Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions a person can choose… except when it’s not.  Sometimes, after a long day of giving it your all, your fuel tank is on empty.  You possibly ran out of energy even before lunch.  And, if you’ve been teaching for quite some time, you may start to dread the daily routine before the day even begins.  

Maybe you haven’t hit this wall yet, but you probably know a few teachers who have. They’re easy to spot.  They make their way slowly–heads down–from the parking lot to the classroom to begin their self-imposed incarceration.  When the bell rings at 3 o’clock, they dash to their cars yelling, “Free at last!”  No one loves a Friday dismissal before spring break more than these exhausted veterans.

There are a lot of articles on teacher burnout.  Many offer strategies such as leaving schoolwork at school, eating healthier meals, exercising more frequently to reduce stress, and getting more sleep…just to name a few.  I don’t disagree with any of these, but I’d like to share a different perspective gleaned from my research on the mindsets of happy and successful people.

Learn the 5 keys to avoiding teacher burnout

1. The Queen Bee lives longer – Worker bees have a typical life span of 1-4 months, while queen bees live for 2-5 years. They both play important roles in the hive, but I’m using this analogy to demonstrate a point.  Being busy is not necessarily being productive.  A worker bee has a very long to-do list, while the queen only has a few important items to accomplish each day.  Many successful teachers have lengthy to-do lists that keep them busy into the late hours of the night with tasks such as grading papers and preparing lesson plans.  The goal is to outwit teacher burnout, so you can do what you love for a longer stretch of time.  Embrace the 80/20 rule which states that 20 percent of what you do is responsible for 80 percent of your results.  With this in mind, turn your to-do list into a to-day list and narrow it down to the three most important things you need to accomplish each day.  Recognize that if you focus on these things, you’ll be very effective and will last long enough to see your students succeed years after they leave your classroom.

2. A gratitude hack that actually works – You’ve heard many times the importance of having an attitude of gratitude, but of course, that’s not always easy to maintain.  When my boys were younger, one of their favorite books at bedtime was Goodnight Moon.  It helped put them at ease at night, and they usually slept better.  As adults, many people go to bed thinking about everything they have to do the next day, and sometimes, even reflecting on the challenges they had that day.  So here’s a technique to try that I call “Goodnight Gratitude.”  Spend 37 seconds while lying in bed at the end of your day to quietly think about a few things for which you are grateful.  Then drift off to sleep and marinate in the warm feeling you get when you express 
gratitude. You’ll sleep better and start your day feeling more refreshed and energized.

3. One leadership trait that backfires for teachers – Good leaders know the importance of independence and being able to accomplish goals without having to rely on others. It’s a character trait that seems to help many of them make their way to the top. Great leaders, however, know that if they can accomplish their dreams alone, they’re not dreaming big enough. Teaching is one of the most important professions there is, but being a teacher can often feel very isolating–especially if you work by yourself in a classroom most of the day. Some people grow up believing that asking for help is a sign of weakness–an indication that you simply aren’t good enough to do it on your own. This solo approach can lead to burnout because of how difficult and taxing it becomes. Embrace the We Are Connected mindset instead and find one or more teachers to brainstorm with on lesson plans, activities, class projects, and to simply offer each other support. You’ll quickly realize that you aren’t in this profession alone, and your teaching prowess will improve as well.

4. Pursue your passions – I have a hunch that you didn’t become a teacher for the money, but rather because you’re passionate about making a difference.  For you, a life of success can be defined as a life of significance.  You want your work to matter, and you believe wholeheartedly that what you do improves the lives of your students and ultimately, society.  Teaching is your love, but give yourself and your students the gift of pursuing other passions you have as well.  Take a cooking class, learn to play the guitar, diversify the books you read, go for a weekend hike, and possibly even start a small business.  Following your other passions will keep you energized and balanced.  Sharing these passions with your students will create an even stronger bond with them and connection to teaching.

5. Don’t just go through life…grow through life – You already understand the importance of education better than most, so don’t allow your approach to become stale.  Refresh your lesson plans, research and try new methods, embrace technology in the classroom, and, generally speaking, become a more progressive educator.  If you’re not already in a leadership position, stretch yourself and try aiming for one.  If you’re in a school that is stuck in the past, try to help move them toward the future.  If you continually hit a brick wall, find another school or leader who inspires you to effect real change.  Being a part of the educational renaissance will fire you up and leave little opportunity for burnout.  With student dropout rates and teenage depression on the rise, we need you in the game now more than ever! 

Give one or more of these 5 keys to avoiding teacher burnout a try, and let me know if they make a difference for you.  I’d love to hear strategies that work for you!

Photo credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images