Teacher Burnout Is Real — Signs and How to Avoid It
Teaching music can be one of the most rewarding jobs. It can also be emotionally, physically, and mentally consuming. Do you feel like you’ve hit a wall? Discover some of the signs of teacher burnout, and ideas for finding your mojo and bringing excitement and creativity back into the classroom!
Veteran Teacher, Franchesca Warren:
You wake up one morning sweaty, out of breath and with a throbbing headache. You take every pain medicine available, but you still feel like crap. Determined to finish out the school year strong, you continue to teach until the last day of school. Despite your optimism you still cannot “shake” the feeling that maybe teaching is not the career you can stay in for the long run. You find yourself feeling:
- under appreciated for the work and hours you put in the classroom
- confused about expectations and priorities of your ever changing jobs
- concerned about job security with education budgets being slashed
- overcommitted with the ever changing responsibilities of a teacher
- resentful about duties that are not properly compensated
If you feel like this, you may be experiencing teacher burnout.
Not only is teacher burnout a real condition, during the last months of school it can seem like a insurmountable feeling to overcome.
During the last eight weeks of school this is traditionally the time when teacher burnout is alive and kicking down our door. We not only feel physically tired from all of the end of the year shenanigans, but we are mentally burned out.
We start to do the following just to make it through the day:
- It takes us longer to get out of bed in the morning and by night fall we’re falling a sleep on the couch.
- We grimace at the thought of having to stay after school extra days to grade papers.
- You get annoyed by the littlest things that occur in your classroom.
- You find yourself using your planning period to search for jobs OUT of education.
With teachers knowing, recognizing and experiencing burnout, we still find ourselves barely hanging on to our sanity by the last day of school. So the age old question remains — how can teachers take these last couple of days of school and make them their best?
1. Decide what’s important to finish the school year strong.
Take a “step back” and decide what’s most important – to YOU – and to your program.
2. Plan activities in the summer that have NOTHING to do with school.
Toward the end of the year, it never fails, I start to receive emails about summer opportunities for me to teach summer school or lead a summer program. While the pay seems great, I always reply “no” because I realize that all money is not good money. You see I use my eight weeks in the summer to do what I like to do. Sometimes I decide to run a half marathon or take swim lessons, while other times I elect to sit on my porch and just relax. Whether I plan a summer full of activities or a decide to just relax, I realized years ago that teachers need to take the summer to work on their dreams and ambitions.
The ideas seems so simple, but after servicing children (and their parents) for 200 days straight, all educators need a break. The break should have nothing to with education and should allow us to relax our brains for a moment. I usually recommend that teachers try not to work during the summer and instead use that time rejuvenate their love for education. That may mean being at home and watching reruns of “Breaking Bad” or spending your time catching up on our recreational reading. I’ve watched co-workers of mine, use the summer to do recreational things such as running marathons, traveling over the world or taking on a totally new career. As you plan your summer think about that and use your time to rejuvenate your ind and soul.
3.Reflect on what you’ve learned this school year.
A couple of days after school is out, our minds are still spinning about what happened during the last 180 days of instruction. Many times while we’re grimacing about situations that weren’t so wonderful, we are also smiling about all of the things that were awesome. So instead of letting those experiences die, why not take time to journal how your school year actually went? The only way to became a better practitioner is to reflect in your time in the classroom. So use this summer to journal what worked well in your classroom and the areas that you need to work on for the following school year. Maybe you spent too much time at your school and you need to schedule more time for you to work on yourself. Reflection is a powerful self awareness tool so schedule out a few hours a day to reflect and renew your mental state.
4. Realize that the shenanigans with closing out the end of the year have nothing to do with you as an educator.
How many times have we had an angry parent want a conference on the last day of school to discuss a grade or worse, to demand more work in order for their child to pass. While experiencing these harrowing incidents with parents, your principal or other co-workers, it’s important to realize that craziness is bound to happen at the end of every year. The difference is how you respond to it. For example, whenever I’m confronted with a parent who is upset about a grade, I always bring all of my “artifacts” that I’ve collected from trying to help their child. If a parent gets too intense during the conference, then I always excuse myself and let my administration handle the parent. The point is, I realize that the end of the year is stressful for parents, teachers, students and administrators so anything done during that time, I don’t take personally.
