Mantras for Teacher Burn-Out: #1

The less time you spend working on school, the happier and better teacher you are.

I took this from another teacher at my student teaching placement.  We chatted during our plan periods, and she taught me a lot about valuing my time and respecting my outside teacher life.  As a new teacher bent on being the best I could, I fell trap in the beginning to stay up late and perfect every single power point and write paragraphs of feedback (yes, literally paragraphs) to every single student’s piece of writing.  I would come to school each day, dreary-eyed and half-zombied, and be devastated when my plan I worked so hard on fell hard on its face.

I wanted to blame it on the kids; I wanted to blame it on the district; I wanted to blame it on my program; but in the end, I needed to look at myself.  That was the only thing I had control over.  When I looked at myself, I (emotionally) realized that my plans weren’t working because I was no longer on my A-game during class.  I was exhausted.

I put a post-it on my computer with the question,

“How much is what I’m doing right now going to benefit the kids?”

20 minutes trying to get the formatting to work on Word for a two-sided paper instead of 3?  Not much.  Writing comments on final papers that I knew the kids were not going to look at anyway?  Just, stop.  Slowly I started pulling myself away from perfectionistic tendencies, and I started looking at my own health and happiness as an invaluable asset to the classroom.  

Another tip this same teacher that taught me this gave me was this: don’t go into your after-school time with a to-do list (teachers, we never get through that thing–why tease yourself?).  Go into your after-school time with a time limit of how long you’re willing to work.  Yes, willing.  Not “need to”.  Then, prioritize your to-do list with a number system:

3-this is critical to do NOW for my student’s learning

2-this is pretty important for students’ learning

1-this is just something I’d like to accomplish, but not critical


In your time-limit, cover your 3’s first, then 2’s, then 1’s.  Most times, I wouldn’t even get past my 3’s, but at least the things that were critical were done, and my mental health–which was just as critical–was intact.  I’d go home, eat dinner, watch a movie or read in peace, and be ready to be a nice human being the next day (I was also a nicer human being to my fiance at night).  I have faltered through this system (in fact I’m realizing I’ve been getting pretty far from it lately), but whenever I get back on, I feel the effects in my teaching.  We are dealers of learning and motivation, and we need our patience, love, and kindness in full strength, every day.


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