Do you ever feel like you put yourself last? That you get the “leftover” energy and time? You are last on your to-do list and forget that you are first a person, then a teacher?
Being a teacher can often feel all-consuming. It can take all the time and energy (emotional, mental and physical) that you have. In fact, there is always more that can be done, improved, reworked etc. And when teaching takes up all the oxygen in our life, teaching becomes more than a job. It becomes an identity.
Teacher Burnout Makes Good Teachers Quit
I hear tearful exasperation from many teachers who contact me for coaching. They are burned out because they are overwhelmed by the demands of their job as a teacher. So they are considering leaving teaching. But they are simultaneously overwhelmed at the thought of leaving teaching.
Burnout is the leading cause of teachers considering quitting teaching. Thankfully, enlightened school leaders around the world are seeing these numbers as a huge red flag for the profession as a whole and discussing what to do about it.
Teacher burnout happens when you do not have the energy or time to meet the demands of your work and life, causing you to feel overwhelmed, underwater, and lacking the motivation to do anything more than just survive.
Sometimes teacher burnout comes because in addition to feeling overwhelmed and underwater, you also feel resentful that you don’t have time and energy for things in your life that really matter to you (like your own self-care, your family, friends, hobbies, etc.)
“I lost myself”
If I had to guess, I’d bet that you really care about helping others. That you get a lot of personal fulfillment out of being useful, productive, and making an impact.
But somewhere along the way in serving others, you have lost yourself.
Am I right?
You would do something for yourself if you could remember what you like to do for fun or what brings you joy. But the last time you felt joy was when you got a great deal on school supplies or got everything on your to-do list done before dark!
I’m a person who…
I remember a time when I couldn’t finish the sentence “I’m a person who…” My only answer was “is a teacher” or “is really busy”. I even struggled with using the word “person” – my identity was so wrapped up in teaching that I really could only say “I’m a teacher who..”
You are a person first before you are a teacher.
Your role as a teacher does not trump your needs as a human being.
I encourage you to take a little time to remember who you are. Write “I’m a person who…” at the top of a piece of paper and fill the rest of the page with notes about who you are, what you like, how you work, how you play, what you do for fun, what fills your soul, what takes your breath away, what you are passionate about… you get my point.
Starting the School Year with Your SELF in Mind
It’s August, so it’s back to school season. I’m hoping that you had a chance to recover from burnout, rejuvenate your spirit and make a plan for cultivating resilience for the school year ahead. (If you still think you have some work to do on those, go to the links and read my blog posts from the past two months.)
Now that you are donning your “teacher” part of your identity again, I hope you put your SELF first and remember that you are first a person, then a teacher.
I hope that this year, you can define yourself separately from your job. So you can say something like “I am a person who… loves to craft and drink wine (preferably at the same time), teaches 4th grade, does yoga on Wednesdays, etc.”
Being able to look at your needs as a human being before the learning needs of your students means that you make room in your schedule (and to do list) for yourself. A few basic skills will go a long way in maintaining your sense of self and not losing touch with yourself throughout the school year.
Get in the Driver’s Seat
In order to sustain your sense of self and define yourself by more than your career choice, you are going to have get back in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s so much easier to put someone else in the driver’s seat – inadvertently. For example, if you find yourself blaming your admin, colleagues, district, etc. for your late hours, too many commitments, or not enough time with your family/for your hobbies, then you have given them the driver’s seat.
Someone who is in the driver’s seat of her life recognizes the expectations and demands others put on her, but decides for herself what to prioritize and how to make sure she has time to meet her basic needs (like eating, using the bathroom during the day etc.).
She makes choices about how to handle the demands imposed on her. Instead of reacting to the demands, she acknowledges them and then chooses a response.
She recognizes that her happiness is her responsibility. (And so is her resentment, anger, anxiety etc.) She makes the choice to deal with the causes of her negative emotions while cultivating ways to encourage the positive emotions. She is DRIVING the life that she wants.
*Note: Please don’t misconstrue this that a person who is in the driver’s seat of her life doesn’t have to navigate hardships, obstacles, suffering, or negativity. But she understands what is within her control, takes action to change it, and lets go of the rest so she can avoid the energy drain of drama and blaming.
Drawing the Line
The sister skill to getting in the driver’s seat of your life is setting healthy boundaries. These may be boundaries around the type of people you surround yourself with, what time you leave work, how many extra hours a week you are willing to put in, what you spend your time on etc.
Imagine drawing a picture of yourself on a piece of paper. You will use lines that show your physical boundary from the rest of the world (your skin and bones – your shape). In order to have an identity and shape, you need a boundary that separates you from everything else.
Think about boundaries for other elements of your life in the same way… For example, emotional boundaries help you to exert the best parts of your personality. Time boundaries enable you to spend your time on the things that you value and are important to you. Relational boundaries can help you avoid unnecessary energy spent on drama.
So without boundaries, you don’t have an identity, a shape, a personality, or values and you could be spending way more of your energy caught up in drama. Yikes!
By the way, I’m not saying this out of judgement. I’m actually speaking from experience. Learning to set boundaries has been an important journey to actually finding and defining myself! You can read all about it in my book on setting healthy boundaries. And just know this…you are not alone if you struggle with setting healthy boundaries. It’s tough, but worth working on!
First a Person – Then a Teacher
When I started this work, someone asked me if I was trying to help teachers leave teaching. My answer was (and still is), NO! But I do believe that you are a person before you are a teacher. And you have the right to look at your life from that perspective before you look at it from the perspective of student needs, parent needs, admin demands, lesson plans, test scores, evaluations etc.
You not only have the right to look at your life considering your personal needs first, but you actually have a responsibility to do so. Otherwise, burnout is right around the corner.
Coaching Questions to consider:
- Which personal needs do I need to be responsible for this year?
- What has to change so that I can be responsible for my needs?
- Where do I blame others instead of getting into the driver’s seat of my life? How can I change that?
- What boundaries do I need to put into place to have a happier, healthier life?
- What support do I need to accomplish these goals?
Consider contacting me if you are struggling with these questions. I have worked with many teachers feeling the same way and they are now in the driver’s seat, setting healthy boundaries, and working to be first a person, then a teacher.
What’s your next move?