"How to Fight Teacher Burnout" by Tracy Schutz
We have all felt the burn: that ugly sensation at the pit of your stomach that tells you “I can’t reach these students,” or “I can’t deal with these parents anymore,” or “I hate teaching-to-the-test all the time.” As we roll up this 2011 year, how do teachers deal with burn out? I took an insider’s look and began asking some of my well-respected colleagues. (Some are relatively new to teaching with <5yrs.; some are veteran teachers with 15+ years under their belts.) Besides the answer of “drink a glass of wine every night...or maybe three glasses… HA!” here is some of the great advice I received. (BTW—I’m KIDDING about the wine! Maybe.)
Build a Family: A Support Structure
A building is only as strong as the support beams holding it up, right? A school functions in much the same way. Our school atmosphere is heavily affected by the teachers in it. As a whole, we can only be as strong as each of our teachers. We ALL together have to hold up the school, and in the bigger picture, hold up education in general. Teachers who are catty and build cliques are not helping to build a family and only contribute to the feelings of burnout. One of the greatest things about the school in which I teach is the sense of family that we all have. Everyone is more than willing to share ideas, curriculum, technology, and insight. A big part of teacher burnout comes when teachers don’t feel they have anyone in their own school to turn to for help. (Think of the song “Lean on Me…”) Teachers who stand strong together can beat that sense of hopelessness we all feel at times. Think of it like this: A strong teacher unit is like a giant antacid for teacher burnout! Can’t you feel the fire fizzing out already?
Beat that Standardized Test Anxiety
With the added pressures put on teachers today to teach to the standard, or teach to the test, no wonder teacher burnout is even more prevalent. Dr. Fioriello of a K-12 educational consulting firm cites one of the four main reasons teachers leave the profession as “too much testing.” (Read the full article here). We know that we cannot take a Yugo and turn it into a Ferrari by the end of one school year, so what do we do? We have to think in terms of progress, gains, improvement. Although it seems like an endless uphill battle, teaching to the standard can be done without killing ourselves. I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely a lot of work, but you knew that when you decided to become a teacher didn’t you? As the focus continues to drive towards standardized test results, more and more companies are offering test prep software to districts and even targeting certain subjects. Use the prep materials they give you, but put your own creative spin on them so that the kids don’t moan and groan when you say “test prep.” Another idea: get together with your subject or grade level departments and work on a master plan/schedule that all can contribute to and this will ease your stress some. Have everyone bring their top ten favorite lessons and tweak these to fit in with the test prep materials.
Parents, Students, Apathy, OH MY
Last but not least, teacher burnout hits us all when we repeatedly have unmotivated uncaring students who then tend to have parents with the attitude that screams “my child can do no wrong and doesn’t do his work because he’s not challenged enough” mentality. Oh yes…they exist...in multitudes. How do we deal with this? Well, think baby steps, or one day at a time. Deep down I think all parents want their children to be educated. However, some don’t always make their children a priority unfortunately. That then carries over into school and their children’s mentality about what’s important as well.
I know when a student is unmotivated to learn, we tend to want to steer away from this child and focus on the ones who do give us their attention. However, we all know the ones who don’t want to be reached are the ones who need it the most. Reluctant learners who are skimmed over and fall through the cracks, lose more and more ground each school year. If they are not learning, not achieving academic goals, then there is a larger gap of skills that they don’t know. We find this especially true with math and reading. These are two core subjects that require a strong foundation to build upon and when gaps begin to form, the knowledge lost increases exponentially.
OK…How does all of this relate to burnout? These students with unsupportive parents stress us out and we know we need to reach them! How do we combat this? Like I said, baby steps, one day at a time. We focus on the little things. If Johnny can learn one small thing each day and understand that it doesn’t have to be a huge battle, then hopefully new patterns of work ethic can be learned. Yes, it will take extra compassion on our part, but this is what separates good teachers from great teachers! You CAN do this! It is very easy to get caught up with what’s wrong with education, but don’t! This is a major stressor…you must focus on the changes you CAN make in order to maintain a sense of “making it all worthwhile.” As far the unsupportive parents go…? I leave them… I don’t have time for their ignorance. I communicate as much as possible (emails, phone calls, updated website, positive notes home, etc.) and if that doesn’t get through to them, then I focus on the child AT SCHOOL -- where I can make a difference.
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