If you’re reading this, chances are you’re feeling pretty burnt out. Things haven’t been going well for a while, and you don’t know what to do.
Teaching is one of the hardest professions in the United States. The hours are long, testing is brutal and resources are often scarce, while class sizes continue growing.
A study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 8% of teachers leave the profession yearly and another 8% move to other schools, bringing the total annual turnover rate to 16%.
If you’re finding getting up every morning more and more challenging, it might be time for a change.
What is burnout? Do I have it?
According to Psychology today burnout is “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”.
Being burned out doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It doesn’t mean you “can’t take it” or that you’re weak in some way.
The facts are that teaching (and working in education overall) is very challenging and ever-changing. You may have been better able to handle the expectations of a prior administrator or did better with a different department chair.
The things that are burning you out now may have nothing at all to do with you. You’re just having a natural reaction to expectations you can’t meet for whatever reason.
That being said, there are actions you can take if you’re burned out and need a change.
If you’re feeling:
Small changes can make a difference
Before considering a big change, you might want to start smaller. There are many things you can change that will greatly reduce your level of stress.
We have some ideas in our How to avoid teacher burnout with work-life balance blog that can really make a difference in how you’re feeling at your current job.
Little things like setting time boundaries for yourself or saying no to more extracurricular responsibilities can give you much-needed free time to unwind.
There are many ways to change how you approach teaching that might make all the difference in the world.
If you’re not yet ready for something more drastic, small changes are a good way to go to see if that helps before going bigger.
Changes can be stressful too, after all.
If you’re feeling that:
Consider a different role or position
It’s pretty likely that if you’re here, small changes haven’t worked for you. You may still be experiencing burnout symptoms, or you may be frustrated or bored by your position.
There are many reasons to take on a new role.
- You may want to have a more direct decision making impact on your school.
- You may want to get the rush of trying a new thing like a different content area or a mentor role.
- You may want to do something you’re more able to put on autopilot, so you can prioritize yourself and relax more.
No matter what the reason is, a new role or position might be just what the doctor ordered for you to feel refreshed.
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut and don’t notice until we’ve been stuck there a while. If that’s you, consider going out for a new role or position.
If you’re feeling that you are:
Try a change of scenery
When a new role or position isn’t possible, it may be time to try a whole new school or education setting.
The good thing about the teacher shortage (if you can find anything good about it) is that teacher positions are always a seller’s market. That is to say, you are more in demand than ever.
Finding a new school, so long as you’re properly qualified, is pretty easy. Also with all of the experimentation in education, there are many different settings to choose from.
Not feeling the morning commute? There are many online teaching positions available. Not in love with your hours? There are non-traditional schedules at many charter schools and within some districts.
Whatever your reason for leaving your school there is a setting that may be a better fit for you.
People will try to talk you out of leaving. They will question your motives, try to make you stay for your kids and use every other manipulation.
That’s because you’re hard to replace. Remember, that’s on them. You need to do what’s good for you.
If you’re leaving because you can’t stand just one person on campus who makes your life hell, that is a perfectly acceptable reason to go.
It’s uncomfortable to leave your school. It may feel disloyal. Don’t let it bother you. Once you gel with your new environment you’ll find that you don’t even remember those last few months of pleading from your previous school.
If you’re feeling:
It’s ok to try something entirely different
Personal story: before I quit teaching in the classroom for good, I tried this whole list. I tried changing my outlook, my routines and my self-care. I tried new positions (which didn’t always work out). I tried almost every grade level at almost every kind of school from self-contained day treatment to traditional high school resource. I taught gen ed, I taught special ed. I tried literally everything to stay in the profession. It’s a great profession, and there is SO MUCH I love about it.
BUT, in the end, it wasn’t working for me.
Coming to that conclusion is always hard. It was easier for me since teaching wasn’t what I thought I would be until I ended up doing it (a story for another day).
I know that if teaching or working in education is what you always wanted to do, letting go of it may feel like letting go of a part of your identity.
In the end, though, you are the most important person in this situation. If your job zaps your well-being, you will not be effective. You will not be in a position to help students. Being miserable all of the time is not something you should endure.
If you are at the end of your rope, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else is step away.
This doesn’t have to be forever! As I noted above, you’re still very in demand. If you take a year off to try something else, as long as your certification doesn’t lapse, you can still go back to teaching during the next school year. I even know of a science teacher who did just that and was able to return to their old position at their old school.
Maybe stepping away will reignite your passion. Maybe it will show you that the things you obsess over in the profession aren’t as big as you thought. That’s a great outcome! It’s important to keep perspective.
Maybe when you step away you’ll find something that you’re even more passionate about than teaching. Maybe you’ll find your passion in places you never even dreamed of when you were tunnel-visioned on teaching as your life’s work. That’s also a great outcome.
There is no shame in trying something new.
Do what’s right for you and everything else will fall into place.