Your phone alarm failed to go off on-time, so you left without showering and your lunch, which only dawned on you halfway to work on a road riddled with red lights.
Arriving after the morning bell has already rung, you rush into your classroom scrambling to set up the morning lessons. But you soon realize the funny, engaging video you hoped would capture the students’ interest keeps freezing.
During lunch duty, a fight broke out which resulted in a bloody nose and, of course, no one taking responsibility.
After some conflict resolution, you received a frustrating reminder from the principal about those individualized education program plans you completely forgot about.
Finally, the bell rings to end a dreadful day and, for the first time, you revel in the silence. You pack your things, walk to your car and try to start the engine that, of course, finally decided to die…
The Teacher’s Taboo
We’ve all been there in some way, shape, or form. Those days that end with you laying in bed, reflecting on career choices, and truly entertaining two words: I quit. If you’ve yet to have one of those days, it will come. However, we rarely hear teachers voicing those two words because of the taboo that teachers never have that ‘quitting’ feeling.
Truth is, teachers and others who work with children or youth do have days where they feel like giving up – in some cases, they even quit. Those same individuals will probably attest the unrealistic expectation that teachers are these heroic, savior-like figures that exude positive mental attitudes one-hundred percent of the time.
What Causes This Unrealistic Expectation?
Many teachers, whether they voice it or not, feel pressured to fulfill these expectations. Many of you know it as teacher burnout. These are a few of the most common reasons why:
- Not having done enough for their students
- Frustrations of negative media attention
- Apathetic or disruptive students
- Lack of available resources and administration support
- Belief that they cannot call in sick
- Failing to set work-life boundaries
Everyone has heard that story students seeing their teachers for the first time outside of the school at the mall, grocery store, gas station, etc. and they’re absolutely flabbergasted. Why? Because they are real human beings and not only teachers. Well, sometimes teachers need that exact reality check for their physical and emotional benefit – teachers are humans, too!
If you’re coming off what might seem like your worst day of teaching to date (or feel a wave of teacher burnout rising), we’ve got a few things that will hopefully help you recover, reflect, and return to your classroom rejuvenated.
Teacher Burnout: 8 Realistic Ways to Recover After Your Worst Day of Teaching
1) Talk It Out
Sit down with a loved one, call a friend, or go for a tea or coffee with a trusted colleague. If you can, talk to someone with their own long-term teaching experience. They will be able to better understand and empathize with what you’re feeling.
The key is to simply start talking – get it all out! Rant, laugh, cry, and don’t hold anything back. The more you choose to withhold, the more your feelings of stress and frustration will percolate and bubble over into your next teaching day. That won’t be fair for you nor your students.
Whether or not your shoulder to lean on gives you sound advice is irrelevant. What’s most important is that you break the isolation of your work to know you are not alone. Everyone has these days and you can get through them all.
2) Take a Breath to Decompress
It’s extremely easy to let highly stressful days affect your entire being. While it sounds like a simple enough technique, you’d be surprised at how many people let stress get the best of them; if you’re guilty of this, it’s your greatest mistake. Thankfully, you can regain control when those terrible teaching days creep up on you.
Studies published in the journal of Neurological Sciences and Frontiers in Psychology have proven the health benefits of deep breathing, especially when it comes to anxiety and stress relief. Researchers in the latter study found that “diaphragmatic breathing” specifically helped reduce stress levels. (See the video below on how to do diaphragmatic breathing yourself at home.)
Sit with your stress. Focus on what you’re feeling and what exactly triggered those feelings. Acknowledge your stress, then let it go. Because now you can. You can even carry these breathing techniques with you to the classroom and do them over lunch or with your own students to help foster a healthy, stress-free environment.
3) Prioritize and Put “It” Down
When you start feeling teacher burnout, step away from it. You all know what “it” is – your work. Leave your work at work: the thoughts of grading, curriculum planning, field trip permission forms, responding to parents’ emails, report cards to fill out… you know how the list goes.
