3 Ways for Teachers to Recharge After Burning Out

beach-chairs-copyI’m officially on spring break, and lemme tell ya’ll, I needed this time off!

The students did too. We are all SO over this school year. Not that it has been a bad school year…it’s been great. I’ve seen tremendous growth in my students at school as well as my tutoring clients. Leaps in learning, no doubt.

And with great effort comes a great need for respite.

Not to change subjects – I’ll bring it around, I promise – but last month, I was in New York for a conference on Mindful Education. The fantastic speakers discussed the need to bring personal well-being, social skills and emotional intelligence into our classroom culture. Time was devoted to teaching us teachers how to nurture ourselves. I was reminded of the fact that about half of new teachers leave the field – forever – within five years.

And we have summers off, y’all.

So what does this say about the education field? Probably a lot of things, chief among them, burnout is a real issue, despite the time off. Is it me, or does it seem like this alarming defection rate is not addressed much?

As we head into this final stretch of the school year, we may find that we are just hoping to survive until May/June, when we can take some much-needed time off. I want to pass along some nurturing nuggets to help us realign with the passion and inspiration that brought us into the field in the first place.

1. Meditate

It’s not just for hippie yogis anymore. There are MANY guided mediations and breathing/relaxation exercises, most just 2-3 minutes long, on Youtube and ITunes. (Personally, I LOVE the ap called Headspace. It’s free, but getting the full benefits does require a $7-13/month subscription. I think it’s worth it.) Guided meditations are perfect for anyone beginning a mediation practice. Try meditating once or twice a day, just for those couple minutes. (I know, it’s extra hard if you are a parent. Being the mother of a 4-year-old, I often neglect this routine too. BUT I find that when I am able to do it regularly, I handle life’s stresses much better!)

There is a TON of research that shows mediation actually rewires the brain, building the prefrontal cortex (that’s good!) and pruning the amygdala (also good!) It may take a week or two to feel the benefits, but your discipline will pay off here.

  1. Find your tribe.

Fact: the people you spend the most time around heavily influence your overall outlook on life. Whenever possible, bump up time spent with empowered, positive family members, friends and coworkers. Try to cut time with anyone who brings you down. I know, we often have obligations, especially when it comes to spending time with less-than-blissfully-optimistic family members. As always, do the best you can.

  1. Pick up books and movies that recharge you as a person and as a teacher. I surveyed my teacher friends and compiled a short list of recommendations:
  • Mindset; The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck – This book is a game changer. Basically, Dweck says that we all operate (at least most of the time) out of either a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset’. The growth mindset has us being able to take set-backs and failures, analyze what went wrong, form a new plan and jump back in the ring, wiser and ready to try again. Those operating out of the fixed mindset see failure as an indication that they are not capable, smart, or likely to succeed. Needless to say, making sure we approach life with the growth mindset, and then teaching our students to do the same, will set us all up for a more rewarding, healthy life.
  • The Skillful Teacher; Building Your Teaching Skills by Jon Saphier – Full disclosure here, I have not read this book, but it was highly recommended by a highly respected teacher friend. I believe it is a textbook, and it sounds similar to Harry Wong’s classic The First Days of School in the fact that it identifies and offers solutions to common classroom expectation and management challenges.
  • The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson – This book is applicable to teaching, but more importantly, it’s applicable to life. And let’s face it, many of us teachers get so emotionally invested in our identity as a teacher that we forget to nurture ourselves and our own well-being and happiness. This book reminds us that steady, consistent “right” actions will bring change and improvement, despite the fact that we may not see the improvement as quickly as we would like. It reminds us to stay the course, have faith and continue trying.
  • Chicken Soup For the Teacher’s Soul; Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Souls of Educators by Jack Canfield – It has been awhile since I picked this one up, but I remember it being 100% attuned to it’s title.
  • The Water is Wide: A Memoir by Pat Conroy – Fantastic book and movie. The original movie (from the late 1970’s) stars Jon Voight as a young Pat Conroy (author of The Prince of Tides), who taught in a one-room schoolhouse on a tiny island off the coast of South Carolina. The living conditions for the few families on the island are more like those of an impoverished, third-world country, and Conroy makes the best of what few resources are available to teach children faced with few choices and little awareness of life off the island. You’ll probably cry.
  • Holland’s Opus – This is one of my favorite movies. I especially like the scene, set in the 1950’s, where music teacher Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfus) is being questioned by the principal. She reports that parents have been complaining about his use of rock ‘n roll to get his students interested in music. He justifies his professional decision saying that, as a teacher, he will use whatever tools will work to inspire his students. Amen, Mr. H. And way to go on standing up to administrators, ‘cause don’t we all want to do that from time to time?
  • Stand and Deliver – Another movie, the true story of how a high school math teacher in Los Angeles taught his students advanced calculus concepts despite overwhelming negative influences and naysayers.

Best wishes on a peaceful end to the school year and a rewarding and healing summer, all. Recharge, remember why you came into the field and keep that desire in the front of your minds and hearts.


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