Thankful and Excited for (Almost) Experiencing Burnout

In my family, Thanksgiving is generally a time of reflecting on what we’re thankful for and a time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.  As we are quickly approaching that season I can easily think of a huge list of things I’m thankful for, however, as an educator who is employed during COVID, I’m most thankful for almost facing burnout almost seven years ago. 

You might think, why is she thankful for almost burning out?!?  It’s simple; without that experience, I wouldn’t be an educator who can handle the stressors of 2020 as easily.  It helped me mature and better understand ways to avoid burnout in the future.

Educator burnout is a real thing.  The stress of teaching and personal problems can become too overwhelming.  Many educators are facing the burnout battle right now with the uncertainty of the future and the stress of the changes in education COVID has created.  From my previous experience with almost burning out, I learned a few important tips.

Tip #1: You’re not going to be perfect. That’s okay!

Teacher asking a question to her class at the elementary school

It’s important to do the best you can, but not at the cost of your physical and mental health.  While the lesson you’re preparing would look super cute with detailed drawings added, the students will survive without them.  In the end, something has to give.  Don’t let it be your health.  I had to learn to be okay with creating a great lesson that didn’t meet my high standard of amazingness.  Guess what, my students still learned and engaged in the learning process.

Tip #2: Find time to unwind.

Most educators bring school home with them.  I’m not talking about the physical act of lesson planning, grading, etc.  I mean the emotional ups and downs that come from teaching a group of students that you learn to love.  Figuring out what helps your mind let go and carve out time to do it daily.  For me, spending time blasting music and letting my mind relax helps me unwind.  Remembering what I’m grateful for helps too. On really difficult days I pull weeds or take my dog on a long walk.  When I can, I go camping to be away physically as well.

clock with a-ok finger sign

Tip #3: Learn to say no and walk away without guilt.

Businessman holding paper say no to avoid burnout

This was the hardest lesson for me to learn.  I have been a yes person most of my life.  I needed to realize that it’s okay to not be part of every committee.  The world wouldn’t end if I decided not to volunteer for the optional school event.  I’m not saying to give up everything.  Reflect on the areas in education that give you the most joy and spend your time investing in them.  I love technology and curriculum, so I chose to volunteer for committees and groups that focus on those areas.  Your time is precious!  Make choices that work best for you.  

Tip #4: Set boundaries!

This goes hand in hand with the previous tips.  It’s okay to ignore your emails over the weekend.  Those that truly need to get in touch with you have your phone number and can give you a call if it’s an emergency.  Boundaries help keep your life under control. 

I personally organize my work day with a list of priorities (must-do vs. can-do vs. want-to-do).  My must-dos are requirements before I can be finished for the day.  They are the items that MUST be finished as soon as possible.  My can-dos are things that should get done but aren’t a top priority.  My want-to-dos are things that I should do eventually, but are the lowest priority.  However, my want-to-dos eventually move up on the list or go away completely. Usually, I’m able to finish my must-dos at a reasonable time and have time for some can-dos.  Depending on my list, some days I set the boundary of only completing my must-dos, while other days it includes can-dos as well.  By prioritizing, I’m able to help set boundaries that are obtainable.

Female hand writing to do list in notebook, closeup

Tip #5: Be kind to yourself!

Hands holding a red heart

Things will not always go the way you plan.  Remind yourself that it’s okay.  Don’t spend time berating yourself for not meeting your high standards.  Be kind to yourself just like you are kind to others who make mistakes.

    If you’ve reached the point of burnout, I highly encourage you to talk to someone about it.  Find a colleague or family member to encourage you.  Speak to a counselor about your mental health.  You can even send me an email and I’d be happy to write back.  Don’t go through this alone.  Don’t hide it and pretend you’re okay…it doesn’t get easier when you hide it away. 

    ​Whether you’re on the edge of burnout, five feet away, or a mile away, these tips can help you face the stressors that all educators feel.  Remember, you’re not alone!

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