7 Tips for Overcoming Teacher Burn-Out
- Be you. One of the key messages of Never Work Harder Than Your Students is that you can be a master teacher without becoming a caricature of someone else’s idea of what a master teacher should look like. You can become a master teacher and still be true to who you are. The trick is to find a way to be who you are and still help students succeed. If you prefer lecture over group activities but your students crave student-to-student discourse, find ways to make your lectures more interactive. If you prefer project-based learning but your curriculum demands benchmark testing, find ways to prepare students for the tests with the projects you design. You don’t have to stop being yourself (you can’t anyway!). Just be the best you and help your students be successful given (or even in spite of) who you are.
- Find your tribe. Seek out others who are constantly growing and refining their practice. Look for colleagues who are on the same path as you are and can offer you encouragement. If the staff lounge has become a toxic place full of grousing and complaining, find another place to eat your lunch. If your colleagues spend their time complaining about “those kids,” run! Don’t let them infect you with their negativity. Look for people who are focused on the solution, not the problems. If you cannot find them in your own building, find them
- Take a long view of your teaching career.Our teaching careers are not made on the basis of one incident, one class of students, or one year. They are made on the basis of the trend in our careers. Most master teachers will tell you that they too started out poorly, made some huge mistakes, or taught under the wrong assumptions about students, about their role with students, and about teaching itself. But the difference between master teachers and the rest of us is not that they never made mistakes; it’s that they chose to learn from their mistakes and use them to get really good at teaching. Don’t judge your career by your mistakes. Judge your career by what you have learned from your mistakes and how you have used them to get better at teaching.
- Be impatient. People say that master teachers are patient, but most of the master teachers I’ve studied aren’t patient at all. In fact, they are impatient. They want to get better now and they don’t have time for complacency. They are always focused on the next move, the next new skill to develop, the holes in their practice that they wanted to fix. They are always impatient for their students to achieve, excel, master content, and they find the quickest, most direct route to get students there. The difference between their brand of impatience is that they never let their impatience turn to frustration. They allow their impatience to propel them ahead, to keep them searching for the better way, to focus on the possible rather than the frustrations of right now. Impatience forces you to continue to push, to get better and better and to ask your students to do the same. It forces you to move on – If A doesn’t work, then you’ll try B and C and D and so on until you find what does work.
- Find the bright spots. In times of stress, we tend to focus on what’s not working. But, when we focus only on what didn’t work, we miss a powerful opportunity to learn from what is working. Be intentional about looking for the bright spots, the things that are working, the small moments when you actually do see students engaged and learning. Then, figure out why those moments work and what you can do to replicate them. Not only do the bright spots offer powerful learning opportunities, they feed your faith and show you that there are things in your practice right now that are working.
- Focus on what you can do right now. In times of high stress, it is easy to become overwhelmed. When you clearly see the work before you, it can feel more like an abyss. But, instead of focusing on what can’t be done, cultivate a keen awareness about all that can be done right now. Identify the best, worst, and most likely scenarios, understand what you can and cannot control, and prepare to move forward past the obstacles.
- Focus on getting better rather than being good. One of the things that trips us up the most is that we try to be master teachers right away. Mastery doesn’t happen that way. It only comes as a result of consistent and deliberate practice over time. If you focus on being good, you will see failure as an evaluation of your skill rather than as an event from which you can learn and grow. If you focus always on getting better, every set-back becomes a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. Mastery is a progressive process. You don’t get good at teaching or at anything else right away. Just try to get a little better every day and over time, you’ll be good. Very good.