9 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

Chelsea Penney
August 2, 2021

Techniques to avoid teacher burnout and increase intrinsic motivation

Teachers choose their profession based on their desire to inspire the next generation. Some may want to be every student’s favorite teacher, be a light in the school, and share their education and expertise with students, parents, and administrators. Most teachers want to make a difference... but then they start. The reality of teaching can include becoming overwhelmed with budgetary issues, state curriculum, test requirements, and overbearing parents. As a result, it is quite common for teachers to lose intrinsic motivation and burn out.


Psychology Today defines burnout as ‘a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.’ Many teachers feel the pressure to be perfect. But according to a 2017 survey by the American Federation of Teachers, 61% say their teacher jobs are always or often stressful. To make matters worse, 58% of respondents said the stress impacted their mental health.” This stress wears on teachers over time and causes erosion of the joy and inspiration that brought them to the profession in the first place. With motivation waning, educators become burnt out on the daily struggles of teaching. 


What causes burnout?


  • Physical exhaustion

Working long hours and keeping up with children all day is exhausting. K12 teachers often work 60 hours per week, always taking work home with them. During the school day, they take attendance, execute lesson plans, eat lunch standing up during recess duty, engage sleepy kids in the afternoon and make sure the halls are cleared and buses filled after the bell rings. Then, they return home to answer emails, write lessons, grade assignments and study professional development courses. There is no rest for a teacher, and the exhaustion affects energy levels as the weeks wear on.

  • Overwhelming stress

Stress is the number one reason why teachers leave a school district. Teachers have many different expectations to juggle. They must meet state and administrative goals and work with parents to facilitate students’ character development and establish relationships with all of these groups. Forming trusted bonds with students is a rewarding but emotionally demanding function of the job. Teachers aim to create a steady, safe place for students to thrive, which can easily become attached to their little people. Teachers can’t help but bring those caregiver emotions home when they miss their students and are concerned about their well-being. Virtual teaching has exacerbated stress as teachers quickly learn and implement new technology to help students learn remotely. Unexpected changes give teachers more responsibility and less interaction with their students.

  • Feeling underappreciated

Teaching is often a thankless job. Teachers are expected to help students grow personally and academically while keeping parents and administrators happy. Unfortunately, much of the work they do goes unappreciated. They work hard year-round, but Teacher Appreciation Week only comes around once at the end of each school year. The cards and candies are appreciated, but they cannot completely compensate for the intensity of labor. They rarely receive genuine thanks for the work they do, and it is disenfranchising.


How do teachers avoid burnout?


  1. Set boundaries

Make yourself a schedule. Decide when it’s too early and when it’s too late for work. Follow through and put your work away during those personal hours. Prioritize your rest during that time. Say ‘No’ to anything that interferes with your boundaries.

  1. Talk about it

When you feel overwhelmed, let someone know. A listening ear can be a helpful tool to release your worries. You can talk to a family member, friend, colleague or professional. A professional therapist can often equip you with tools to help you identify triggers and cope with stress.

  1. Analyze a bad day to get to the cause

With your developed emotional intelligence, you can tell when you are feeling stressed. So instead of sinking into it, try to analyze it. What caused me to feel this way? What else is adding pressure? Once you have some awareness of the causes, you can better face the challenges and see them coming next time.

  1. Choose a hobby to relax after hours

A hobby is a great way to unwind after a long day because it empowers the growth mindset. After working with purpose all day, it can be a great release to work on something with no goal, deadline, or performance metric. Just relax and knit. Blow off some steam playing kickball. Doze off as you watch Netflix. Improve your soft skills. Anything goes as long as it gives your mind some space from your workday.

  1. Use your vacation time

At some point, you will just need to get away to release some tension and get some rest. If you do not want to leave town, taking a few days off at home can be restful if you do not stack your rest days with chores and appointments. Give yourself some true time off to come back to school refreshed and rejuvenated.


How can school districts help?


  1. Appreciate

Trust teachers’ expertise and give some autonomy around how they run their classroom and teach their lessons. Give them time to lesson plan and teach instead of constant hall/lunch/recess/bus duty. Finally, celebrate teacher wins and congratulate them on their hard work.

  1. Offer mental health services as a benefit

By making mental health services affordable and accessible, professionals can identify warning signs early to intervene. Teachers can receive guidance to take breaks before it gets too overwhelming for them.

  1. Vacation time to take a break

Offering Paid Time Off options will help teachers avoid burnout and help improve teacher retention by facilitating the rest they need.


How can students help?


  1. Interact with your teacher

Students should answer questions in class or turn on their zoom cameras so that the teacher can see them. They should get to know their teachers and help their teachers get to know them. If they form a bond, they will both want to see the other succeed. Those connections are essential to both student and teacher, even in the zoom classroom.


Teacher burnout is important to address at the source and combat it as quickly as possible because there are repercussions. Stress builds throughout the year as all of these factors stack up against teachers. Teachers working with Proximity Learning can develop their own schedules and fit teaching into their life. PLI meets them where they are to develop a good working relationship, lend support, accommodate their needs, and offer flexibility to avoid burnout. Proximity teachers enjoy making a difference in the lives of their students while preserving their own well-being.


Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelors Degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver. She is currently in graduate school through Texas A&M University studying Marketing. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline of the many marketing initiatives for Proximity Learning.

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