How to avoid teacher burnout

Exhaustion is a danger inherent in any challenging profession and there’s no getting away from the fact that teaching is a high pressure zone. Over 70% of teachers say their workload has increased since they first started teaching, according to a recent survey by Schoolzone commissioned by Promethean, educational technology specialists.

Less than one hour a day is spent with family and friends, for over half of the surveyed teachers. And marking is a major concern as 45% of teachers say that they spend one hour a day marking student work.

Given all of this pressure, preventing burnout is imperative to ensuring that teachers stay on top of their workload.

State of mind is crucial, says Helen Whitten, cognitive behavioural coach and author of Cognitive behavioral coaching techniques for dummie’. “How you feel affects how you behave and, consequently, how you look at a situation,” she explains. Firstly, teachers need to be self-observers and notice any signs of stress like irritability or disturbed sleep patterns. Then they need to work out what is creating the stress and follow the three As’:

Alter schedules
Is there a meeting that could be altered? Or maybe you could think about changing your approach to a certain task. “I realised that I had become set in a routine that was time consuming and unproductive,” says Katharine Jones, primary school teacher. “So I started from scratch and developed a more efficient way to prepare and plan lessons.”

Avoid unnecessary tasks
Is the meeting necessary? Do you really need to speak to that person this week? Don’t try to be everything to everyone because you can’t be. Don’t take on more responsibilites than you can cope with, advises Paul O’Dwyer, secondary school teacher. “You can’t say yes to everything. You need to work out from day one what responsibilities you can fit in alongside teaching,” he says. He advises teachers to volunteer up front for the areas they would like to be involved in, otherwise they could get roped into things they find hard to pull out of.

Accept unavoidable tasks
There are things that you need to accept that go with the territory of teaching, like government initiatives. Try not to get uptight about it as this depletes your energy reserves. “If you give up the struggle, you’re half-way up the mountain,” confirms Mark Denigh, secondary school teacher. “I used to spend a lot of time moaning about new regulations and guidance. Now I don’t and I have more energy for other things,” he says.

Practical time savers:

Share resources
TES Connect has over 30,000 free downloadable resources covering all aspects of the primary and secondary curriculum. Each week, thousands of teachers make use of these free resources saving valuable time, reducing pressure and adding creativity to the curriculum.

Emotional support
Visit the TES forums
Join thousands of teachers online everyday in the forums where they offer and seek advice, information and support on a whole range of education issues.

Involve pupils and teaching assistants
Marking students’ work is a necessary but time-consuming task but there are ways to make it bearable, says Doug Haines, secondary school teacher. If you can’t cope with with so much marking, try setting a revision task. There is no way to measure if the students have completed it and thus no need to chase up students. The clever bit is to use the joyous two words, ‘peer assessment’ to get the class to mark their own answers and see learning through the eyes of the teacher,” he says.
If you have one, make sure you make good use of your teaching assistant, so that appropriate tasks are delegated

Look after number one
Last but not least, always put yourself first, says Ms Whitten. Remember the emergency talk from the air stewards on your last flight “Fit the oxygen mask to your face before you fit it to anyone else” It is more responsible to take care of yourself first than others. After all, you can’t help others if you’re not able to.

Useful organisations:
Teacher support network
The Samaritans

With thanks to Teachable.net

Need more advice? Visit the Teachers’ survival guide