It’s that time of the year when a dry erase marker that won’t work or first block without your morning coffee is enough to flip your normally jovial, light-hearted self into a snarling, spitting cat.
Welcome to the end of the school year, where the survivors are few and the wounded many. You have made it through the morass of the school year—avoided the grenades, crouched low, staked out your territory—and made it to the other side of the trenches. This is no man’s land, but you—and a few other teachers who remain relatively sane—have nearly made it.
Any armchair psychologist need only survey your wrinkled teacher garb and your matted, knotted hair to identify your condition: end-of-year teacher burnout. But it takes a teacher who has been there and done that, one who has gained a degree in armchair psychology from The School of Life to advise a burnt-out teacher what to do about it.
While I may not a master’s or PhD, I do hold that precious degree from The School of Life, and here is what I know about end-of-year teacher burnout.
- 1.If you are feeling terribly burnt out at the end of the year, take it as a sign that you have overworked yourself throughout the whole year. The teaching year and your teaching career is a marathon, but you have treated it as a race. Take a second to consider how you sprinted when you should have walked or jogged. Did you work every night for hours after school? Did you spend your Sundays working on school? Did you volunteer yourself for every trip and committee that needed a warm body? Did you neglect your hobbies and your loved ones? Be honest with yourself. Be willing to look at the times that you said “yes” that led to you feeling overwhelmed, overtaxed, and burnt out near the finish line.
- 2.Accept responsibility. It’s always easier to blame others: your students, your administration, and other teachers for your burn out. But never forget: this is YOUR burn out. If you had the chance to say “no” to the things that burnt you out, then you are responsible. As soon as you accept responsibility for your burnout, you have the power to change it. If you fail to accept responsibility, you slip into a victim mentality, and victims are like zombies. Victims are beyond saving.
- 3.Write down the ways you are responsible for your burnout. Make an itemized list of things you said “yes” to that stole much needed moments of relaxation and connection away from you this year. Add to the list times you said “no” to yourself for the sake of your students or your school. Post this list somewhere on your fridge so you can see it. As you think of other times when you should have said “no” and maintained boundaries, add them to your list, and spend time looking over this list during the summer. Vow to not repeat these mistakes next year. Prepare yourself to say the word “no.”
- 4.Know that you are not alone. Most teachers are on their last legs. You could say that your school is a house of cards. Even if you can’t see it, know it. Most teachers are feeling overwhelmed, rushed, dissatisfied with aspects of the year, bone-tired. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are the only one. There is comfort in numbers.
- 5.Accept imperfection. While it would be ideal to have all your essays marked and returned within three days, your bulletin boards neatly organized, and your students perfectly behaved, now, more than ever, you have to accept imperfection. If you rigidly stick to your idea of how things should be in your classroom and how students should behave, you’ll be perpetually dissatisfied and your burn out will worsen. Be willing to perform your teaching job, at least temporarily and to preserve your sanity, at a B+ level when you usually aim for an A+. A B+ is not a bad grade, and one B+ on a report card never killed anybody.
- Remain high-minded even when you feel low. Look around you in your classroom like a royal, a Cleopatra or Marc Anthony, dignified and unperturbed; see the imperfections, and in your mind, pray the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
- 6. Extend the same compassion you show to others to yourself. In the last month or so of the year, it is so easy to look back at all the things you wish you had done better or differently. You will be tempted to blame yourself for the flopped novel study or the failed project. “If only I had tried harder,” you will think, “all of this could have been improved.” Don’t do this. Extend compassion to yourself instead. Remember how you show compassion to students and show the same compassion yourself. If a student came up to you at the end of the year and said, “Miss, I am so sorry I wasn’t an A+ student this year. I promise that I studied hard. I spent hours each night preparing for each test. I made flashcards. I highlighted my books. But I still bombed some tests and didn’t get an A on everything. Will you forgive me?”
- Would you forgive this student? Would you praise him or her for doing his or her best? Of course you would. See yourself as that student: forgive yourself for the slip-ups and praise yourself for all the good you have done.
- 7.Take care of your container, and your soul will feel better too. Work out your body in the morning; move your limbs; drink plenty of water; go to sleep at a decent hour; eat some grapes and carrots; smear yourself with coconut oil; get a massage; sing in the shower; pray and meditate. Now, more than ever, take care of yourself.
To all you teachers out there feeling the end-of-the-year burnout blues—I’m with you. I promise you if you abide by these 7 tips for beating end-of-year teacher burnout, you will make it to the other side.
See you there.