A New Resource for Teachers Headed for Burnout

I am always 41sobhp5rl-_ac_us160_looking for information on teacher burnout. Not coincidentally, there are an increasing number of resources available because teacher burnout is on the rise.

The most recent gem I found is a new book entitled, First Aid for Teacher Burnout:  How You Can Find Peace and Success, by Jenny Grant Rankin. I wrote a review for Amazon just this morning, and this is what I offered:

“I appreciated this book and the author’s approach to teacher stress and burnout very much. Dr. Rankin provides proactive suggestions for readers, and her research on the subject is impeccable. I found only a couple of suggestions to be slightly off the mark. For example, submitting an anonymous note to the administration is suggested as a tactic for “avoiding drama.” As a former educator who witnessed lots of drama that resulted from an anonymous note turned into my administration (a note I did not write), I believe that tip is particularly ill-advised. That reservation aside, the book is extremely well-organized, and I believe it would be a great resource for teachers who may feel that they are heading for burnout but are not quite there yet. The strategies may prove to be “too little too late” for those who have had that final moment of reckoning when they realize that teaching is not the profession it used to be. Dr. Rankin’s experience as a teacher and educator herself provides credibility to her advice, and I will recommend this book to my clients as a good resource for those needing strategies to ward off a complete break from the profession.”

I was impressed by the depth of the research Dr. Rankin did in preparing this book, and she has organized it in such a way that it can easily become a workbook for teachers individually or collectively in a study group. She offers numerous strategies and tips for handling the stress and overwhelm that increasingly go with teaching.

Many of the strategies are sound, and she is right in offering that some of the stress a teacher feels is sometimes self-imposed. Teachers who are perfectionistic or true Type A personalities often go the extra mile until they have run out of gas, and then they can’t go any longer. Those are the ones who are leaving in greater and greater numbers because they have just run out of the enthusiasm they once felt for the profession.

I hear from an increasing number of teachers every day who have hit that point. This book might have helped them had they found it much earlier, but it is too late for many of them. The ones who have hit the point of no return won’t find solace in this resource, but those who are just approaching burnout and need some solid strategies for cutting back on their workload or developing a different mindset about their situation may find it helpful.

If you have hit the point of no return and feel that leaving teaching is the only option left to you, there is help available. You can seek out the resources of your college or university. Most offer their alumni some level of career counseling and services.

And then, there is the option of hiring a career coach. There are plenty to choose from, so I suggest you do your homework and check them out. You need to find someone with whom you can relate and who will understand exactly where you are coming from.

Let’s be honest…some people don’t understand why you are unhappy with your teaching career. Perhaps you are even having a difficulty explaining it to your spouse or your family members. They may think you have it easy. You only work 9 months a year (a myth), and you have your summers off (unless you have to work to supplement your income or go back to school to keep your licensure current). You only work from 7:30-2:30 (another myth), and you have every holiday off (probably accurate unless you have a second job) with pretty decent benefits compared to those in the private sector (sometimes accurate, sometimes not, depending upon where you work).

Given all these perks, what’s not to like about teaching? That is what they may be thinking.

They can’t possibly understand or appreciate the degrading way you may be treated by your inexperienced or incompetent administration.

They can’t imagine that you can’t deal with 35 kids in your classroom built for 25, many of whom can’t speak English or have a variety of learning disabilities.

They don’t understand why you have to buy most of your own materials like pencils and paper and bulletin board supplies. Why isn’t the school supplying all of those things?

They can’t fathom that your classes have gotten so large you don’t have enough books to go around.

And on top of all of that, you must adopt a new initiative every few months whether it makes sense for kids or not because someone who hasn’t been in a classroom for years thinks it might be the next “silver bullet” that will make your kids suddenly top test takers.

So much is broken in our system right now that I think I may have to write my own book.

The point is that if you can find someone who understands what you are experiencing, and they are in a position to help you figure out what your options are, then you should latch on to that person and don’t let go.

Life is just too short to spend a single day of it feeling miserable.

That is why I decided to become a career coach and counselor to teachers instead of returning to a middle school classroom to teach English after my term at the Virginia Education Association ended in 2012. I had burned myself out on that job and had nothing of value to offer energetic (and often drama-ridden) pre-teens whom I knew were much different from the 6th graders I taught from 1977-1980. I just couldn’t make myself go back. I didn’t want to spend one day of the rest of my life feeling that I wasn’t performing in a career that lit me up and made me feel good about myself. So I took charge of my career.

Everyone deserves to be able to that for themselves. So, if you are just beginning to experience twinges of burnout, get Dr. Rankin’s book. If you are already at the point of burnout, take a look at my website to see if you can find a resource there that might help.

I reinvented and retooled myself for a new career, and I have helped others do the same. The hardest part may be giving yourself permission to leave teaching while also giving yourself the permission to consider an alternative career. After all, if all you have always wanted to be was a teacher, making the decision to leave is scary. After making that decision, deciding on a path and having the courage to take the necessary steps to get you where you want to go is not easy, but it is so worth it in the long run.

I started out on my new career adventure 4 years ago this month. I have never regretted my decision, and my new mission in life is to help others find the same satisfaction in their lives that I have found in mine.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle holding you back is YOU.

This is a new year. What do you want to be doing a year from now? If you want your life to be different, you will have to start behaving differently. Why not start now?

Until next time.

