How to Avoid Burnout as a Teacher
November 4, 2022
Why Did You Start Teaching?
As I work with many K-12 educators, I am finding that being a teacher today is not what it used to be. It has become more complicated and there are many more stressors today. Teachers are now required to learn how to teach without having the right amount of resources and support. They are trying to figure out how to deal with student behavioral issues within a myriad of rules that do not allow many forms of discipline or support. They are overburdened with overfilled classes and requirements to teach more than is possible, not to mention the politics they must deal with in the current K-12 structure and environment. Many teachers can’t help but question why they became teachers in the first place.
If you were to answer this question, your answer probably wouldn’t be, for money. In fact, no one’s answer would be that. The fact is there isn’t a lot of money in teaching. Very few teachers find a way to make it into the top 1% of earners. If they do find a way to do this, it usually isn’t through teaching, but through something related–such as developing curriculum or supplemental educational programs. Most teachers are okay with not making money, because money isn’t everything in life. Especially when you love what you do.
On the other hand, what if you are not loving your job? What if you are making very little money and you are also very stressed? This is the issue teachers are currently facing, causing them to question themselves. The American Institute of Stress stated one in five teachers feels tense about their job all or most of the time, compared with one in eight workers in a similar profession. An article posted on Glassdoor in 2021, suggests that being a teacher is within the top 20 most stressful jobs! To give you some perspective here, it is listed next to being a surgeon, who gets paid on average $236,069. Wow!
No person becomes a teacher to be stressed and hate their job. People become teachers because they love to teach and they love children. They love to aid in the developmental process of the youth. And if you don’t, you actually might want to find another job. There must be better occupations doing something you like. Burnout happens quicker to those who are not enjoying their job, especially in fields like teaching where the demand on the individual is high. If you find yourself in this position but want to continue teaching, something has to change to bring you more joy and fulfillment.
What Do You Have To Lose?
The advice I usually give teachers that are frustrated is just do what you like to do and forget the rest. However, this advice is usually met with pushback because teachers think it’s impossible. My next question is always, why can’t you just do what you love? There are many responses to this, but in the end the root reason teachers can’t do what they love is because they are afraid of getting fired.
Right now, more than ever before, teachers are in high demand. Especially teachers that are good. I don’t know of an area in the U.S., or even in the world, where there are not multiple positions open for teachers in every area and subject of education. Here’s some information showing the scope of the issue:
- Approximately 6,347 teaching positions were open in Arizona for the 2021/22 school year, by January 2022, 31% of those remained vacant. (Fouquer, 2022)
- There are an estimated 36,500 teacher vacancies currently in the United States, with 163,500 additional positions filled by non fully certified teachers. (Will, 2022)
- Around 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary education teachers will be needed around the world in the next 10 years. (UN News, 2022)
Not only are teachers in high demand in general, but with private and charter schools becoming more and more popular, it brings even greater opportunities for teachers. Schools that are focused on the wellbeing of their students will not fire a teacher who puts forth effort. As long as students are progressing and are being cared for, a teacher would have to break a serious rule to be let go. With so many opportunities, there is low risk for a teacher looking to return to the aspects of the job that they love. It will only lead them to a more fulfilling job and one where they need to do less of what they don’t enjoy.
I always have to remind teachers, if you get burned out or decide not to teach anymore, everyone loses. It is like parenting–we want parents to continually improve themselves. However, improvement is not as important as staying sane, because if the parent goes crazy, then no one wins, especially not the children. This is the same with teaching. When a teacher gets burned out trying to provide more value to the students, everyone loses. If you need to do less to continue teaching and maintain stability, it is better than leaving children without a teacher.
For a teacher, it is important to know you can always find a job, but knowing that you’re in high demand doesn’t make it right to do a poor job at teaching. So the next question is what makes a “good” teacher? What is the purpose of a teacher? A good teacher is one that is able to help students learn as much as they can and prepare them for being a productive and value-adding citizen.
Fortunately, things that take the most time such as rules, administration, politics, and grading assignments are things that don’t help students learn, and don’t prepare them to be value-adding citizens. A 14-year study (Arnold, 1995) showed that very few valedictorians become executives or leaders. Just take a look at some of the metrics of students as they try to enter the workforce (AACU, 2015).
