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How to Prevent and Recover from Teacher Burnout: 5 Coping Strategies

By |2023-07-03T00:26:13+00:00June 23rd, 2023|Categories: Educators|

As a teacher, you’re likely to be dealing with many challenges that could have you feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated and even burnt out.

Moreover, teachers have been faced with the complex task of meeting the diverse needs of students and parents alike.

If you’re finding it hard to cope, you’re not alone. Burnout is a common experience that affects many teachers at some point in their careers.

While it can affect individuals in any profession, it’s particularly common among teachers.

In fact, researcher Herbert Freudenberger initially coined the term burnout to describe the consequences of severe stress experienced by helping professionals such as teachers, nurses and doctors.

This article was from one of 3P Learning’s Edchat webinar series in the US and Canada. Click the button below to watch the full webinar, From Burnout to Productivity: Creating a Path for Teacher Wellness with Miriam Williams.

Watch it here

What is the rate of teacher burnout?

A survey conducted in 2022 by the National Education Association shed light on the alarming levels of stress and burnout among educators. The survey, which involved 3,621 members, revealed a significant increase in the percentage of educators who are considering retiring or leaving the profession earlier than planned.

Key findings from the survey highlight burnout as the top issue facing educators, with 67% of respondents reporting it as a very serious issue and 90% as a very serious or somewhat serious issue.

These findings underscore the urgent need to address burnout and support teachers in navigating the challenges associated with their profession.

It goes beyond regular fatigue, leaving you emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted and struggling to cope with the demands of your profession.

What is teacher burnout?

Burnout is a complex phenomenon that goes beyond feeling tired.

It’s a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged occupational stress. Teachers, in particular, are susceptible to burnout due to the demands and pressures of their profession.

Mental exhaustion, a hallmark of burnout, results in difficulty concentrating, decreased productivity and cognitive strain. It can manifest as a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, making it challenging to stay focused and perform at one’s best.

Physical exhaustion is an additional aspect of burnout that is marked by persistent fatigue, muscle tension and a compromised immune function.

The weariness can set into every aspect of life, making it difficult for teachers to find the energy and motivation needed to fulfill professional responsibilities and engage with students effectively.

Recognizing the multifaceted nature of burnout and its impact on teachers’ lives is crucial.

By understanding the underlying causes and effects, we can begin to explore effective strategies and solutions to prevent and manage burnout.

What are the symptoms?

As a teacher, it’s common to feel stressed from the heavy workload and constant demands, but if you’re at the beginning stages of burnout, it’s important to the identify the signs early to prevent it from worsening.

Here are symptoms to look out for:

  1. Feeling increasingly cynical or critical towards your work
  2. Struggling to find motivation and feeling disinterested each day
  3. Becoming irritable or impatient with colleagues, students or parents
  4. Experiencing a distinct lack of energy and difficulty being productive
  5. Struggling with concentration and focus
  6. Feeling dissatisfied with your achievements, despite your efforts
  7. Developing a sense of disillusionment about your job
  8. Experiencing changes in sleep patterns
  9. Turning to substances as a means to cope with stress or numb emotions
  10. Experiencing unexplained physical complaints such as headaches or stomach problems

Beyond these symptoms, burnout can also manifest in various physical, cognitive and behavioral signs.

Physical signs sometimes include exhaustion, frequent crying, panic attacks and high blood pressure. Cognitive symptoms may involve a lack of joy, emotional desensitization, anxiety and depression. And behavioral signs can manifest as increased isolation, agitation and bitterness.

How to cope with teacher burnout

Why are teachers burning out?

Teaching is a deeply rewarding profession, but it also comes with its share of challenges and stressors.

As a teacher, it’s important to be aware of the factors that can contribute to burnout.

Here are six common causes:

1. Student behavior: Dealing with disobedience, disruption, disrespect, bullying and aggression can leave teachers feeling overwhelmed, anxious and emotionally drained.

2. Lack of recognition and support: Feeling undervalued and unsupported by school administrators, parents and the community at large, can lead to a sense of frustration and the belief that their hard work is going unnoticed.

3. Pressures from administration: High expectations to meet academic standards can make teachers feel responsible for factors beyond their control, leading to unrealistic or unattainable goals that contribute to burnout.

4. Low salaries: Inadequate compensation can create financial stress, making it challenging for teachers to make ends meet and provide for their families. This can lead to high teacher turnover and questioning the value of their profession.

5. High-stakes testing: When teachers’ job security and evaluation are tied to their students’ test scores, the pressure can be immense. Spending excessive time preparing students for tests can diminish the joy and fulfillment of teaching.

6. Heavy workload: Balancing multiple administrative tasks, lesson planning, grading and student management can quickly overwhelm teachers, leaving them feeling overworked and exhausted.

By becoming acquainted with these factors, teachers can take proactive measures to address and mitigate the effects of burnout.

How to prevent and recover from teacher burnout

Experiencing burnout can be an overwhelming journey.

By understanding the factors that contribute to burnout and implementing effective strategies for prevention and self-care, teachers can safeguard their well-being and continue to make a positive impact in their students’ lives.

Here are five coping strategies to consider:

1. Establish boundaries

Setting clear expectations with students, parents and supervisors is essential to prevent burnout. By enforcing consistent boundaries, you can promote fairness, improve student-teacher relationships and create a safer environment. Additionally, establishing a framework of expectations with parents and supervisors helps prevent future problems and ensures your needs are respected.

2. Give priority to self-care

It’s important to focus on self-care when you start feeling overwhelmed. Dedicate even just 10 minutes a day to activities that relax and recharge you. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, listening to music or spending time with loved ones, find what rejuvenates you. Invest in your professional growth too, by attending conferences or participating in teacher groups that inspire and keep you engaged in your work.

3. Practice self-advocacy

When stress reaches chronic levels, it’s vital to acknowledge the reality of the situation and seek immediate help. Reach out to trusted colleagues, a school counselor, or friends and family to be heard and validated. Communicate and collaborate with administrators to advocate for necessary additional resources and support that can alleviate the burden on educators.

4. Take a break

If it becomes overwhelming, it’s crucial to take time off and recharge. Whether it’s going on vacation, spending quality time with loved ones, or pursuing hobbies and interests, allow yourself the opportunity to step away from work and protect your mental health.

5. Seek professional help

In the most severe stage of burnout, seeking professional help is essential. If you’re experiencing depression or mental and physical exhaustion, reach out to a therapist, counsellor or support group for assistance. They can help work through your symptoms, find effective stress management techniques and provide the personal care you need.

By implementing these coping strategies, you can take an active role in managing and overcoming burnout, regain control of your life and boost your energy levels.

Most of all, remember you’re not alone and there are resources available to support you on your journey toward well-being.

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