 

 

A Message to Teachers about Going Back to School Tomorrow

Christmas memories are quickly fading, and New Year’s resolutions may have already been dropped. Tomorrow, after a long holiday hiatus, it will be time to return to work.

For my teacher friends who will be returning to school routines, I hope you are looking forward to Monday morning with joyful anticipation. You have missed your kids, perhaps, and you can’t wait to hear them regale you with all of their holiday stories of gifts gotten and trips taken.

For some of you, however, you may be experiencing a sense of dread. When I taught and worked as an elementary school librarian, I remember some of my colleagues talking about how they cried on the Sunday night before coming in on Monday.

I couldn’t relate because I loved my job as the school librarian. I knew then, as I know today, that being the media specialist was the best job in the building, and I never took it for granted. I did look forward to coming back after summer vacations and holidays and weekends. I know, however, that some of my colleagues did not share my enthusiasm because they talked about it with me.

It always bothered me to hear of my colleagues’ misery. Some were new mothers, and leaving their babies at the daycare or even with Grandma was excruciatingly painful for them. Others had just stopped enjoying their work but didn’t know what to do about it.

I suspect that the percentage of teachers who dread going to school tomorrow has increased dramatically since my days as a librarian. I suspect this based on the calls and emails I get from teachers who have lost their enthusiasm for teaching.

For many teachers, the fun has been sucked out of the profession by reformers and politicians who never taught a day in their lives but think they know how classrooms should be run. Add to the misery the countless number of tasks that have been added to the plates of every teacher in the country while nothing has ever been removed. (This is a pet peeve of mine, and I complained of it in my last speech before the Virginia Board of Education members in 2012 when I was still President of the Virginia Education Association from 2008-2012.)

Unless you have been a teacher or you have lived with one, and you have personally witnessed the work hours they put in at home, you can’t possibly appreciate the amount of work the average teacher puts into their job when they are not at work. Oh, I know people in business often bring work home at night. I also know that a lot of that work stays in the briefcase all night and is never touched. The work can be caught up the next day, after all.

Not so if you are are a schoolteacher. You have kids who are counting on you to bring them your A-game every single day, and every single period of every single day. You don’t have the luxury of slacking off if you have papers to grade or lesson plans that haven’t been created but must be ready for the next day.

Teachers have pressures to which people in business cannot relate, and they should stop trying. On top of that, if I hear one more time that teachers have it “easy” because they “only” work from 7:30 to 2:30 and they get three months “off for the summer,” I might scream.

Most teachers not only have the massive workload to which I have referred, but many of them have to take 2nd jobs to pay the rent, keep food on the table, buy gas for the car, and pay back massive student loans. Those loans will be anchors around their necks for decades to come because getting a college education today has become so oppressively expensive. But that is another topic for another day.

My first year as a teacher, after paying rent and utilities and budgeting enough for gas so I could get back and forth from work, I had $20 left for food. My roommate’s mom kept me fed, and the $20 went toward buying yogurt cups that I could get for 4 for $1 on sale. Occasionally, my dad would offer a few extra dollars to get me through the month.

I eventually took on additional jobs to supplement my income. Now, I ask you…who does that on a routine basis besides teachers and maybe actors? And why do teachers do it?

I will tell you why. It is because, for the most part, they love teaching. In fact, many of them never considered ever doing anything else!

Now, none of them went into teaching expecting to get rich. They did go into it thinking they could make ends meet, however.

Like other people, teachers want to get married and have children of their own. They want to buy homes and pay for college tuition for their own children. They would like to be able to take the occasional vacation, and they want to be able to live without fear of going broke every time the car breaks down.

As a Career Transition Coach specializing in teachers who are experiencing job burnout, I hear this refrain all of the time: “I love my kids, but it is all of the other stuff I can’t bear doing anymore.”

“All of the other stuff “is “teacher code” for all of the additional paperwork that is now being required of teachers everywhere. For the most part, nobody seems to care about the extra paperwork, but is required for the purpose of holding teachers more “accountable.”

“All the other stuff” is also “teacher code” for being evaluated using rubrics that make no sense, yet these rubrics tie a teacher’s evaluation to the achievement of their students with no regard for where those students live or their readiness for school.

A popular saying among top policymakers has been, “poverty is no excuse” for lagging achievement in our country. The fact is, however, that lawmakers and policymakers completely ignore the fact that sometimes children don’t do well in school because of factors over which their teachers have no direct control.

Some children come to school hungry. That in and of itself is a travesty given that we live in the richest nation on the planet, but it is no less a fact.

Other students don’t do well in school because they can’t see. They need glasses, but optometrists and glasses are not covered by most insurance policies. Still other children may be having trouble concentrating because they have a toothache, but they have no access to a dentist.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

So, to my teacher friends and colleagues:  I hope you will be able to start 2016 with a renewed enthusiasm for your profession. If that feels impossible, however, don’t lose hope. Your education, talent, and experience CAN be used in many other endeavors.

I never want to encourage anyone who still loves teaching out of the profession. I do, however, want to help those for whom teaching has lost its luster. I want them to know that they can find help with identifying their transferable skills, writing their resumes, getting their LinkedIn profiles optimized and setting them on course for a career that may be a better fit for them than teaching has turned out to be.

If you are a teacher who wants to hear more about that, let me know. Sign up for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. Let’s talk.