that’s totally different than going for a run or having a glass of wine. There’s action behind this approach. So, after teachers take the quiz, they get introduced to the Burned In Teacher Success Path. So, the success path is based on how burned out you are. There’s six stages.
So, there’s stage zero, where it’s hard to change the mentality, or the vision of a teacher, because they are just completely burned out. They don’t want to hear anything different. They’ve become a boundary type of an avoider, believing there’s nothing that will possibly work for them. Level zero typically won’t even take the quiz because they’re not even searching for solutions. They see no other option than to quit teaching.
Stage one is just a little bit less burned out. These are people who, if I’m talking to them in a group setting, I can see them kind of crossing their arms and maybe rolling their eyes. These people will listen, but they are totally cynical. They think that change is not even possible for them and they have a lot of that negative self-talk like, “This won’t work. This is stupid. This is crazy. This is not going to help.” So, they aren’t willing to try anything new. They’ll listen, but they’re not going to try anything.
Stage two is where teachers become validated. Typically, this is where a teacher taking the quiz will realize, “I’m not a bad person. I’m not even a bad teacher. But I’m curious, so what’s the next step? What should I do next?”
And I’m not down on conventional self-care. Of course, taking care of yourself with physical exercise and drinking water and having good friends and going out and having fun with them. That’s all wonderful. But this is the type of action that helps you to start to realize, “Wow. I can try to be the change.” And so this is where people start to open different conversations. They might send that email that says, “Hey, could we talk?” This is where you start to learn about setting boundaries with yourself and with your time and with other colleagues, etc. This is where you start to become more solution-focused. So, this is where you start to say, “Okay, this sucks. Can I control it? And if I can, what are some things that I can do?” And then they move forward throughout these different stages.
So there’s stage zero, which is burned out. Stage one is build your spark. Stage two is build your ignition. Stage three is build your flame. So, this is where you start to actually try different things. You say, “Okay, what would happen if I don’t do this anymore?” Or, “What would happen if I don’t hang out with these people anymore? What would happen if I asked for help and asked somebody that I was judging for leaving at 3:30 every day how they’re doing that instead of judging them.”
Daphne: I love that you have it all in a very clear path. And it also sounds like you’re very aware of the fact that this is going to be personalized with every person’s unique situation attached to it. Because I think teachers always struggle with this type of work, or with creating work around finding solutions, because they’re so low and they’re struggling so much.
They want a clear, concise answer for their situation. They want you, Amber, to be able to give them one sentence of one thing that they can do to change their life and it’s going to be unique to them. So, you have to show a wide variety and then do some data and research. Identify what did and did not work. It also involves some self-reflection on what they can create for their lifestyle, understanding that something that may have worked for them five years ago might not work this year because we’re constantly evolving and reflecting. I love that you have that built-in here.
What’s stage four?
You Must Take Accountability For Your Well-Being.
Amber: Stage four is build your fire. This is where you become intentional. Intentional with your relationships. Intentional with your time. Intentional with your thoughts. Intentional with your students. This is where we’re not going through the motions anymore. So, a lot of times when teachers are in those stages of zero through maybe two, they lack the clarity of what they even want and who they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. I compare them to Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s, where he’s just kind of going through the motions. My goal here is to help teachers and empower them to take that step back, and rediscover themselves and what they want to bring more joy and growth in their life intentionally.
At stage four, they really do begin to have more of that self-worth and self-esteem needed to say, “This is how I’m going to spend my day. I don’t have any guarantee that my day is going to go wonderfully or that everybody’s going to treat me with respect, but I know that I’m going to do the best that I can and a lot of that crap has nothing to do with me. It has a lot to do with the system that I’m choosing to be a part of. I am choosing to be here, and if I’m going to choose to be here, I’m going to do the best I can with what I have right now. And if I choose to go somewhere else, that is my choice, because this is my one life.”
And so this is where you are investing in yourself professionally or personally, and saying, “If they’re not going to invest in my well-being and in my personal development, I’m going to find the answers. Because I know they’re out there. I know that different conversations and people that want to help me are out there may not be in my building or may not be in my district or my grade level. But I’m going to learn some things that will help me serve myself, so I can serve my students the best that I can.”
