If you are considering answering the call to action and taking those important steps to get into teaching, you need to do it with your eyes wide open.
Getting into teaching means your life will change. Few career choices are as genuinely life-changing as teaching. I’m going to trot out, unashamedly, a few clichés here: teaching is much more than ‘just a job’. It is a ‘calling’. There are considerable benefits to joining the profession, of course, but if you are thinking about it because of its half-decent salary and the prospect of lots of holidays, think again.
Getting in teaching – alongside all the good stuff: changing people’s lives, making a difference, etc. – means getting into a high-pressure workplace. It means stress. It means fatigue.
It means a struggle to avoid the silent killer for all teachers – teacher burnout.
What is teacher burnout?
Teacher burnout is much more than feeling absolutely knackered at the end of term. Teacher burnout is the combination and culmination of lots of contributory factors: being overworked, feeling undervalued, emotional fatigue, prolonged stress, feeling isolated and not respected.
And, it’s true, all of the above, are common issues that many teachers would say they have experienced at some point. Often, this is down to poor leadership and management in schools, the pressure of the OFSTED regime – and government education policy doesn’t usually help either!
Can teacher burnout be avoided?
Feeling stressed, feeling tired and feeling like the ‘holiday’ should be re-named ‘recovery time’ are difficult to avoid.
Long hours, daily frustrations and self-doubt that creeps into your head and tells you that you aren’t doing a good enough job are difficult to avoid too.
But real teacher burnout – the feeling that you absolutely cannot continue doing the job for another year, term, or even day can be avoided.
But only if you put yourself first and you are assertive.
Looking after #1
Difficult as it can be sometimes when you are in the thick of it, the key to avoiding teacher burnout is about looking after number one – looking after yourself.
Find a routine that works for you
Your daily routine will largely be determined by your personal circumstances. For example, if you have family commitments, such as dropping off kids at nursery in the morning (and picking them up in the afternoon), you might not have a lot of choice about your start and leave times at school. The distance of the commute is also a factor.
But, within whatever constraints your own circumstances dictate, work out a routine that helps you to be as productive and time-efficient as possible. Getting to school early can be useful in terms of getting things done, as it’s the only time you are likely to be undisturbed. Allocating a specific time of the day to look through emails is sensible too. It doesn’t really matter what the routine is, the important thing is that you have one. And that you stick to it as best you can.
Avoid taking work home
Okay, let’s be honest, as a teacher this is virtually impossible. Every teacher will have to work at home in the evenings and at the weekends at some point. A teacher’s work is never done. Indeed whether you are a NQT, Head of Department or Headteacher, there is always something that you can find to do to fill the time – probably every minute of every day!
But leaving work at school can be done. The work you leave at school will still be there for you the next day. You can do it then. The world will still keep turning. Giving yourself a break or spending some time with family or friends is more important, in the long run. Your emotional well-being has to be considered.
Take care of yourself
Ultimately, avoiding teacher burnout is about taking a bit more care of yourself. So, just has having a break from it all in the evening is important, you should avoid the temptation to skip breakfast because you ‘haven’t got time’. Try a bold experiment and actually sit down for lunch, rather than grabbing something to eat on the go and standing up (like many, many teachers do).
GET.SOME.SLEEP. Lots of teachers are quick to express concern when they suspect the students they teach aren’t getting enough sleep and instead have been playing on FIFA or Call of Duty all night.
It works both ways. Teachers need their sleep just as much as teenagers! Listen to your own advice!
Finally, although teaching is more than just a job in many ways, it’s worth remembering that actually it IS just a job. It might feel more important than some other jobs. It might feel like it has more value, but at the end of the day, it is a job.
If you end up leaving the profession because of teacher burnout, at the start of the next term another teacher will have replaced you and have taken your teacher job.