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10 Ways to Handle Faculty Burnout

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Burnout is something that many faculty members face. Sometimes they don’t understand what is happening. Sometimes they don’t realize that it is something that can be fixed. Faculty who are burning out are often isolated and unaware just how common teacher struggles can be. In dealing with my own faculty burn out and talking with so many other faculty who have struggled, I’ve compiled my most effective and important ideas and pieces of advice.

Identify and claim it. If the job that was once satisfying has become tedious, admit it. The longer you ignore the signs and symptoms of burn out the longer it takes to recover. Burn out is not failure, it is imbalance. While it’s healthy to run the engine at maximum capacity for periods of time, no one can sustain that sort of output forever, not even you. Not even me. But until you admit to yourself that you’ve lost your zest for the classroom, you won’t be able to begin working your way back.

Be Gentle with yourself. Burnout makes a person numb and fragile. Give yourself permission to focus on you for awhile. Tend to your needs. I wish I could give you a list of what to do but every person’s needs are different. I like to do yard work or read a book. Some people write or build things. You will know what they are though by the warm and satisfying feeling you get while doing them.

Say no. Carve out a few months where you stop taking new projects, speaking gigs, new classes. This is a hard one to do but vital. Slow down the job output and focus your professional energy on the basics of your job. Put off starting a new project as long as you can stand it. The first few times it may feel like you are forcing yourself to rest. Your body and mind will learn and get better at it over time.

Tell someone. Often when we get burned out we feel like the only teacher who has ever experienced it. Our instinct is to hide and hope that we magically come out of it somehow. To be realistic, most teachers experience burn out from time to time. They probably felt alone when they were going through it too. Don’t get discouraged if other faculty don’t share. Keep talking until you find the ones who will.

Do a self-assessment. How do you feel about your job? How do you feel about your students? Is there one thing that is causing you a lot of anxiety? Is that one thing fixable? These questions are simple but important. Even the most passionate teachers burn out, but people who try to teach and have no passion for it quickly find the job is much more work and less reward than they thought it might be.

Do something new. A new assignment. A new movie. A new discussion format. A field trip. Get a guest lecturer. Be a guest lecturer. Burn out is easiest when we are in a rut. Trying new things gets us excited and thinking. Thinking leads to doing new things. Right out of the rut and back on the highway.
Schedule time for yourself. Get out your planner and block off six hours each week just for you. I know that sounds extreme and nearly impossible but believe me, take them now and recharge or spend them on the couch in the fetal position when you head finally explodes. Take these hours. No emails. No computer unless it’s for fun. You won’t always need to schedule the time, it will come more naturally. And you know what? You will get better at being efficient with the time that you DO spend working.

Peer through the window. Sneak a peek at other educators and what they are doing. Connect with other burnt out teachers. The internet is a great place to do this and there are a ton of educators on twitter right now. Other educators who have been there. Who will listen. Who will support you if you are not getting the support you need.

Refocus your purpose. What is it that you do? What is your passion? Has your passion come out of alignment with your purpose? Is what you are doing what you were destined to do? Your passions is students. Impact. Teaching. Changing the world. How do I know? Because you’re here reading this right now. Passionate teachers are the ones who worry about burning out.

You’re not going to wake up one morning and be back to the races. Coming back from burn out is a process. It’s about learning to balance all of the parts of your life and resting when you need to. You’ve got a lot ahead of you and we are going to need you at 100% to get the job done.


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Michelle

Storyteller, Teacher, Fabulator at Planet Earth

Michelle Stephens is a teacher an author, a theatre director, a storyteller, and a basketcase. She is treating the classroom like the laboratory it was always meant to be and returning all good and bad findings here. She writes frequently about art, impact, technology, theatre, education, social issues, and any combination of the above. There are no rules here. No "best practices," or "strategic plans." Her opinions are her own but she'll try to make them yours. Just watch her.


2 Comments

  1. Sandra says:

    Thanks Michelle! Staff suffer from burnout too. Building 18 timetables, and 6 catalogs over the last 6 years has left me weary to the bone. The endless grind of nothing but data entry is sucking my soul right out of my body. I agree with your name it and claim it statement. I kept trying to deny it and push through it in Polly Anna style. It just left me more exhausted than ever.
    I am looking into doing something new. I’m hoping to move back into a departmental administrative assistant position where I can have more student/faculty contact. I find that energizing. Maybe I’ll be able to offer some support and encouragement to a burned out faculty member or two when I get there. Big love!

    • Michelle says:

      You’re so right, Sandy. Staffers need support too. They often feel outside of the process. Staffers need to be shown how they impact students too!

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