In the end, teacher burnout is real and in order to overcome it you have to employ some strategies for your mental and physical health.
Read the full blog post by Franchesca Warren
Music Teachers Are Not Immune
Anonymous Music Teacher
“ . . . At my previous school, however, I experienced something that I’m sure is a common experience for general music teachers: The parents, teachers, and administrators at that school liked the idea of being an arts education school but were not willing to make any of the necessary compromises to actually be an arts education school.
“Problems in public education, in my experience, often have less to do with money than they do with the lack of space and time. My music classes were invariably preempted, or I was pushed out of my room by more pressing business, usually having to do with testing [or other classes], but often having to with special projects undertaken by teachers senior to me, as in, ‘We know you had as dress rehearsal scheduled, but Mr. So-and-So needs the auditorium for the play his class is doing about the Gold Rush.’ When classes were not preempted, teachers would sometimes just not show up. ‘We were on a class trip, didn’t we tell you?’ was a typical excuse, or sometimes simply, ‘I forgot.’
“The bottom line was that whatever I was doing was always considered expendable.”
“The bottom line was that whatever I was doing was always considered expendable. I did what te achers do in my position, which was to put up with it until I got a better job offer that I took instantly. They were all shocked. At my new school people don’t really understand what it takes to run a general music program either, but they have a high enough regard for what I do to trust me when I tell them something is important and to work with me on compromises rather than push me out of the way and call it a compromise.”
Nathan Sackman, Band Director, 10th Street Middle School in Marysville, Washington
As a first year teacher teaching middle school band, I struggled with my first group of students. Many of them did not like their previous band director and had the same expectations of me. My beginning band students were the scariest. They were difficult to manage, and I (at the time) did not have much confidence that I was a good teacher. Over time, I kept thinking to myself, “Are these students going to walk away with the skills they need to be a member of the high school band?” As the year went on, I worked with them and gained confidence. I tried many different ways of teaching, most of which failed miserably. However, they learned how to play their instruments, and they loved it.
By the end of their 8th grade year, they were playing music at standard, but I still could not get the idea out of my mind that they were my first group, my test subjects. When they left my program, only 10 of them out of 60 went on to high school band. I was crushed. Having resided to the idea that I failed them, I moved on and worked on my skills as a teacher and an advocate for music. This year, those beginning students graduated from high school. At the end of the year my mail box began to be flooded with graduation announcements, pictures, and thank you letters. I was astounded. Many of them thanked ME for their success as a student in high school and for helping them figure out what they wanted to do.
I was very excited, relieved, and filled with joy to know that I had an impact on all of their lives.
Still filled with joy, I attended our high school’s band concert (as I always do). All ten of the students who moved on after 8th grade were still in band. Two of them had announced that they were accepted as music students into the colleges of their choice. One of the flute players got up and made a special thank you to me stating, “I am going to be a band director.” He thanked me for being his biggest influence. My heart sank.
I had no idea, how much influence a first year teacher could have. For all this time, I had the idea that I had failed them. I did not.
Keith David Reeves, Connecticut Music Educators Association, 2015 In-Service Keynote Address
“ . . . I’ve taught general music, elementary music, middle school band, middle school chorus, high school band, musical theatre, music theory, music history, vocal jazz, keyboarding, and man, whatever your axe, whatever your gig, whatever your group, you are doing it. You are the life blood of your school and for some of your kids, you are the reason they get up in the morning. . . . There are kids out there who are desperate for one person to turn to, and you might be that person and not even know it. . . .
“Music education is the very soul of teaching and learning.”
“Music education is the very soul of teaching and learning, and every single day you get up in the morning and go to work, you are doing the work of real teaching, you are saving the lives of children that have nowhere else to go, and you are changing your world and theirs for the better.”
Have YOU ever felt teacher burnout? What worked for you?
Share your recommendations in the comment section!
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
Kristen Rencher, Social Media Coordinator. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)