Teacher burnout: three ways to avoid it this term

With teacher-assessment and Ofsted inspections looming, teachers need to be active in avoiding burnout, writes Kate Watts

Kate Watts

Teacher burnout: three ways to avoid it this term

We’re only just into the summer term but it already feels as though we’ve been back for much longer, doesn’t it? We’ve just finished marking our GCSE English language paper 2 mocks, where I work. Normally, I’d be rubbing my hands together knowing that I have a nice break between marking again but, this year, once again owing to Covid-19, we’ll soon start marking our final assessments for the year.

There are also other things to worry about before then, including the possibility of Ofsted. Usually, I’d be stressed to the max thinking about the amount of work that needs doing in such a short space of time, but lockdown has changed my perspective about a lot of things in life, including work and, specifically, working till the point of burnout.

Burnout is a term used to describe extreme mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, which affects people in a variety of ways but most commonly leaves them feeling drained and overwhelmed. I sincerely hope you have not experienced this but, as a teacher, you probably have. Here’s how I’m going to try and avoid that this term.

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To-do lists

It sounds obvious but making a to-do list can really help you to prioritise what needs your attention now and what can wait. As teachers, we often have multiple to-do lists in our heads – but it’s very easy to lose track of what you’ve done or where you’re up to if you keep it locked inside your head. Writing out a to-do list at the beginning of the week, or perhaps one every day if you’re really swamped, can help you to navigate your workload.

I have one of those weekly planners on my desk and it’s really helpful. It’s also really rewarding to be able to tick off what you’ve completed as well. I’m all about small wins that add up to a sense of achievement to keep me going throughout the week. 

Work-life balance

We’ve all been there: going in early and staying late. For some people, they do it every day, it’s the norm and it obviously doesn’t bother them. But for me, after a couple of weeks, it’s a killer. I’ve learnt from this and now I set boundaries for myself.

If I go in early, I make sure I leave on time. I used to work through most of my lunch breaks during the week but I’ve stopped doing that so much as well. I only let myself do it once or twice a week maximum. I know from experience that if I don’t set myself these boundaries, I end up working 50, or sometimes more, hours a week, and then I get sick, and then I can’t do my job at all.

So even with the upcoming mammoth task of marking final assessments to a tight deadline, I am not going to cross the boundaries I’ve set for myself.

Professional self-care

When people hear the buzz word “self-care”, I don’t think they fully realise what it entails. It’s not just bubble baths and candles: there are eight areas of self-care, which range from emotional and physical to professional self-care. So, what constitutes professional self-care? Well, we’ve already spoken about establishing a healthy work-life balance but there is more you can do while you’re actually working.

Have you been absolutely swamped at work and yet you agree to take on more when asked? This might be manageable now and again but, over a long period of time, you are going to wear yourself out. Learning to say no sometimes doesn’t mean you are being horrible or difficult; it simply means you are looking out for number one this time and that you’ll be happy to help in the future.

In addition, choosing or offering to work on projects you enjoy rather than find a chore is also a really good way to ensure professional self-care.

Kate Watts is a further education lecturer at a college in London

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