- 91% of employers say critical thinking is more important than degrees
- 11% say recent grads are well-trained in critical thinking
- 30% say grads are well-trained in decision making
- 96% believe that students should be trained in how to solve problems
Our education system is clearly not working. The good news is that everything that usually attracts a person to becoming a teacher, does help students. Things like spending time with them, teaching them things that help and improve their lives, and most of all teaching fun and enjoyable things in a non-stressful and low-effort way. If a teacher was to focus on these things it would help them become a better teacher and definitely make an impact with their students. It would also make their job much more enjoyable and easier. Less work, more learning, and more enjoyment. This is what matters.
Thus, the key to preventing burnout is getting back to the basics of teaching, realizing what matters, and then minimizing everything else. It is imperative nowadays that a teacher takes a step back and analyzes their job and what they are doing. You could compare it to spring cleaning. They must look at what their job entails, identify what is bringing them joy and then get rid of the rest. This could lead to many realizations such as needing to change schools or adjusting the topic they are teaching.
Five Things you Can Do To Avoid Burnout
As you analyze your role as a teacher and are looking to make your job more enjoyable, continue being a great teacher with less effort, and avoid burnout, consider these five things you could do to help yourself:
1. Find ways to minimize how much you have to grade – Grading for a teacher takes a lot, especially with overflowing classes. It often has to be done after class causing you to work overtime. The important thing to remember is there are enough ways to enable a student to learn without needing to grade a lot of assignments. Identifying anything you have to grade and finding ways to get rid of it will really help in freeing up time. This could involve doing in-class grading, self-grading, or changing lessons and assignments to get rid of things that take a lot of grading time.
2. Worry less about grades – When I was teaching at the University, my policy was if you came to class, you got an A. This made my grading really simple. It also helped the students relax. They actually ended up doing better in the class and the majority of students still did their homework. When a teacher realizes grades are not that important, and that developing relationships with their students will help them improve the most, it relaxes everyone.
3. Don’t try to do everything – As a teacher there are a lot of demands on you, however, you must be picky with which ones you will try to fulfill. You only have so much time in a day; once you have spent your time, you must learn to leave the rest. Make sure you get the most important things done, and if you can’t get to everything else, there is always tomorrow. This requires being able to relax, not worry about job security, and understand how truly valuable you are.
4. Be flexible – I have found as a teacher that nothing is so important that it must be taught, must be done at that moment, or must be figured out. To avoid burnout one must be willing to change the plan if things are not going right, if you are not enjoying something, or if something unexpected happens. There is no rule that says you have to teach or do things exactly as planned.
5. Slow down – In order to be relaxed and enjoy yourself, you must not be in a rush. Try not to do too much. Having time to socialize with your students, talk to other teachers in the hall, and do things that allow you to enjoy being at school with your students is very important. So take your time, since you work with your students every day you must learn to go at a pace that you can sustain for a long time.
As a teacher, you have one of the most important jobs in society. I hope you are able to find out how to love teaching again and stick with it for a very long time!
About the Author
Read more about Dr. Jacob’s latest book.
Dr. Jacob Kashiwagi is business management consultant and acting Chairman of the Board for Leadership Society of Arizona. Dr. Jacob has worked on 1,100+ industry projects valued at $3.6 billion with a 95% success rate. He has taught over 1,300 college students and 2,500 high school students.
Forquer, E.. (2022, February 17). Arizona schools face ongoing teacher shortage, report says. Cronkite News – Arizona PBS.
Will, M. (2022, September 7). How Bad is the Teacher Shortage? What Two New Studies Say. Education Week.
UN News. (2022, October 5). World Teachers’ Day Highlights Need to Transform Education. UN News.
Glassdoor Team. (2021, June 29). The Most Stressful Jobs in the US. Glassdoor.
AACU (2015). ‘Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today’s Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success’. Association of American Colleges and Universities Press Release. January 20, 2015.
Arnold, K. (1995). ‘Lives of Promise: What Becomes of High School Valedictorians: A Fourteen-year Study of Achievement and Life Choices (Jossey Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series)’. Jossy-Bass. August 15, 1995.