Are you experiencing teacher burnout? Teaching can be can be stressful in an of itself. Compound that with long hours, an especially difficult year, the constant pressure to make more than adequate progress, possibly a toxic work environment, and hinge it all on test results – and it’s a recipe for burnout. Let’s talk about what it is, how it can affect not only your work inside the classroom but also your life outside, and the 7 major signs of teacher burnout. Read on.
I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. My mom was a teacher, and education has always been a passion of mine. Early on in 2014, I knew that the first couple of years into teaching are always more difficult. I expected to be stressed, but I thought things would eventually get easier. Two years later, in 2016, I took a position at a new district and experienced a very toxic work environment.
The stress, long hours, and overwhelming amount work was affecting my health including clinched jaw, frequent headaches, and stomach issues. I was experiencing burnout. I tried techniques to reduce my stress in the classroom, and eventually I realized that teaching wasn’t for me.
Background on Teacher Burnout
The rate of employees experiencing burnout from their jobs is an increasing global problem. Recently, the World Health Organization declared burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, teacher burnout is “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
Chronic workplace stress can leave us feeling exhausted, filled with cynicism and negativity, and unfulfilled. Unfortunately, we live in a society that wears our “overworked” status as a badge of honor. Teachers are no exception to the rule. For an already demanding job of teaching, it’s important to know the warning signs of teacher burnout.
What Causes Teacher Burnout?
The amount of pressure put on teachers to teach for high test scores, maintain classroom management, deal with poor student behavior, and a lack of administration support can often leave them feeling like they are drowning in the abyss.
During my teaching career, I worked every weekend and missed out on a lot of time with family and friends. I never felt like I had the time to do anything but catch up on my work. When you add up all of the hours you spend on work as a teacher compared to the already low salary and thousands in student loan debt, it’s easy to see how the stress and negativity can set in.
If you happen to also be in a toxic work environment, then this is doubly damaging. This is not only bad for teachers, but it is not a good situation for the students either. Teachers suffering from burnout can become short-tempered in the classroom, leading to outbursts and confrontations. It may be time to look into a career change.
NEW Teachers & Burnout
According to Gallup, seven out of 10 millennial workers experience burnout, with 28 percent feeling under constant pressure. Combine this with first few years being the hardest, and we can see an alarming trend for young teachers.
A report by the Learning Policy Institute says that new teachers are leaving teaching at rate between 19 and 30 percent over the first five years into their careers. This is a higher rate than people in other jobs in the preretirement period. Two of the main reasons for teachers leaving their job is a lack of work-life balance and low wages that can’t cover living expenses and student loans.
The good news is if you are suffering from teacher burnout, your teaching skills can definitely translate in other careers. There are many jobs that hire former teachers and are hiring right now! These are the best earning years of your life! Feeling stuck in an unhealthy situation may keep you from an opportunity that can possibly change your life.
7 Signs of Teacher Burnout
It’s important to be aware of the signs of teacher burnout. If you recognize any of these signs, it’s time to take action. Workplace stress can affect not only your performance in the classroom but your emotional and physical health overall. See if any of the below signs apply to you.
1. Are you mentally and physically exhausted?
Fatigue is one of the first symptoms of stress that you may experience. This may be cause by your sleep being affected by the stress at work. However, you could still sleep your full 7-9 hours and wake up feeling mentally and physically exhausted. If you feel like you’re in a fog, can’t focus like you used to, or are just plain tired all the time, this is a symptom of teacher burnout.
2. Have you been taking sick time to avoid people and work?
Using your personal time off or taking sick days is okay! But keep an eye on what’s motivating you to take them. If you’re taking extra days because you need a respite from feeling overworked and overwhelmed, you might be suffering from teacher burnout.
3. Are you finding you have reduced performance at home and school?
Overwhelming stress can cause a sense of chaos that affects all areas of your life. It’s important to recognize that this stress can seriously reduce your ability to function – whether that’s developing fresh and engaging lesson plans for students or getting your regular chores done at home.
4. Have you lost interest in the things that used to make you happy?
Workplace stress can bubble over into your personal life, but you might not even notice it. We carry that stress with us, even after when we lock the doors to our classrooms at night. Losing interest in activities is a definite sign of teacher burnout. Are you struggling to enjoy hobbies or socializing outside of work? Do you find that activities that you used to enjoy now feel like a task to overcome? Do you find yourself procrastinating or putting off things you used to love? Or are you thinking that you’ll enjoy life more in the summer when you can finally relax?
5. Do you have an increasing negative attitude due to teacher burnout?
Negative emotions are completely normal, however, if you find yourself filled with dread on a regular basis – about things related or unrelated to work, you might be experiencing teacher burnout. Do you feel increasingly grumpy or unmotivated to complete normal tasks that usually wouldn’t bother you? Are you feeling especially short with coworkers, students, friends or family? Sometimes these changes are recognized more easily by people we interact with on a regular basis. Have you been approached about improving your attitude at school or by someone in your life?
6. Are you experiencing physical symptoms of stress?
Physical symptoms related to stress can include stomach pain, tiredness and frequent headaches. Symptoms of burnout and mimic and/or exacerbate depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is important to consult with your physician if you are experiencing physical symptoms.
7. Have you been using substances to self medicate?
Leaning on substances to relax and reduce stress is a sign that you may be suffering from burnout. This can creep up slowly, so it’s important to stay aware of increasing dependency. Self medicating with alcohol and/or substance abuse will only make the situation worse in the long-term.
Alleviating Teacher Burnout
Everyone wants to have a happy life and job satisfaction plays a major role in our happiness. We want to feel valued and validated, knowing we are making a positive impact in society, but when job stress gets to be a burden on mental and physical health, it is time take action.
Regular physical exercise is a natural stress-buster and can distract you from problems at work. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
Make sure you are also getting your recommended amount of sleep, which is between seven to nine hours a night. Without proper rest, you’ll more likely end up groggy throughout the day, affecting your concentration and decision-making.
Mindfulness is another technique to calm the nerves and get your life back in balance. If you need help clearing the clutter in your brain, some helpful apps, such as Headspace or Calm give you step-by-step instructions to guide you to a more mindful state.
Above all, make sure you have a good support network to go to when you need it the most. Having a community of positive people around you and help you stay in the right mindset and not lose sight of your goals.
Finally, if you’re experiencing severe stress or suffering from many of the teacher burnout indicators above, it may be time to reach out to your doctor or a therapist for help. Prolonged stress can seriously impact your mental health and cause a variety of physical symptoms, which left unchecked can lead to more serious issues.
Quitting due to Teacher Burnout
According the Gallup, teachers experiencing teacher burnout are more than three times as likely to leave their current employer. Sometimes it can be challenging to know when to call it quits and you may get guilt trips from colleagues that you are abandoning the school. In the end, it’s your life and your health. You need to do what is right for YOU.
Be sure to listen to your body and mind and know the burnout warning signs so you know when it is time to move on.
- If your exhaustion levels are higher than your excitement levels or your personal life is suffering because of the job, the stress could be too much to handle.
- If you know that switching grades, schools or districts won’t help alleviate the problems, continuing to teach in a miserable state will impact your mental and physical health.
- Lastly, if you are struggling to make ends meet financially and your debt is starting to smother you, then maybe it’s time to finding a more lucrative career.
We all get into teaching with the best of intentions, so the thought of leaving seems impossible. You may feel like you lack resources or don’t have another option, or you will be too guilt-ridden to exit. Believe me, your physical, mental, and financial well-being are more important than suffering in a no-win situation.
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.