Daphne: One thing that I heard you say is just really touching on the fact that this is your choice. Whatever you are doing with your life, you’re not backed into a corner. No matter what. You may have to financially save a little bit or you may have to make some sacrifices and plan for it, but everything is possible and within your reach. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it is not impossible. So, if you are miserable right now, there are solutions for you. Figuring out what the right step for you is so powerful.
I’m sure you can imagine how many of the people that I’ve talked to between former teachers and even current teachers who are in therapy. And most of the therapists have had months worth of conversations with them saying, “You say you want to quit. But you don’t? Why? This is the only thing that you’ve talked about for three months.” It’s in your control.
And it’s so hard because I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re a failure if they’ve said it and not started taking action, because I struggle with it too. There are plenty of different things in your life that you’re going to constantly want to improve on and that’s just part of the process that’s just part of being a human.
Amber: And this is why I say that this is the ultimate self care, because this is the hard stuff that you don’t see. It’s like having six-pack abs, right? Not everybody’s walking around here with six-pack abs, because it takes a lot of work to get six-pack abs. It takes a lot of work to take responsibility for your life, which you are 100% responsible for. And to me, that is not a sentence. That is empowering.
Even having this conversation of where we are now at stage four. This is exciting. This is where you have that motivational music in the background and you see somebody in a movie kicking ass and changing their life. That is what I want for the teachers that I work with, for them to get to the stage where they’re like, “Wow. I am never going back there. I am taking action like I’m taking control.” And I don’t care what type of burnout that you’re dealing with or what your ultimate goal is. The fact that you are becoming an active participant in your life, that is exciting. That is so exciting to me.
Daphne: We touched upon how it’s all very personalized, because even when it comes to self-care for me, I love going on a hike by myself listening to music and just being alone in nature. That might be someone else’s worst nightmare. That might be the opposite of self-care. So, when it comes to alleviating some of these burnout symptoms, it’s also going to be very personalized. I would say it’s about just finding joy in what you’re doing. For me, I really value autonomy and creativity and also being able to put my foot down and feel respected.
Setting Boundaries Can Transform How You Feel About Teaching.
But what types of things outside of that have you seen people start to really focus on where it’s making a transformation on how they feel and their happiness within teaching?
Amber: You know, it’s really interesting that you asked that question because there are a lot of teachers that are struggling and dealing with burnout or with their negative culture or with having so much on their plate. But there are teachers that could be in the same building or in the same district who don’t let it bother them. They handle it, and then they move on and go onto the rest of their life.
And I think one thing, if you take one thing away from this episode, it’s that I guarantee that those teachers that are kind of being a duck and letting everything kind of roll off their back, have very strong boundaries. And they are very, very clear on who they are. And they are unapologetic. And now let me also say that I only subscribe to you know, you do you and be yourself to a certain point. Because if you’re a jerk, like you need to know you’re a jerk. In that case, you’ve got some work to do, because you need to be nice.
But in this case, if you love teaching, and you hate all the other side drudgery and crap that sometimes goes with it, set a boundary. For example, I’m not answering emails after five o’clock. I’m taking my email off of my phone. Turn those notifications off. Those teachers, they don’t have that feeling of being on all the time because they don’t allow it to happen. They say no in that way.
Daphne: Yeah. And to add to that, I had an episode entirely on this whole idea just about how to battle teacher guilt, it was episode seven for anybody who wanted to go back and listen. But it’s basically about how your needs are going to have to be put before other people’s needs. Sometimes your needs will not match other people’s needs, or what your needs are will actually take away from someone else’s plate. As teachers, we have these huge hearts. We come in and we want to do something. We are people pleasers. And we feel like if we prioritize ourselves, or if we set boundaries, we’re taking something away from a student, or we’re hurting one of our colleagues.
Battling that teacher guilt involves releasing yourself from that mindset of you’re doing something that’s ethically or morally wrong. If it’s coming down to your own mental health, and your own personal health, or your own relationship with your family– these are tough times that happen in all other industries, and in all other industries, you just simply say, “So does that mean this project is priority? If so, I’ll pull that other one off, because I don’t have the bandwidth to do both.” That’s what’s accepted in other industries.
