As a teacher, you are probably no stranger to exhaustion. There is a saying that goes, “there’s no tired like teacher tired.” Not only do teachers experience physical exhaustion, but mental and emotional exhaustion too. The demands of teaching and the emotional load of the current societal moment are leading to record teacher burnout. Much like the gasoline in your car, it’s important to be intentional as teachers about refueling your energy gas tank.
Laws of Personal Physics
Have you ever run out of gas while driving? My guess is that you haven’t. But if you are like me, you run REAL CLOSE every once in a while. The reason most of us have never actually run out of gas is very simple… we know it can happen. We have a healthy fear of running out of gas which makes us do the most basic car maintenance – fill up our tanks. We respect the laws of physics.
But somehow we don’t have the same respect for our personal physics. How many times have you run out of gas in your “energy gas tank”? Do you have the same healthy fear of running out of “energy gas” as you do for your car?
When you run out of energy gas you feel just like a car stalled out on the highway – empty and stuck. The depleted feeling of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion can be debilitating. You may experience a loss of motivation, irritability, sleepiness, and mental fog (among other things!) Needless to say, it’s no where anyone wants to find themselves.
For teachers right now, the demands are high and the pressure is on. Some teachers are being told they are responsible to make up the learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic (which is also still raging). Teachers are also having to reteach many students how to be back in a classroom again for the first time in 18 months. Districts and communities are pinning teachers with the responsibility for the social-emotional wellbeing of our children.
It’s all too much.
Now more than ever, we need to prioritize teacher wellbeing and resilience.
Promoting Teacher Resilience
Teacher wellbeing is a school-wide and community-wide responsibility. But as a teacher, you can advocate for your wellbeing by taking actions to build your personal resilience. I define teacher resilience this way:
Resilience is knowing how and choosing to cultivate the personal resources needed to meet the demands of your life.
In other words, teacher resilience involves refueling and maintaining the “energy gas” you need to get to your destination.
If you don’t have the energy gas to make it through our journey, then you are on your way to teacher burnout as a destination. By building your resilience, you will be equipping yourself with the tools and strategies you need to create the sustainable and fulfilling life you deserve as a teacher.
Types of Energy
Energy is a big concept summarized in just one word. So let’s break the big concept down into smaller pieces. There are five domains of energy:
- Physical Energy: The physical energy of life in your body.
- Emotional: The energy required by your empathy, compassion, and emotional processing.
- Mental: Cognitive energy needed for decision-making and problem-solving.
- Spiritual: The energy of purpose, motivation and engagement in your life.
- Social: Energy that comes from being part of a community.
When you experience depletion within any of these energy domains, you will need to refuel in different ways. For more information on how to refuel your energy on each level, read my blog post on recovering from teacher burnout.
Obviously each energy is very different. Your legs can ache from a long day on your feet (physically tired) but have emotional and spiritual energy to spare because you were able to do an activity with students that felt purposeful, fulfilling, and exciting. That physical fatigue still needs to be remedied, but your other forms of energy buoy you to make it to the end of the day until you can rest your feet and ultimately go to sleep.
Refueling your energy gas tank
Take a moment right now to assess your energy level within each domain.
What things refuel your “energy gas tank” for each domain?
Consider the things that just came to mind your personal energy gas filling stations. Maybe you identified solid sleep and a nutritious smoothie for breakfast as keys to your physical energy. Make those things part of your plan for refueling your energy gas tank.
Perhaps journaling came to mind for filling your emotional gas tank. When can you start?
Maybe you identified that you need to have connection to your tribe of people (your family, your friends, people who inspire you) at least once a day to stay energized socially. How can you make that happen? What barriers will you have to overcome?
Taking time to refuel your energy gas tank is not negotiable. It’s personal physics. And it’s your responsibility. (Darn it! Wish I could tell you someone else will do it for you!)
If you fail to meet your personal energy needs, you will feel empty and stalled – and it takes a whole lot more intention and hassle to get refueled when you are completely empty (burnt out). Maintaining your gas tank is a lot easier!
So what’s your next move?