5 Strategies to prevent teacher burnout

As you unwind for summer, it is normal to feel exhausted and relieved. We’ve all had those days where we’ve contemplated calling in sick, and stayed in bed to avoid that unruly year 11 class. But when that feeling lingers, and you’re unable to face your most motivated class on a sunny day, you could be heading towards that dreadful burnout.

What is teacher burnout?

Burnout affects people in all professions. But for most teachers on a full schedule, working with pupils all day and fulfilling the various demands of the organisation creates stress and emotional fatigue. Besides feeling overworked and underpaid, teachers can feel isolated and at times, demoralised. Not only does this affect their job performance, but also their mental and physical health. If left untreated, burnout drives teachers out of the profession.

“Even when teachers are passionate, working in a very demanding environment leads to mental and physical fatigue that is hard to fight, affects one’s attitude, and makes it hard to work with students all day.” (Neufeldnov, 2014)

burning matches

What are the symptoms of teacher burnout?

 Emotional fatigue, isolation and a lack of motivation.

  1. Emotional fatigueyou are likely to become easily frustrated, and irritable. You often complain and blame the pupils or organisation.
  2. Isolation: you turn down invitations to social gatherings in your professional, and private life. You avoid communicating or socialising with your colleagues.
  3. Lack of motivation: you lose interest in teaching, avoid trying anything new and pine for home-time. 

 Recognising these symptoms is paramount for teacher retention. 

“Taking an occasional personal day to focus on your mental health will help you rejuvenate…”

 So, how do we prevent teacher burnout?

1. Aim for that work-life balance:I know, easier said than done, but avoid taking work home. Your to-do list will never be complete. That pile of marking will still be there the next day, so let it be. I’ve never met a teacher who has said, “I’m completely caught up,” because there is always more we can do. The important thing is to know when to stop. You can spend hours creating a glitzy PowerPoint, but the pupils won’t even remember it. However, they will remember your energy and zest in the classroom that day, so spend those hours on yourself instead!

2. Less is more:I spent my entire first year of teaching preparing flashy lessons, marking meticulously and painstakingly cutting up resources. What did I learn? I didn’t need any of these for an outstanding lesson. With a simple learning objective in mind and some targeted questioning, I could facilitate the most thought-provoking discussions. Minimise your lesson plans and let the pupils do the hard work!

help burnout

3. Co-plan: When I first started teaching I noticed how the teachers in my department would plan the exact same lesson next to one another. Soon enough, we were sending lessons back and forth and then decided to co-plan. Each teacher was responsible for creating a week’s worth of lessons following the scheme of work for that year group. Not only did shared planning save us valuable time, it collaborated our ideas and allowed us to try different things with our classes. So, share good practice and co-plan!

4. Use your time efficiently: I have worked in several staff rooms, some more sociable than others. The key is to find a free classroom and use every free period wisely. Create a lesson planning and marking timetable and stick to it. Schedule at least one free period for admin and try and get your photocopying done the week before. Socialise during break and lunch, but dedicate your free periods to the job – I promise it will get you in and out on the bell!

5. Put yourself first: the marking can wait; the planning can wait; the pupils can wait. It is totally okay to have an off lesson; your sanity is worth far more. Taking an occasional personal day to focus on your mental health will help you rejuvenate and teach better the next day, so don’t shy away. Schedule at least one fun activity during the week for yourself, and get some exercise – you need to have a life outside school. You are the priority!

Don’t let the job consume you; you are an educator, a role model, and a leader, but above all, you are a person. Recognise the signs of burnout, act, and put yourself first!


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