And if your administrator doesn’t acknowledge that there are too many things on your plate, if you handle things professionally and respectfully, and you’ve tried to build the solutions about solving them, and automating and delegating them yourself, if your administrator says, “Well, I don’t give a crap,” well that’s not the culture of where you would probably fit best. Move to a more professional environment or remove yourself from that environment together.
Understanding The Role of Choice in Your Personal And Professional Life.
Amber: So, I strongly believe that we have three foundational choices. And this is where you get to choose if you believe this or not. So, we have three foundational choices; We choose our beliefs, we choose how we use our time, and we choose our actions. And that’s what the entire Burned In process and the success path is based upon. You get to choose if you believe that you should stay where you are or if you want to make a change. You get to choose. You get to choose what you believe makes a good teacher and doesn’t make a good teacher. You get to choose. But here’s the thing, beliefs are choices and choices can be changed. But you have to be willing to do that inner work, and to listen to other people’s ideas and other ways of being and other ways of dealing with these challenges, and you have to be willing to try.
You can’t expect different results if you don’t do different things. A lot of times that starts with your beliefs. I’ve had teachers that say, “I can’t take my email off of my phone.” And I ask, why? Who told you that it has to be there? So, if that’s your choice, then that’s okay. It has to be okay because you’re choosing it.
But the other thing that we can choose is how we use our time. So, I really encourage people to think about time as money. Of course, people are very important resources, but time and money are really important resources too. One is renewable, and one is not. We protect our money like crazy, but we don’t protect our time. So this is where you make a time allowance per week of how many hours you’ll work. And then you create a budget and do your best to make your work fit within that time budget. And if it doesn’t, then look at how to make adjustments.
And you’ve already alluded to some of these words, but ask, “What can I automate? What can I delegate? What can I eliminate? What can I simplify? What is within my control that I can do to take things off of my plate?”
Tips For Blocking And Batching Your Time And How It Can Help With Burnout.
Daphne: So, I’ve really invested in myself with personal development, especially with becoming as productive as possible without burning out. I think one thing I’m sure you teach in your mastermind that we haven’t touched upon in this episode that I struggle with, is the concept of blocking your time and setting a set schedule for certain parts of your process.
So for me, for example, if I opened up Instagram or email at the beginning of my day, I could go down a rabbit hole for about three hours. And it’s not my most creative task. And my most creative tasks need the most emotional and mental bandwidth for me. So I said, from seven o’clock to nine o’clock, I’m creating content. I’m thinking about podcasts. I’m thinking about what I’m going to teach my course members. But at the very end of the day at 3:30, that’s when I can do that other task. I don’t touch it or look at it until the very end of the day.
I’ll look at my emails to see what I’ve missed because I know when I’m slowing down, I can start to look at those and I don’t go down the same rabbit holes. I know what’s priority. And then I can just put off those certain tasks, like admin tasks that I don’t necessarily want to do, until Thursday. So, just setting up a schedule like that work so that you don’t mentally have so many tabs open. Because, mentally, having all these tabs open, you think you’re being productive, but you’re not. Because then that task also took up your Saturday, then it took up all these other days that you should have been prioritizing other things.
Amber: Yeah. So, what you’re talking about is batching and blocking, Which I absolutely 100% subscribed to. I mean, if I could show you my calendar right now, it’s everything. It’s making time for the things that matter most.
And actually, the third thing that I love to teach teachers is that you have to set boundaries with your self-talk, too. So, telling yourself that saying no is really important. It’s a really important boundary to set to say, “No, I don’t do that anymore. I don’t mindlessly scroll when I know I have to do this thing that I don’t want to do. But that has to be done.” And that’s where that blocking and batching is so, so important.
I love to use the 20 minute timer. You know, the Pomodoro method of setting that timer and saying, “My goal is to get this many papers graded in 20 minutes and be done with it and then move on.” Or then set the timer for another 20 minutes. And if it’s taking you a really long time to grade this one thing, think about if there’s a way to make the task easier on yourself. It’s always looking for opportunities to make things simpler.
