Monday, September 10, 2012

How To Stave off Burn Out and Stay An Effective Teacher

The turnover rate for new teachers is nearly 50% within the first five years. This is a big problem, because the field needs its teachers to stay around long enough to become masters and mentors. The biggest problems that effect this turnover include money and burnout (there are others obviously, but these stand out). Now, as a classroom teacher, I can't do much to help in the money aspect, but I can say that as a young, 31 year old professional who has been at it for 8 years, I can say that I feel good about my compensation, and that it's competitive with what it would be in a lot of other fields, granted that I won't have the lifetime earnings of a lot of other fields that require a college education, but nobody goes in to teaching to become rich.

OK, that aside, the issue is burn out. I see it every day. Teachers work with the students directly for the school hours (in my case, 8:00-2:30). We usually get about 40 minutes for lunch and an average of around 45 minutes of planning time built in there, plus the fact that our contract hours in my district are from 7:45-3:15, so we get 15 minutes before and 45 minutes after school. Yet, on top of this time, many teachers find it necessary to either work late, or take their work home.

This touches on my first point as to how to stave off burn out, something I've done a pretty good job so far, and I've beat the five year burn out and quit rate, so I feel like that's something (stop laughing at me those of you with 20+ years under your belts). Don't take it home. I consider myself a teacher between the hours of 7:30 and say 4:00. I usually do some phone calls or text messages to parents after school, and then when I arrive at home, I'm no longer a teacher, I'm me. I'm a normal guy who likes to watch cartoons with my kids, drink too much Mountain Dew, and sit down to nice quiet evenings of Breaking Bad, Hoarders, The Walking Dead, and any other mindless television entertainment once my kids are in bed. I don't want grading papers to get in the way.

BUT HOW DO YOU DO THIS you're asking??? It's simple. Don't grade everything. Think about this for a second. There's really no reason to grade every single assignment. In my math class, for example, I teach new content, and the kids practice it for awhile. Eventually I give an assessment, and we analyze what they learned. I try to be strategic in what I grade. I'll grade a few things here and there to make sure that they're picking up the material and doing it appropriately, but I don't beat myself over the head with grading. It's practice, let it stay practice. Plus, the kids will work just as hard, and will be more intrinsically motivated if they know that practice is just about getting better and learning, and the pressure of a grade isn't constantly over their head (until test time, then the pressure is ON).

Next up, there's the issue of feeling constantly under pressure from administration, other teachers, test scores, etc. Yes, we all want to perform well at our jobs, or at least well enough to keep our jobs (hopefully). I take my task as teacher very seriously, as most teachers do. BUT, remember, parents are the first teachers. 99% of the time, your successful students are successful because they have strong parents who follow through and are raising them right. Am I saying that sometimes you get that kid from a bad home that there's no saving? Of course I'm not going to come right out and say that, but you do what you can, and hope you had an impact. By obsessing over test scores or having "too much to do at work," you just cause more problems for yourself. I take each day as it is, if I have a meeting, then ok, I'll be there and be focused, but again, when it's over and I leave the school, I'm done, my day is over.

I can sit here and discuss many different aspects, but it's simple. Keep work at work and home at home. This is especially true if you have a family, but is true for everyone, even single people. You need that time to decompress. Teaching may not be as physically demanding as working in construction or something like that, but it's emotionally and mentally draining, even on a good, issues free day. You're spending all day with other peoples children, trying to help them learn what they need to get along in life, and it's tough, important work. But have some levity, a good sense of humor, and truly care about your students.

Leave work at work (even if you don't want to or feel uncomfortable), and you'll be forced to make decisions about how to best use your time. The teachers that work during evenings or take things home are sometimes not making those decisions. If they're happy doing it, then great, but if they feel overwhelmed, then decide not to work outside of contract hours, and you'll be forced to decide what's important. I got this decision from someone years ago and have followed it ever since. I enter my classroom most days with a smile on my face and I leave with the smile mostly intact (most days). I don't take a bag home, never have, never will. I've learned to be more efficient about grading and the use of my planning time. I grade a lot while students work on projects (times they don't need me other than to facilitate), when they're at lunch, or special classes (PE, music, etc.). Find the time to get things done, if you don't, they'll still be there the next day.

I hope this advice is helpful. Remember, teaching is what you make it. Just because you watched your own teachers do this and that doesn't mean it's what you should be doing. Good luck out there, and don't burn out, it's only September!

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