So often as educators, we feel like we are just failing. It is a common feeling, especially among new teachers. The term “teacher burnout” is often used to describe the exhaustion, both physically and mentally, that comes from teaching. Teacher burnout is especially common in the first few years of teaching. Teaching in Ontario is tough. Everyday you are tasked with planning and accounting for children’s lives from 8:30am to 4pm, give or take. That in and of itself is an exhausting thought. Add to it the curriculum you need to cover, the parents who want to meet to discuss their child, the IEPs that need to be updated, the IST you have to attend, the administrator that is scheduling your Teacher Performance Appraisal, the ministry and the school board coming down on teachers and public sector workers in general, and the overwhelming feeling that the public hates you! It is enough to make you consider another career. So why do we do it? We do it because we love it – plain and simple.
So when things get tough, it is so important to take care of yourself. When you are struggling with content, seek help from others – we aren’t in this to reinvent the wheel! Reach out and find a “pro” that can help you out. Often school boards even have teachers released from their teaching duties to come and work with you 1:1. Take advantage of this!!
You can also turn to the internet (which is possibly what lead you here!). There are countless blogs, Pinterest Boards, and Twitter PLCs, just to name a few places to start. Building your confidence as a teacher can be as simple as finding a simple lesson idea that supports your current learning goals and trying it out. Even if you crash and burn in the middle of the lesson – you can use it as a personal learning experience and reflect on it! Everything we do as educators contributes to our own professional learning. That includes every failed lesson, and every activity planned and abandoned half way through because they just weren’t getting it – these are all ways in which we as teachers evolve and get to know our students.
Each time a lesson flops, don’t be so hard on yourself. If every lesson we did went swimmingly, it might indicate that we aren’t pushing our students hard enough. If every inquiry you did went exactly as planned, perhaps you are guiding your students too much. It is the inquiries that fly off the rails and go in the exact opposite direction you had hoped that really challenge your students and yourself. It is the lessons that you abandon half way through and change course to meet their needs that make you an amazing teacher. Embrace these moments – they will never not be there! Learn to enjoy the ride and if things don’t work out, there is always tomorrow.
I have had my own fair share of days where I felt like it just wasn’t working. I have had weeks and even entire years where I have felt like maybe teaching isn’t for me. But it is when you have that one class, that one student, that one golden moment when everything you have been working for comes together and you see a child show compassion, or empathy, and you know why you got into this business of educating children: the payback the students give you is more than any paycheck you will ever receive, it is more than any World’s Best Teacher mug you will ever get (I may have a shelf in my kitchen cupboard full of these!) – that feeling you get when you know you have made a difference makes it all worth it. Knowing that if you hadn’t been there, if you hadn’t known that child, that might not have happened. You are making a difference everyday and that is what keeps us coming back no matter how tough the job gets!
It is important to note however, that through the course of teaching, the wear and tear of your emotions can be quite difficult and devastating at times. Keep a close watch on your mental health as this is often something teachers struggle with (and rightfully so). When a child is struggling, you struggle along with them. When we walk out the door at the end of the day, no matter how hard we try, it is impossible to leave all of them there. You will find yourself worrying about if a child has enough to eat at supper time while you prepare dinner for your family, or you will wonder if your students are going home to a safe environment. It all adds up. Access your Employee Assistance Program if you can. You will often have access to a counselor that can help you with maintaining proper mental health. Do this early and set yourself up with healthy routines. We don’t plan to teach for a few years and then burnout, but if we aren’t careful, it could happen!