Preventing Teacher Stress and Burnout This Spring
By NAfME Member Maria Stefanova Mar
Preventing teacher stress and burnout is possible with careful planning and care about yourself as a teacher!
Every spring I used to feel like quitting teaching. I could not handle everything happening around me. There were simply too many demands.
Ten years later, and still teaching in the schools, I am now working with many young colleagues who are going through similar difficult periods. I have started a page devoted to teacher stress management hoping to share both my personal struggles and success.
So in the last post we talked about techniques to preserve yourself as a teacher when difficult situations arise. Now let’s look at the school year itself and planning your spring wisely for stress-free teaching.
Teacher Burnout Symptoms and Causes
- Spring carries a very different flair. We tend to think lighter on things. However, in the educational system things are quite the opposite. This is the heaviest time in terms of testing, parent and student demands. This is where many conflicts and burnout happen.
- Many school districts schedule standardized testing February-April. Most schools in European countries, including my own, schedule these after the end of the school year. The very last week is devoted to testing only. This way the students have learned the entire school curricula. However, most districts in the U.S. schedule testing before the end of the year. Once students are done, the student focus drops. For many teachers this becomes either a period of many discipline problems or an empty period which they have to “fill”.
- The students know that the school year is coming to its end. They start getting more impatient. The old “tricks” teachers use fail to work.
- Parents? This I do not know why . . . but the most conflicts between parents and teachers happen this time of the year . . . do I have statistics? No. Do I see it around me? Every day. Could it be because they too are tired and they need an outlet?
I think it is important for a teacher to put things in perspective and to know that they are not alone with many of their struggles in the profession. It is also important to recognize things that happen outside of your control and be able to detach yourself a bit so that you can cope with things in a balanced way. Easier said than done. Still, there are things we can do.
Prevent Teacher Stress & Burnout This Spring
- Re-focus your instruction so that the students can experience your classroom in a new way. That may mean both slowing down and speeding things up. This could be more projects and interactive experiences. It could be wrapping up the year and doing projects that summarize what was learned. It may mean slowing down by doing assignments in a different way. That may also mean that students direct their instruction and assessment more than at the beginning of the school year.
- Allow students to have rest as well. They are feeling the burnout from the year just the way teachers do. This does not mean that you don’t teach. Simply pair difficult activities with ‘DOWN TIME’.
- Think about the last months as time for reflecting on the whole school year! Rather than pushing forward and working as hard as you did in September, take the time to think about what was working for you and what you need to change. Have your students do the same. I give my students opportunities to write about the school year, we have class interviews with them reflecting on their work. I also have them pick one or two of our projects at this time. All of this “breaks up” the pace while the students are still engaged.
- Do the same for yourself! If you have a difficult day, pair it something or somebody that you enjoy after work. If you are stuck doing paperwork or being frustrated at a teacher’s meeting, then schedule an activity where you can be creative and balance out the negative energy.
- Find a quiet inspiration outside your work, a place or activity where you can just be and recharge. That can mean different things for different people. Many teachers take time off in order to grade papers and organize activities. Find the time for yourself!
- Often teachers feel that the situation in their classroom happens ONLY in their classroom. It is very natural for people to turn to themselves when things get difficult. That makes the situation worse at the end. Find a teacher you could trust and share your experiences. Using this blog for it? Absolutely!
- Don’t underestimate burnout! Take time off.
- Don’t control or react to all situations. If you feel that you are getting burned out, let things just be. This is what we all need the most practice on . . .
“Young teachers need to pace themselves to prevent burnout, not only within the school year, but also in the years to come.”
How did I come up with these rules for preventing teacher burnout? By making plenty of mistakes! Last year I went through a huge burnout. I almost thought that I would give up teaching in the public school system.
I was trying to do everything at once. I scheduled many activities for my students. I was surprised by having twice as many “activities” scheduled from my administration. I was getting quite sick after our last music festival, when I started receiving emails from one of my parents. They were difficult to respond to and had to do with that person more than they had to do with what was happening at school. The pressure of everything happening at the same time prove too much for me.
As I was talking to a former mentor of mine, she mentioned, “Young teachers need to pace themselves to prevent burnout, not only within the school year, but also in the years to come.” Well, I was not doing that very well back then. However, I do think that I am getting a much better balance between doing my job well and keeping myself at a good place.
Books That Will Help You Prevent Teacher Stress and Burnout
- There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith
I absolutely love everything by Rafe Esquith. This book is great for teachers who are burnt out and overwhelmed with the system. And the book is not about that . . . but it indirectly has the effect of preventing teacher burnout. I have heard this from all teachers I have talked to. I am one of them. This book is a memoire of Rafe Esquith’s personal journey and struggles as a teacher. You will find out that each chapter of the book is probably a chapter in your teaching career too. Just reading it makes you feel like you are not alone. It makes you feel a subtle support and reassurance to keep doing what you are doing. I strongly recommend that book! It is really that good!
Rafe Esquith has a new book out, Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans. I have read it, and I think it is also excellent. It would have a similar effect on having a teacher realize they are not alone in their struggles. To me the first book had a bigger effect. That of course may depend on the reader.
- Less Stress for Teachers: More Time & an Organized Classroom by Helene Segura
The book has good ideas about managing your time as a teacher to prevent burnout. Often we need to be intentional about working LESS and scheduling our time wisely in order to complete all demands. I love her chapter about email. I think the book is worth it just for that one chapter. If you feel your stress may come from having too much, or if you feel that you may need a better strategy for managing the never-ending demands in education, this book will help you!
I am reading this book right now. I have heard very good things about it. I will be back to report my findings. Let me know in the comments what you think if you have read it.
Know another wonderful book on preventing teacher burnout or have an article about it? By all means, share the link in the comments!
How Do I Avoid Teacher Burnout Now?
- I am now getting much wiser when scheduling events. I make sure that I space extra events so that I don’t have more than two concerts or evening activities per week.
- I take time off! I make sure that I re-charge before I get back to work.
- I start planning for lessons much earlier, having in mind difficult periods in my school schedule.
- If I have had a difficult day at school and I have had discipline, colleague, or parent problems, I balance that energy after the work day.
- At the end . . . I think I am a much better and happier teacher for my students!
I would love to hear your comments and see you share your own experiences about preventing teacher burnout!
Related Articles on Teacher Burnout:
Previous articles by Maria Stefanova Mar:
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About the Author:
NAfME Member Maria Stefanova Mar is the author of www.musicteachingandparenting.com where she shares ideas with string educators. Maria works as a pedagogy coordinator at the University of New Mexico. She also teaches orchestra full time in the Albuquerque public schools. She started a middle school program at Taylor Middle School, Albuquerque ten years ago. At the time there were only 12 students in the orchestra classes. Now it has grown to a full and successful program. The advanced students in the program just won NM state orchestra competition in the middle school category. Maria is a frequent clinician. She schedules regular presentations with the University of New Mexico students to share teaching ideas. She has been recognized from the ASTA/New Mexico Chapter with the Young Emerging Teacher Award in 2008. Now Maria serves as the ASTA president.
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