Many thanks to special guest summarizer and #KELTchatter Mr. Bryan Hale (@bryanteacher), who has graciously provided our summary for Sunday’s chat:
What is teacher burnout? Have you suffered it? How does it relate to administration, students, The System, our own overcommitment? What can we do about burnout, and what advice would you offer your past self?
On Sunday April 28, 2013, #KELTchatters shared thoughts on these questions while exploring ‘avoiding teacher burnout’. It’s an important professional concern, and I hope this summary does justice to the ideas and experiences we shared.
Alex Grevett @breathyvowel – moderator
Georgeanna Hall @hallg
Anne Hendler @AnneHendler
Tom Randolph @TomTesol
Bryan Hale @bryanteacher
Roy Woodhouse @RoyWoodhouse
Daniel Craig @seouldaddy
In a special cameo appearance: Mike Griffin @michaelegriffin
“feeling of being overwhelmed by what (I thought) my job required” … “exhausted” … “a bit in despair” -Georgeanna
the point where you’re not effective as a teacher any more?” -Anne
“Feeling extinguished, like you can’t do anything” … “No passion or motivation” -Suzanne
“Maybe loss of passion, sense of fun, desire?” -Tom
“Something like not making the effort to see that learning occurs, rather than actively promoting it.” -Alex
“uninvested” … “feels impossible to change the situation” -Bryan
“you think you’re not making a difference, or worse, contributing to problems in the system.” -Daniel
Possible symptoms of burnout
Georgeanna – exhaustion and feelings of despair, depression.
Anne: “migraines every day”.
Burnout is not…
Georgeanna and Tom agreed that burnout is not related to age.
Tom later said “burnout’s different from ‘exhausted by a job well done’…I want to quit if I’m burned out.”
Tom raised the difference between burnout in a particular job, or burnout in a career.
Anne and Alex mentioned burnout related to particular age groups/school types.
Bryan said there could be burnout related to particular teaching types, and burnout related to the Korean education system.
Workload, support and overcommitment
Much of our chat dealt with intertwining issues of administrative support and teacher overcommitment. I have tried to tease out the strands.
On teaching hours
Roy spoke about his heavy teaching load, and thought 30 teaching hours is about the limit a teacher can handle. He said outsiders might not see 30 hours as much, but teaching requires a lot of planning. Others agreed that people might not appreciate planning time.
Roy said that different student levels require different amounts of work and energy – such as beginners. Others agreed, but Alex pointed out different groups are different. He said with his current beginners “we sort of feed off each other.”
On support from administration
Tom brought up the issue of administrative support – “hugs, $$$, help”. He wondered if participants had felt burnout related to a sense of unappreciative admin and being overworked.
Anne pointed out that admin staff can be overworked, too.
Georgeanna said she sometimes questions whether admin want teachers to teach their best, given the workload they give teachers.
Bryan said there can be a gap between what a school thinks it’s asking of a teacher, and how a teacher perceives a request – for example, schools might only expect simple lesson plans, or might not expect a lot of After School planning.
Later, Georgeanna said she wishes she knew what admin and students actually expect. Tom suggested admin “just wants you to keep your students happy and spreading the word.” He asked if good admin “force themselves to look further?”
On teachers overcommitting
Anne felt she has had supportive admin staff, but she has chosen to overwork.
Georgeanna was burned out in a particular job, but on reflection thinks “I was expecting way too much of myself.”
Tom said it is hard work to keep colleagues from overcommitting. Georgeanna wondered how to find “the point of working hard, but not too hard.” Tom said it involves “a lot of mentoring and reflecting.” He said that if teachers complain of too much marking, maybe they’re overdoing marking.
Georgeanna mentioned teachers pushing themselves to do ‘amazing and new things’. Tom said this can help fight burnout, because “it’s the repetitive, unchanging stuff that gets to me.” Georgeanna said she understood Tom, but it can still contribute to lack of time.
Georgeanna and Roy agreed that the workload you commit to can sneak up on you. Georgeanna said that at first you might feel elated by the challenge and constant activity.
