Surviving Teaching: 5 Tools for a Better Year


You’ve found yourself locked into a contract and actually surviving teaching for the rest of the year looks bleak. Maybe you’re suffering from teacher burnout or the stress is affecting your health. The time to manage the overwhelm is now. This article discusses five tools that can improve your year and help you decide on an exit strategy. Read on.

Surviving a terrible year teaching - steps to managing stress, controlling burnout, and considering a career change from teaching.
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Surviving Teaching during a Terrible Year

If you are experiencing symptoms of stress during a terrible year teaching, I reassure you that you are not alone. The mental (and often physical) toll that teaching can take on a body is no game. Burnout is one of the top causes of teachers leaving the classroom.

I struggled with my final year teaching due to the stress and a very toxic work environment. Simply making it through the end of the year was a test. That year I found myself at the doctor multiple times due to stress-related illnesses. Eventually, I ended up taking a peek around and understanding that being a teacher wasn’t a good match for me. 

In the last few months of school, I often cried on my way to work out of sheer dread. For those struggling with teacher burnout, here are some tips to make it through the end of the school year.

1. Focus on your Health to Survive a Terrible Year Teaching

It wasn’t very easy for me to take care of myself when I was just trying to survive teaching, but I could recognize an improvement in my headspace when I made an effort. Teacher Self Care is hugely important especially in an effort to battle burnout. However, self care is one of the first things to go when you’re dealing with overwhelming stress that can leave you tired and unmotivated.

The healthier your body feels, the more comfortably it can manage stress. If possible, attempt to work out, eat healthily, get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and limit alcohol consumption. Focusing on your health can help lift the fog of exhaustion when you’re feeling overworked.

2. Limit Your Workload

Just say no. Don’t take home additional work; don’t volunteer (or get cornered into volunteering) for something you mentally cannot manage. Keeping the overwhelm to a minimum is the most important thing for you right now. Surviving teaching for the rest of the year may mean cutting back on what you’re doing right now.

Look at your current workload to see what you can take off your plate. Can you have your students self grade some of their homework so that you have a few hours back over the weekend? Can you skip adding a new bulletin board up every month? Teachers overextend themselves with extra work and experience extreme guilt when they don’t overdeliver.

What career outside the classroom is right for YOU? Free Quiz

3. Write It All Down

If you feel terrible for weeks (in my case months), you may think you’ll never get out of the slump. During this time, monitor your activities, such as exercising or hours slept. Focusing on healthy activities outside the classroom will help you identify any factors that contribute to helping you feel better overall.

In addition to this, when you are struggling to survive a terrible teaching year, it can seem like you’ll NEVER get past the depression. If you are feeling at your lowest, it’s crucial to track your feelings. Have a notebook or a calendar, and observe your mood fluctuation using a color-coded chart. Use darker colors like black and blue to represent very depressed, blue for sad, red for anxious, and yellow for somewhat happy, and green for very happy. With a color-coded journal, you can view small but subtle changes in the right direction.

4. Keep Yourself Motivated to Survive Teaching

Remind yourself that surviving a terrible year teaching is only temporary. The journal that you use in the above strategy will help with that. It may be a long day, week, or year – but eventually, you’ll be past this.

Keep a vision board on display to help motivate you and look forward to how you’ll feel when you overcome this. Use images that represent your dream job or life, how you’ll feel once you’ve mastered this and other items in your future.

5. Develop an Exit Strategy

Finally, if you’re experiencing overwhelming stress or burnout, simply surviving teaching through this year may not be enough. It could be time to switch your focus to developing an exit strategy so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Whether or not to leave teaching is a difficult decision to make. For many teachers, there is an enormous sense of guilt related to leaving the classroom. Others fear that no companies will take a teacher seriously when applying for higher level jobs and worry about having to return to college. Still others remain in a stressful environment for years because they feel they don’t have any other options.

I can tell you from personal experience and helping thousands of teachers begin their transition out of the classroom, this is 100% not the case. There is life after teaching, and it can be so much more than just surviving until the summer.

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:

Recommended reading: The Teacher’s Guide to Self-Care by Sarah Forst. You can also listen to Podcast Episode 14, where Sarah shares actionable advice on how to implement self-care into your routine.

Blog Post: Stress Management for Teachers; 5 Strategies to Implement Today

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 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.

Step out of the classroom and into a new career, The Teacher Career Coach Course