MAT Blog

Avoiding Teacher Burnout: 5 Stress Management Tips

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jan 19, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Stress ManagementWe spend a good amount of time perusing and interacting with educators on communities like Edmodo, Schoology and Classroom 2.0. Since class started up again after the New Year, we’ve been seeing a lot of posts about lack of student engagement and more than a few pleas for new classroom management tips. Something tells us that teachers, just like students, may be experiencing the mid-year blues. But don’t allow this stress to turn into teacher burnout.

We regularly blog about classroom management and student engagement, but something just occurred to us: We’ve never offered any stress management tips for teachers. So without further ado, here are 5 tips that work for us:

Avoiding Teacher Burnout: 5 Stress Management Tips

Clear to Neutral
We’re very good at scolding our students about waiting until the last minute to find their research or write their essays, but let’s be honest, teachers are (covertly, of course) some of the best procrastinators out there. But why do we procrastinate? One of the biggest reasons is because we have to jump through a number of unpleasant hoops to get to the main task. Let’s illustrate:

You have to cook dinner, which means that you need the cutting board, clean knives, dishes and pots to get the job done. Unfortunately, all of the tools you need to make dinner are still filthy and sitting in the sink. So before you can get to what you set out to do (cook), you’ve got 20 other things to do (clean and scrape pans) before you can actually start on the main task (cooking). What happens? You’re frustrated. Now apply this to responding to student work, prepping or grading papers.

Here’s where Clearing to Neutral (CTN) comes in. CTN simply means that every time you finish an activity, you engage in a routine, a setup, so that the next time you start the activity, your environment is ready to go—no cleaning 20 pots and pans, no sorting through your file folder, no sifting through your email box to find document attachments so you can print the papers your students emailed to you…

Do something that intimidates you—every day
What are you afraid of? What is causing you anxiety or hanging over your head? Think about this for a second. There’s something you’ve been afraid of or dreading for a long time and it’s causing you anxiety. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” But how do we master fear? The answer is simple: by building up a tolerance to the things that make us uncomfortable.

Don’t beat yourself up over being anxious; embrace that anxiety by meeting it head on. Start with the small stuff: Call that colleague who you had a falling out with; speak to a stranger in an elevator; stop saying that you’re going to completely change the way you eat, just dust off your juicer and substitute one meal a week with fresh vegetable juice. Gradually these acts will become perfunctory, not fear-laden.  

Go somewhere you’ve never been before—every weekend
Most stress management “experts” will tell you to stick with routines, but we’ve found that it’s often the grind of a routine that burns us out the most. If you’re looking to break out of the mundane, try alternating weekends with your spouse or significant other: one weekend, s/he chooses an activity that neither of you have ever done before; the next weekend it’s your turn.

A colleague of ours has been doing this for years and she and her spouse continue their pursuit of new and bizarre adventures to this day. One Saturday, her husband surprised her (and probably himself) with tickets to the Detroit Kennel Club Dog Show. Seats were usually $15 a person, but he found free tickets on Craigslist.  Another time they drove two hours north just to eat dinner at a five-table Italian Café she read about on Yelp; after that, they went to a local stock-car race. Why? Because…why not?

Sure, you may have to grade papers in the morning, but section off a block of time and dedicate yourself to breaking out of your routine every week.

Place the onus on your students
You feel like your pulling teeth sometimes, don’t you? Of course you do, you’re a teacher. Never work harder than your students. Are group discussions floundering? Is your own voice ringing in your ear? Maybe it’s time that you try something else.

Instead of elucidating a chapter, digesting it for your students, put them into groups and have them explain, in writing, the significance of specific passages in the text. Then come back together as a class and discuss. Or type up a series of questions—and make sure that they inspire rather than quiet discussion and disagreement. Dissention and openness to debate is what will make your classroom discussions exciting. Stop worrying about things going off the rails and just see what happens.

Don’t buy into the work-life balance malarkey
Stress management experts are always talking about work-life balance, but the whole concept of it is about as antiquated as that cell phone Zach Morris used in Saved By the Bell.

“Work” and “life” are inextricable from one another.

Albert Camus once said, “Without work, all life goes rotten…” And he makes a good point.

Work is life. Life is work.

But Camus also said, “When work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” That’s why we need to ensure that our work lives are aligned with our passions.

We can’t tell you how to make this happen. What we can tell you is that if we are not living while we are at work, there’s a good chance that life will stifle and die. So we better learn to enjoy ourselves—I mean really, truly enjoy ourselves when we are in the classroom.

If you're looking for more career and curriculum-enhancing ideas, check out some of our most resources by downloading our Best of 2012 guide!


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Tags: classroom management, stress management, teacher burnout

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