Fireproofing: Protection Against Teacher Burnout

Posted Date: 1/6/2011

Fireproofing: Protection Against Teacher Burnout


“Stop the world; --- I want to get off.” How many times have you heard a classroom teacher mutter these words or a facsimile? How many teachers do you know who have given up and gotten off?
“I just got a note from Terry’s mom about giving him extra help. Progress Reports are due in two days; I don’t know when I’ll have time to finish them; I’ve got lesson plans to do and a stack of papers to grade. I’ve got yard duty at recess, and my planning time was canceled because the substitute for the art teacher didn’t show up. That reminds me— I’ll be out tomorrow for a workshop, and I need to prepare a sub folder for my substitute. Our team needs to get our newsletter read, and the principal wants us all to stay for a meeting after school today to discuss improving student attendance and our school’s low performance on the MAP.”
Does this scenario hit home? Folks outside the teaching profession cannot begin to understand what pressures and deadlines mean. How many people in the workplace have their coffee breaks canceled because they have to do yard duty? How many business people have to complete reports while managing 20 young people who must be supervised constantly? What can teachers do to protect against "burnout?" How can administration provide an environment that will help teachers feel less stressed and better able to cope?
I have taught for more than 32 years, and I have seen the demands placed on teachers increase tremendously. I am a Title I math teacher. I am not currently a classroom teacher, but I do demonstration lessons in four to six classrooms each day (first grade through fifth grade). I have talked with plenty of teachers, many of whom have taught more than 25 years. The following is a list of tips I have gathered to help today’s classroom teachers protect themselves from “burnout.”
1.       Take care of your health. A strong mind and a strong body will keep you happy and enable you to handle the everyday stresses of teaching. Exercise (join a gym or dance class), eat right, plan activities with your family, and enjoy your vacation time away from the school. Flood your mind with positive thoughts, believe in yourself and take charge of defining your own happiness.
2.       Prioritize. Plan, make and follow schedules. Use one calendar to post important events and stay organized. Strive for good attendance, and plan to arrive early each day. Make good use of your planning time, but be flexible if your schedule is thrown off. Always keep an extra lesson ready in case an emergency comes up.
3.       Be efficient, dependable and reliable. Always prepare for lessons. Consult with grade-level committees and mentors. Know your curriculum. Being prepared and informed will make you feel more confident and open your mind to new ideas and strategies.
4.       Embrace change. In the 21st century, the only constant is that nothing will stay the same. Be flexible and willing to try new approaches. Keep your learning zone full. Seek new ways to teach old skills. Share exciting lessons with others. Take field trips and invite guest speakers to your classroom. Learn more about the uses of technology in the classroom. Keep learning experiences relevant, alive and fun. Keep teaching and learning exciting for both you and your students.
5.       Arm yourself with strong mentors. It is important that you have a strong support group or a mentor to teach you what you should know about record keeping policies, procedures and general practices in your school. Look for successful master teachers, and don’t be afraid to say, “Can you help me?” Don’t be afraid to change mentors if one is not working out for you.
6.       Develop strong classroom management skills. A classroom is not a democracy. You are in charge. You don’t have to be an overbearing dictator, but you must set the tone for your classroom. It is your responsibility to build good citizenship skills in your students. Respect your students and insist that they respect you and others. Be proactive, and be consistent. You must develop an atmosphere of trust and order. Do not teach over noise and confusion.
7.       Be friendly, and be a team player. Greet all co-workers, students and parents with a smile each day. Be willing to help and share. Join committees and volunteer to serve as a chairperson. Invite parents to serve on committees, and invite them to help in your classroom.
8.       Be a life-long learner. Always strive to be better, to know more and to be open to new ideas. Listen and learn from students, parents, mentors and co-workers. Take classes, attend workshops, and read journals and professional magazines.
There may be no simple solutions to preventing “teacher burnout.” If teachers are going to survive in a profession that is making more and more demands on its educators, each teacher must prepare himself or herself to ward off the blows that cause burnout. In an ideal world, all teachers would have small class sizes, a full-time aide, ample supplies, a pleasant environment, current technology, adequate planning time, supportive mentors, knowledgeable and fair administrators, cooperative parents and well mannered students, all achieving at full potential. In an ideal world, the community would understand that the teacher is only one of many variables that impacts student learning.
By Audrey Ferguson
Missouri Teacher of the Year (2002)


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