Well, not tonight. Instead of working off the clock and worrying about the seemingly endless task list, try this: pull out a pad of paper, your favourite pen, and write down everything that needs to get done over the next two days. Once your list is complete, choose the top three tasks. They’re the must-do tasks for tomorrow that will make the following day more manageable.
Now that you’ve figured out how to make your life for the next two days easier, let go of your work. Prioritize yourself for the rest of the night. Make a delicious dinner, read your current book, watch your favourite Netflix series, or get to sleep early. Whatever you do, put yourself first.
4) Plan for Community
If, for whatever reason you cannot get work off your mind, then tweak how you’re thinking of it. Instead of tomorrow morning’s or afternoon’s lesson, put it on hold. Instead, surprise your students with some team-building activities.
Not only will old and new friendships in your classroom grow stronger, so will student-teacher bonds. Sure, completing lessons on schedule is desirable, but building relationships is both timeless and priceless.
5) Ask Yourself What Actually Went Wrong with the Day
Did today feel like a series of unfortunate events? Chances are you can trace it back to a single event. Take a moment to think back to when you woke up this morning. Did it start when your alarm failed to go off on-time, or was it something more serious?
If it was just a single, possibly small event that triggered your bad day, maybe you’re more in control than you thought. When things don’t go as we expected, it can negatively affect everything else we do – even when there’s no real reason for them to.
Once your able to pinpoint the event that unfortunately ruined your day, you may come to find that nothing (or very little) about your day was actually that bad. Being aware of those powerless moments will help keep them from ruining your day.
6) Get Out of the Classroom and into Nature
As soon as that last school bell rings, head home, put on some comfortable clothes, and head outside. It could be a walk around your neighborhood or a proper hike in a forest. But it’s important that you get outside to experience a natural calming environment.
Have you heard of “forest bathing”? The primary aim of forest bathing is to slow down and immerse yourself in a natural environment. As your walking through greenery and along riverbanks, pay close attention to the smells, textures, tastes, and sights that nature has to offer. It’s a full sensory experience.
“Close your eyes and just breathe, just breathe,” said certified Forest Therapy guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley. “When you open your eyes, imagine you’re seeing the world for the very first time.”
Did you know that in 2015, work-related stress in the U.S. accounted for around $190,000,000,000? (Crazy, right? Burnout is real.) It’s statistics such as that which resulted in a 2017 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In it, scientists analyzed sixty-four papers about the therapeutic benefits of forest bathing and found that it can, in fact, have positive physiological, psychological, and spiritual health benefits.
7) Put Things in Perspective
Teaching – any job really – can consume you if you aren’t careful. There’s healthy devotion and unhealthy devotion to your work. It becomes unhealthy when you start having thoughts of quitting or your mental health take a backseat. Forgetting this important reality can quickly lead to teacher burnout. You know, that feeling when the weight of any job starts to drown out your joy.
The unique thing about teaching is that you’re so much more than just a teacher. You’re a parent, a friend, a spouse, a student, an explorer – you can fill in the blank! The point is, there are relationships and other areas of life that being to fade if you don’t take care of yourself. And what’s life without those?
8) Realize That, Sometimes, Bad Days Are Exactly What You Need
Life’s not always easy. There will be days that seem like the absolute worst you could ever work. Days that make you say, “I want to quit.” Days when teacher burnout has you in its grips. When that happens, revisit these strategies and see what works for you. If nothing works, remember this…
Your worst-ever day of teaching will come to an end and tomorrow will give you an opportunity to start fresh, to grow as a teacher, and to help grow the next generation.
Our Hope for Everyone Who Works with the Next Generation
We hope these ideas help you recover not only your joy in and love of teaching, but your sense of self. As tempting as it is to keep pushing yourself, sometimes the most effective thing you can do rest, reflect, and recover.
Were there any strategies you use that we missed? We would love to hear what works for you because there’s someone experiencing the same struggles who needs to hear it. Let’s keep the conversation going below.
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