Always burning the late-night oil, crafting that perfect lesson or grading papers? Overwhelmed with maintaining a healthy life/work balance, running out of sick or personal days, losing instructional control in the classroom and don’t know how to cope with traumatic situations with students, needing help to keep up with as well as easy access to important documents, or counting down to the next holiday when school’s closed? Maybe you’ve taken on a new responsibility–willingly or out of need–and it’s becoming a bit too much to bear. If you’ve been here at some point [I can relate to some of these], then it’s time to put things on pause. Doing so not only helps bring things back into balance personally and professionally, but it pays dividends in your classroom as well because these kinds of feelings have a tendency to impact the classroom culture.
Rest and relaxation [R&R] strategies help keep whether the school year’s ending or it’s a few days off, taking the time to recharge and reset physically, emotionally and psychologically is key to preventing teacher burnout and compassionate fatigue. This is something that some professionals don’t talk a lot about. Don’t worry or be ashamed, because I want to help you maintain or regain your passion for why you chose to be an education professional in the first place. Take a look at these tips to see how they can help you get back in the swing of things or determine if you need a change in direction.
Stop, drop, and roll. As professionals, there is always something to do. Another assignment to grade, catching up or getting ahead in lesson planning, calling that last parent on your list for routine check-in calls, making those copies for the next few days, and so forth. While many of these things are important, they aren’t always a priority at that time. Set limits on how much additional time you’re spending on work and when that’s done, come to a stop, drop those items down, and go home, exercise, eat, or an event with the ones you love. And whatever you do, unless you absolutely cannot help it, don’t bring it home with you.
Check yourself. Is there something that you could’ve done differently? Were the students confused by something you said or not ready for the task due to lacking prior knowledge? Is there something else going on that’s bothering you? Journal, record, or do mental notes about the situations and be honest about what you see and experience. You might have to do this mid-stream [ahem, mid-lesson] as well when the situation calls for it. Reflecting saves time and helps with making the adjustments needed to try again.
Reconnect. Spend time with loved ones or go to a place that brings peace to your mind for a day or two. Pick up a new hobby [such as adult coloring or cycling] or invest in a current one you have. I also used to keep a binder with encouraging notes or phrases to look at on my desk when things got really tough. Finding things that affirm you as a person helps to bring clarity to what’s going on, which helps to set the stage for taking action.
Be present in the moment. For those times when things come to a head, find coping strategies and deal with only what’s present at the moment because that’s what you can control and know for certain. Deep breathing, stretches, having a personal or classroom meeting [depending on the situation] are all ways to help. Turn it into a productive brain break if it’s a situation during class. The kids may not even know that the “brain break” is for you as well as them, plus it teaches them how to regroup when facing something frustrating or challenging. Healthy snacks, stress balls, and calming music can help destress at a moment’s notice. When it’s all said and done, you can plan for the future and can’t change the past, but you can control how you respond and manage what’s happening in the present moment. Seize control of the moment and feelings you have.
Go back to school. Need help organizing? Read up on the latest classroom management strategies. Need advice on integrating content in a meaningful way? Sign up for a webinar or professional development course. Want to become an expert or switch gears professionally, such as going from elementary to secondary teaching or from counselor to a teacher? Enroll in an accredited program. Need help fast? Observe master teachers or get a neutral mentor. It’s perfectly okay to seek out help from other resources, and it shows how committed you are to the process.
Deal with it. Especially for those tough circumstances, talking to someone about it helps you to process what you’re experiencing. For instance, there was a situation where a student was in immediate danger and the outside authorities had to be called in. Eventually, the student was removed from the class for a while, which was tough on the students and on me. I talked to some veteran teachers to get advice on how to handle this going forward with the class and personally. Little did I know a few years later that I would help a fellow co-worker do the same. Putting things in a bottle will only lead to an explosion or melt-down, and the tricky thing about that is you won’t know when the tipping point comes until it’s too late.