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Tips to Avoid Teacher Burnout

As you embark on your new year of teaching, it’s important to reflect on how to pace yourself and avoid burnout. As a more than thirty year veteran of teaching middle school science, I always characterized teaching as “all encompassing”–so I get it. Being passionate about sharing with students and helping to guide them is important, but so is being able to have some boundaries and make sure that you take care of yourself first. That’s easier said than done! Think about it like you would an oxygen mask on an airplane. You need to put on your mask first before you can help others!

There’s always more to do when you teach: planning lessons, finding supplies, providing feedback, contacting parents, keeping up with new developments in the field, and so on. Here are some tips that will help you achieve a balance that will leave some energy left over at the end of the day:

  • Use a template when you plan lessons, or work with another teacher to share tasks. Work smarter and not harder!
  • Focus on things that are going well. Write down three positive things that happened in each day or in each class and one thing that needs improvement. Stressing what went well and seeing difficulties as challenges to be solved provides you with a constructive way to think about issues as they arise.
  • Talk with colleagues about things that you can do to make improvements. Is another teacher finding success with a strategy that might help you? How do others organize supplies so that they take less time to get ready for class?
  • Join professional organizations for the subject you teach. I am a science nerd, and belonging to state and national science teacher organizations has helped me get energized and know that there are others like me.
  • Realize that things will never be perfect, but be grateful for those things that are going well. Having a “Gratitude Journal” or a “Gratitude Jar” where you record things for which you are thankful can help you maintain a positive mindset.
  • Save time for yourself. Remind yourself that it is OK to say no when others ask you to volunteer for extra duties. This will leave you time for family, friends and activities you love so that you can be refreshed and renewed.
  • Staying healthy and having time to do that should be a priority. Exercise, eat well and make sure to get enough sleep.
  • Reach out for professional help if you need it: one on one counseling can help you balance your responsibilities in life. Someone else can often find ways of doing things differently than what you have been doing. Your district may offer an Employee Assistance Program that will help you connect with a licensed professional.

In summary, asking for help, focusing on the positives, working and socializing with others, being grateful, saying no, spending time with others, and focusing on your needs are all ways that you can combat burnout.

Here’s to a successful and balanced new school year!

Written by

Karen Mesmer, PhD, taught middle and high school science for 33 years in both northwest Alaska and in Baraboo, Wisconsin. After she retired in 2015, she started Mesmer Science Education Consulting, working as a curriculum writer, reviewer, mentor and professional development facilitator focusing on the Next Generation Science Standards. She has been active at the local, state and national levels in professional organizations, including serving as the President of the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association and on the board of both the National Science Teachers Association and the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers. Karen was a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching and the Ron Gibbs Award from the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers for Lifetime Contributions to Science Education in Wisconsin. She is also the lead author of the upcoming Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Secondary Science (pub. date January 15, 2024).

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