Teaching is a rewarding profession but can come at a high cost. Educators are natural caregivers but tend to prioritize other people’s well-being over their own, leading to teacher burnout. In a society where a workaholic is celebrated and misinterpreted as an overachiever, teachers need to be reminded that they are more than their job title. While teaching is certainly a part of their identity, it cannot diminish the importance of their social and emotional well-being. Learning to balance your life to avoid teacher burnout should be a priority for every educator.
Psychology Today characterizes burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Teachers often are overachievers who are constantly looking for ways to improve and are willing to work long hours and take on extra tasks outside of the classroom. While these traits are commendable, educators can fall prey to perfectionism, which lessens the time for rest and recreation.
Educators need to prioritize balance, which sounds great, but how do we do it? Setting boundaries is one way. Having a schedule that will allow you to work but maintain a doable work schedule is another. Here are some other ideas to help maintain balance: do not check emails after 5 pm; grade papers during a designated plan time; do not look at your phone on Sundays, and never grade papers on the weekend. Now, those ideas may sound a little far-fetched, but if you are finding yourself grading instead of being present at your child’s basketball game, then you should take a second look at prioritizing balance in your life. Without balance, burnout is inevitable.
I mentioned recreation, which means to re-create. So, re-create yourself! I am always a proponent of exercise and spending time in nature. Nature has a miraculous effect on lowering your stress level, and a good dose of fresh air will always refresh your perspective.
I always assign my undergraduate students to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day and stare at a tree. I once had a student come back to class distraught, and he told me he followed my assignment but had trouble with the part of staring at a tree. He thought I literally meant to stare at a tree for thirty minutes. Yes, I admit my directions were a little vague, but I was trying to be a bit ridiculous to get their attention in spending time out in nature. I certainly did not intend for my students to stare at a tree for 30 minutes. Lesson learned, but we did have a good laugh with my ineptitude for giving directions.
Balancing your life can pay huge dividends in the classroom. It will improve and strengthen your energy. You will find you will be more relaxed and able to go with the flow as issues arise in the classroom. You will feel better, and your students will benefit from your positive energy levels.