Beat Teacher Burnout: Bouncing Back After Tough Semesters

Teaching comes and goes in seasons. Some you thrive. Some you barely survive. At the end of the semester, you might be feeling that teacher burnout. I just recently came out of one of the most difficult semesters of my own teaching career. If you have also recently had a difficult time, you may be wondering the same thing I was: How can you bounce back after a tough semester?

a woman with her hands on her head screaming with stress
picture of a pile of binders and books and a woman with her head in hand looking stressed

1. Acknowledge how you’re feeling

It can be easy to just shove everything under the rug and try to push through. But you should resist doing that.

Talk with someone you trust (try to avoid posting in a Facebook group even if it is private – assume anyone can take a screenshot). Take time to look back and reflect on the semester.

Acknowledge what happened, how you’re feeling, and that your feelings are valid.

2. Identify what needs to change

Make a list of all of what made the semester difficult(literally everything you can think of no matter how big or small).

Then categorize the list into what is an easy fix, can’t be changed, and what’s a non-negotiable change(if this doesn’t change, you’re out kind of thing). Whether it’s teaching too many classes that are outside of your content area, too many after school requirements, or something else, you decide.

Actually write down whatever your non-negotiable changes are to hold yourself accountable. If _______ doesn’t change by the end of this semester, then I will ________ (look for a new job, put in a transfer, consider going back to school, etc.)

Advocate for yourself. Talk with your admin. Talk with your union(if you have one). Set clear expectations.

Don’t be afraid to start looking elsewhere/leave your position if it looks like your non-negotiables won’t be met. Sometimes a fresh start is a great cure to fight teacher burnout.

3. Set new boundaries or re-establish old ones

Boundaries are healthy limits you put on your time, space, energy, and emotions. Sometimes when we have tough semesters, boundaries can be broken or new boundaries need to be set in order to prevent teacher burnout.

After last semester, I realized for the sake of my mental health, I needed to set clear boundaries on my time. No matter what, this semester I am putting my laptop down at 5:30PM at the very latest. Whatever

Setting boundaries can look like:

  • Going home when your contracted hours are over
  • Saying no to extra duties and favors
  • Removing yourself from toxic co-worker situations like eating lunch in the faculty lounge
  • Saying no to after work drinks/dinner
  • Taking your work email off your phone
  • Unfriending/unfollowing/muting people on social media
  • Saying no to extra performance opportunities
  • Only responding to emails during regular school hours
  • Taking a personal day and telling people you’ll respond to them when you’re back
  • Spending your free time how you want and releasing feelings of guilt that you aren’t working

4. Slow down and stop working at a “Level 10”

Sometimes semesters are tough and you have to work at a “level 10” at every moment.

But now that you’ve made it, you don’t have to continue at that pace. This has been the most difficult adjustment for me.

You brain does an incredible job of adjusting to new “normals.” Even if your brain adjusted to what happened last semester, working at a level 10 at every moment is not healthy.

Allow yourself down time to rest. If you start to feel anxious about the fact that you aren’t working or aren’t being productive, remind yourself it’s okay to feel that way as your brain adjusts going back to a lower level of functioning. Resist the temptation to open up your work email. Find an activity you enjoy to fall back on when you find yourself reaching for work or make plans with friends.

picture of a car odometer that is out of focus

5. Don’t rule out professional help/therapy

It took me a really long time to seek out professional help for my mental health. But I am SO incredibly thankful I did. If you want to learn more about my experience, I wrote a guest blog post about it for The Music Crew.

I had been off of my anxiety medication for a while but after last semester, I had used just about every tool in my toolbox and was still feeling pretty awful. My anxiety was constantly spiraling to the point where it was affecting many aspects of my life.

After talking with my therapist, we decided that going back on medication was a good option. Now that I’ve been back on anxiety medication for a few weeks, I am feeling much better.

Of course you don’t have to use medication. It’s just one tool in the toolbox. Talk therapy has also been great for me, especially because I was lucky enough to find someone who was a teacher before they became a therapist!

If you’re unsure of where to start, check out Good Therapy, which can help you find a therapist in your area. If you’re located in an area with limited mental health resources(or just prefer to do something like this from the comfort of your own home), check out an online option like Better Help.

Always remember, it’s okay to have a tough semester. But it doesn’t have to be this way forever. Teacher burnout is real so it’s important you take care of yourself after this tough semester. Did you have a tough semester? How have you bounced back before? Let’s keep the discussion going in comments!

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Welcome to the blog for Michelle from The Musical Rose (formerly Music with Miss W)! Here you will find resources and ideas to help you take back your nights and weekends.

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