Struggling with Teacher Burnout?

Oct 15, 2020

Burnout can happen at any time and to anyone. Often, you may not realize that you are on the brink of burnout until you feel you have been hit by a bulldozer. The feeling can be overwhelming and can be made worse when you put pressure on yourself to keep going. The guilt of not being able to do what is “expected” only worsens the symptoms. Teachers suffer from burnout more often than is talked about. Teaching from home, or in a formal classroom setting, is a difficult job that requires teachers to be constantly putting others’ needs before their own. This makes teachers an easy target for burnout. 

“I started to question my ability to do my job. I started questioning if my career as an Early Childhood Educator was sustainable. As soon as the week began, I started longing for the weekend. I knew I was utterly exhausted, but I also knew I loved my students and helping them learn and grow—I thought, maybe I just need a long weekend. A few weeks prior I had noticed that I was much more sensitive, quick to respond, yet forgetful and running on empty. And if you know what it’s like to be a preschool teacher, you know you must be on point, engaging, dynamic, and adaptable. 

I looked in the mirror and I had big dark circles beneath my eyes, and I thought to myself, who are you? What’s happening? I felt like I had aged 5 years in 5 months, and I knew something needed to change. I started to look up ways to relieve stress and I searched, “work exhaustion”, and realized that I was experiencing quintessential teacher burnout. By taking the time to notice my own imbalances, I was able to begin formulating a plan to center myself and regain wellness. I started with the basics: sleep, nutrition, exercise, as well as downtime (which is what I was really craving). What I needed was time to just be, to just be me. As teachers, we often give a lot, and we can overextend or even lose ourselves.” – A.M. 

Burnout is a preventable issue if we know what signs to look out for. If you or someone you know exhibit any of the following symptoms, there is a chance burnout is the cause:

Mood Swings

“A few weeks prior I had noticed that I was much more sensitive, quick to respond, yet forgetful and running on empty.”

Do you ever find yourself snapping at a child or loved one for taking too long to get ready?  Is the yelling because an object is broken or not working the way you thought they should? These may be signs of burnout. While anger is a completely normal emotion, finding yourself going from peaceful and happy to yelling at a sugar packet for not opening correctly may be a sign that we are highly stressed. 

When we feel yourself falling into a pattern of quickly getting angry, sad, or anxious, one quick step to help reduce these feelings is a pause. Step away from the situation for a brief moment before returning to your task. If we are in a classroom with many students, ask your students to participate in independent activities while taking the time for a few deep breaths. Stepping outside for fresh air will help you to connect yourself to the earth and regain your center. Remembering that the earth is a living body, taking notice of your own body’s needs, asking for a break is one of the many ways we can maintain wellness. 

Lack of Time for Self-Care 

I started to question my ability to do my job. I started questioning if my career as an Early Childhood Educator was sustainable. As soon as the week began, I started longing for the weekend.”

Taking care of yourself can mean many different things. Eating a healthy meal when your body communicates that you are hungry,  enjoying a good book to relax the mind, or making time for physical activity are all examples of self-care. Taking care of yourself is whatever we need it to be. If you notice that you have lost your appetite or find yourself snacking all day long when these are not typical behaviors for you, then you might be experiencing burnout. You may also be burnt out if you cannot find joy during your favorite activities. 

The first thing that tends to prevent us from taking care of ourselves is time: we feel that we just do not have enough. One way to help carve out time for self-care is to sit down and look at your calendar. Find a time in the week that will allow you an hour or two to practice your own version of self-care. If you find that you are missing meals or mindlessly snacking, try pre-preparing a simple meal with ingredients from your local farmers market or personal garden. Prioritizing time for yourself and be aware of what you need at the moment will help you become more mindful of the natural changes in your body.  

Chronic Fatigue or Insomnia 

“I looked in the mirror and I had big dark circles beneath my eyes, and I thought to myself, who are you? What’s happening? I felt like I had aged 5 years in 5 months, and I knew something needed to change.”

Some nights, nothing seems to calm you down when you are laying in bed trying to fall asleep. Other nights, you fall asleep quickly, only to wake up feeling like you never slept. Your body may be telling you that it is tired and overstressed. When you find it difficult to relax, it may mean stress has taken over. When you wake up feeling tired after eight full hours of sleep, your body may be telling you that you need more rest. 

To help you find peace at night, take time to create a nightly routine that will help remind your body to rest. Set your electronic devices aside, find a quiet space, and create a mindfulness practice for yourself. For example, meditation and yoga focus on connecting to the earth and being mindful of your part in it. After you have settled your mind, take time alone to detach from your busy day. Tell your body that the day is done and your journey has been a wonderful one. By closely following your own personal nightly routine you signal to your body that it is time to rest. It tells your body that it has done its job for the day and you are thankful for all that it does. 

“I was able to communicate with my co-workers and with the administration about how I was feeling and what I needed. I rearranged my schedule and took a week off for my mental health, I reduced my hours of work and started painting more, and I returned to work feeling ready and excited to be there—that’s what we want. By taking the time to tune in with me, I am able to continuously check-in, and take the necessary steps to maintain wellness.” – A.M.  

If you are experiencing mood swings, stress, or chronic fatigue, burnout, and want wellness; tuning into your body will help you find what you need to help prevent or resolve burnout. Origins Curriculum focuses on the whole child, but we too need to focus on our whole selves: mind, body, and soul. Through a holistic educational approach, we are teaching our children how to focus on individual and collective well-being both for themselves and the world around them. By knowing and valuing the earth and taking time for self-care, we can show our young ones that we are all interconnected and capable of taking care of each other. Head over to  Origins Curriculum to learn more about how we can help you and your family develop a more mindful practice.