Alex said teachers might overcommit because they want to do a good job and think ‘time spent = performance’. Tom agreed that over-prepping and over-assigning homework doesn’t equal greatness. “Quality over quantity.”
Anne said teaching camps involves intense periods, but the slower periods which allow recovery help a lot.
Tom highlighted the importance of vacation time – “So one can give it all AND recover, research, relax to do it again.”
Alex said that when teachers are only working, they lose time to develop. “You might know you could do better if you had time to stop and think.”
Tom said teachers can also think ‘that’s what next semester is for’:
“I’ve accepted I’ll never do the job as well as I could, but I do it the best I’m able – growth, reflection, development reward me with usually doing it better / differently next time.”
Burnout and ‘The System’
Daniel said burnout can arise from feeling you’re contributing to problems in the system. Anne argued that all teachers do this to some extent, and asked who has the power to change the system.
Tom: “It’s certainly exciting to be able to EVOLVE a system.”
Daniel agreed about evolving – “evolving is still change, just a lot slower and more likely to work”.
Georgeanna said she has had the feeling of contributing to problems, “It’s complicated.” Daniel replied “It makes you feel like a fraud.”
Is burnout part of teachers’ life-cycle?
Alex asked Anne if burnout is part of the lifecycle of a kindergarten teacher.
Anne: “No! I really think burnout doesn’t have to be part of a natural cycle of anything.”
Roy thought that burnout is becoming normal as teachers don’t get paid for planning hours.
Are students a cause of burnout?
Alex wondered if students can be a cause of burnout.
Anne and Tom mentioned kindergarten students in humor.
Bryan said in a traditional education setting, students might see attendance as appreciation and not show appreciation in other ways.
What can you do about burnout?
Put less pressure on yourself.
Daniel: “Putting less pressure on ourselves is often important.”
Tom: “More simply: “Do less.” (David Mamet)”
Alex: “Perhaps some of the pressure could be put on to the students?”
Take time away.
Georgeanna took a semester away, then returned to her job.
Anne took a long vacation in South East Asia, “went home and refocused myself and came back to teach a different age group.”
Bryan: “Go to another part of Korea. Far enough to forget job, close enough to increase warm feelings about where you are.”
Improve exercise and diet.
-Anne, Tom, Suzanne, Daniel
Tom: “Feels good to be good to oneself…”
Take more naps.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Visit a batting cage.
Take long baths.
Play computer games.
Alex: “Computer games are awesome escapism.”
Roy: “…save money by not going out”
Spend time with friends and family.
-Anne, Tom, Suzanne and Daniel
Tom: “Yeah, aren’t relationships key? (Not sure about the booze anymore, though…)”
Suzanne: “Talking to friends and family.”
Daniel: “A good night out did used to help a little. A day at the playground with my kids works just as well w/o the hangover.”
Suzanne: “Sometimes crying helps immensely. It allows you to get it out of your system.”
Get some ‘comfort food’ TV.
Bryan: “Especially for times you can’t sleep/nothing else available to do.”
Practice professional development.
Daniel: “#keltchat is another way to beat burnout.”
Bryan: “I think as I’m becoming more confident about my teaching, I’m getting more immune to (esp admin-related) burnout. But takes time.”
Advice for your former self
Alex asked if we had any advice to offer our former teacher-selves.
Anne: “Be less of a perfectionist. Students can do a lot for themselves that I did for them to make it look good. … Take a break during breaks. And be more minimal with paperwork.”
Mike: “Chill out…it’s not such a big deal.”
Suzanne: “Learn how to let go and not take things personally. If it’s not on the lesson plan, but works, fine. Bad days can happen. … And you can learn from those bad days as well!”
Bryan: “Don’t take everything so personally/feel necessary to convince ppl what they’re asking of me is wrong.”
(Alex mentioned SNIP – ‘Smile. Nod. Ignore. Proceed.’)
Georgeanna: “Take it easy. No need to ‘prove’ my professorlyness.”
Roy suggested a topic for next time: Why do some people view TEFL as a stopgap/fallback and not a career?
Tom: Fresh off the press – ‘How to love what we do’