The Zen Teacher Dan Tricarito retweeted a quote the other day that said, “When in doubt, simplify.” And I love that so much. Because I think sometimes I overcomplicate the crap out of something. I absolutely feel guilty of it. I’ve done it in my own business. And I know that I did as a teacher. Hindsight is 2020. Right? So I look back and I’m like, why did I think that was a good idea for myself? I’m never doing that again. And I remember several situations when I was teaching that I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m never doing that again that way.” So, I think it’s about always looking at opportunities to simplify and to make it simpler. And batching blocking is definitely a way to do that.
Daphne: I always have to ask myself now, as I’m getting better at being productive, “How can I make this task that I’m doing easier? What can I do to scale back this task and make it easier for me or for my team or for anybody who’s trying to understand what I’m trying to accomplish here? And that philosophy can prevent a 15 minute project from taking you four hours and still get the same results.
Amber: Yes. You asked about where I’ve seen those transformations and there’s a teacher who has been part of the Burn In Teacher Tribe for about a year now. And when she first went through Burn In Teacher University, she would say things to me like, “I don’t do this differently. This is the only way that I believe is the right way.” It’s taken her a year of doing this work and she is an extremely dedicated Burn In Teacher Triber, but she’s finally saying, “I don’t do that anymore. I don’t spend hours grading one lesson. I don’t do that anymore.”
And she had to come to that conclusion. But it took a community of people encouraging her. It took a lot of her continuing to go through this process and really looking inwardly at how this fit into her life and what her core values are and what her highest priorities were. And she really wanted time to rest more often. There were many conversations where I just asked her a lot of questions, and she would finally get to a point where she would say, “Amber, I think that I need to find an easier way of grading these projects or of what I’m asking kids to do with these projects.” She’s very project-based, which I love.
But the point is, the change ultimately has to be up to you. Ultimately, it has to be up to you.
Daphne: I think there are probably so many teachers right now that want help finding that easier way. They know in their heart that they love this position and they’ve been struggling, but they decided that they’re ultimately going to stay in teaching either just for another year to ride it out. Or they’re making a choice right now by listening to this podcast, and they want to take that next step into helping alleviate their burnout.
Where can these types of teachers find you to find more information about the types of support that you’re able to offer?
Amber: You can see all of my resources and even find the podcast at burnedinteacher.com. You can find a link to the quiz at burnedinteacher.com/burnoutquiz. You can email me. You can DM me. You can find me on social media.
I think the best way is to take that quiz and really allow yourself the time and space to pour over your results. To think about what your next step is. Because it doesn’t have to go from burnout to deciding to quit without trying anything else. And unfortunately, that is a lot of people’s story because the resources that they found may not have been helpful to them because it just offers them that conventional self-care talk. Again, I’m not against self-care, but it’s only going to take you so far.
Daphne: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Amber. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with the audience. I know that this has been a really great conversation for everybody who’s listening.
Amber: Thank you so much.
Thank you to our podcast sponsor, Forever My Always by Eevi Jones. This book is a beautifully written and illustrated keepsake perfect for recent grads about to venture out of the nest for the first time. Gift a copy today!
Help for managing teacher stress & burnout
Too many teachers downplay their mental health struggles thinking it’s just “new teacher jitters” or part of the position. My final year of teaching at a toxic school environment completely broke me. After walking away from that experience and finding happiness, I was shocked at how conditioned/numb I had become to being consistently unwell.
You should not feel intense dread about your career on a daily basis, period. If you are miserable more often than happy, let’s try to find solutions to support you:
The Teacher Career Coach Podcast Episode 31: Blake Blankenbecler, Therapy for Teachers
Finally, if you’re struggling day-to-day it may be worth it to look into a therapist. Get started today with TalkSpace, a private, online therapy with flexible plans to meet your needs.
And if managing stress brought on by teaching isn’t enough, it may be time to look into alternative careers. If you’re at a loss when it comes to figuring out your options, check out our free quiz below for customized suggestions teachers transitioning out of the classroom.