I'm Burned Out On Teaching. Now What?
If you’re reading this article, I imagine that you’re on the fence about staying a teacher. Maybe you’ve been in the classroom for a year, two, or as was the case with me, four. The fact is, however, that you feel burned out, defeated, finished, etc. Is there a way to shake this feeling and move on? Or is it time to pack it up?
First of all, you’re not alone. Research shows that approximately 17% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years on the job. That means that at this very moment, other teachers at your school are having the same thoughts as you. In this article, we’ll use the experience of teachers who left (and stayed) to help you figure out your next steps.
Stick It Out?
Your first instinct may be to stick it out. Sometimes things do improve, as I learned during my first two years of teaching. If I had left then, I would have never been able to help make my school into the wonderful place it is today.
If you want to remain a teacher, there’s good news! There are ways to heal from burnout, and I suggest you give them a try before making any big decisions.
Yet for every teacher who leaves, there comes a moment. For me, that moment was something my principal said. It wasn’t criticism about my work, or anything negative at all. Yet when I walked back into my classroom, I knew I was done. If that moment should happen to you, don’t ignore it. Admit that it’s time to go, and start making a plan for a graceful exit.
The Lesson: Give yourself a semester (or a year) to try these techniques and see if they work for you.
Making a Graceful Exit
While putting in your two weeks’ notice is common practice in corporate America, it simply doesn’t fly in the school setting. Why? As a teacher, you are responsible for children, many of whom will find your sudden departure (and adjusting to a new teacher) upsetting.
If you want to keep the drama to a minimum, and ensure that your principal will act as a job reference for you in the future, your only real options are leaving at the end of the semester or the end of the year. Quitting during summer break is also acceptable, as long as you give your principal at least one month to find a replacement. Do anything else and you will burn a lot of bridges. (There are always exceptions, as if you are leaving to take care of a sick parent, or your spouse’s job requires you to move during the middle of the year.)
In my case, I told my principal in late September that I had decided not to come back in January. Two weeks later I told my coworkers during a meeting. After that, the students found out. (Students will always find out, so don’t try to keep the fact you’re leaving a secret.) I talked about it to all my classes, something that felt more difficult than telling my principal. The rest of the semester allowed me to ‘close the book’ on teaching. During this time, I worked hard to ensure that my academic standards and student expectations did not slip.
The Lesson: Finish strong.
Transitioning between teaching and another career is never easy, but the options are there. From the courtroom to the boardroom, former teachers apply their skills in dozens of fields. Many ex-teachers remain in education, performing roles other than teaching.
No matter where your life takes you, develop and implement a plan of action before you leave teaching: start sending out resumes, go on interviews, do some deep soul searching, etc.
Even with a plan, it may still take a long time before you find a job that fits your skill set. This is especially true for readers who, like me, started their careers teaching and have no other frame of reference.
Once you leave teaching, you’ll occasionally wonder whether you should go back to it. The answer is different for everyone. Maybe you’ll find success at a different school, district, or state. This happens more often than you would think, and for some ex-teachers, returning to the classroom is the right decision.
I sincerely hope that this article and the resources within have helped you put your burnout in perspective, and given you a few tools to fight it. Remember that burn out happens to every teacher, and no matter what decisions you make because of it, there are many people who you can turn to for advice.
Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and consultant in the education field. He lives in Northern California. You can learn more about Thomas on his website.