Every teacher can identify with feeling burned out from time to time.


But how does burnout actually begin?

Burnout doesn’t happen at the flip of a switch; it’s a slow fade that begins with some unassuming self-neglect. Self-neglect can start like a minuscule puncture in your health, causing said health to deflate slowly, but surely. (Just like that sad kickball in the P.E. closet that nobody wants to use.)

It doesn’t just happen overnight. It might start with binge-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which leads to sleep deprivation, which leads to an extra Diet Coke or coffee drink…you get the idea.

In her book Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Teachers, Elena Aguilar states: “Resilience is cultivated through hundreds of little choices every day. In order to make the best choice, you need to know yourself.”

Teachers, you can resist burnout by implementing some key practices of health and longevity into your lifestyle. It’s time to stomp out self-neglect.

1. Know Thyself

Self-awareness is essential in maintaining your health as a human and as a teacher. What motivates you? What stresses you out? In what environment are you most productive? How do you like to rest? Knowing the answers to a few questions like these will allow you to manage your time and tasks. Consider using a tool, such as the Enneagram, or another respectable personality test to explore who you are as a person and as an educator.

2. Be a Social Networker

The Blue Zones ® was founded by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, and it documents five regions of the world where people are the healthiest and have the longest life expectancies. In every single one of these regions, people are part of active social groups into their hundreds. That’s right. HUNDREDS. These social groups are often religious or spiritual in nature, which provides a sense of comfort, stress relief, and community. We weren’t made to live life in isolation. If you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to be social, consider what Oscar, Toby, and Pam did from The Office in making Finer Things Club that met during lunchtime at work.

3. Chill Out

Dan Buettner from The Blue Zones® was able to find evidence of intentional “downshifting” in each of the Blue Zones he researched. “Downshifting” refers to chilling out, relaxing, and reducing stress. (Note: Planning a happy hour checks off #2 and #3 at the same time.) On a more serious note, this means that you need to seek out ways to protect your mind and body from the stresses that teaching can have.

4. Find a Mentor Teacher

Mentoring has been around since the beginning of time, and many school buildings and districts even require it to some degree. We all know that we need to have a mentor teacher, but the logistics of making that happen often prevent us from pursuing mentoring in the first place.

Finding a mentor can be tricky, but Edutopia gives great criteria for finding the right person. Thanks to the advent of social media and smartphones, mentor teachers don’t have to live nearby. FaceTime or Zoom meetings can be really effective and provide the support and feedback we as teachers need to be healthy, reflective practitioners.

5. Be a Lifelong Learner

WOW, HOT TAKE. I know what you’re thinking. The phrase “be a lifelong learner” might bring back bad memories from teacher training standards. But hopefully by now, you know that being a lifelong learner is connected to your well-being as a human beyond your vocation as an educator. Yes, in some contexts it’s directly related to your work at school, but think broader than that.

Teachers, you can resist burnout by implementing some key practices of health and longevity into your lifestyle. It’s time to stomp out self-neglect.

Being a lifelong learner means that you’re taking care of your mind, that you’re challenging yourself to solve new problems and grow.

Lifelong learning looks different for everyone. Maybe you’re a new plant mom or you just learned how to change the oil in your car; perhaps, you’re running your first 10k. Your students will love hearing about what you’re learning or accomplishing. Maybe lifelong learning means leading your professional learning network or presenting at a conference. Perhaps it’s time to consider a role in leadership or pursuing a new endorsement.

Elena Aguilar emphasized that it’s the combination of small choices you make every day that build up either to your health or your detriment.

What choice can you make today to be a healthier teacher?

Vanessa Lane

— Vanessa Lane is the Outreach Coordinator for Graduate Education at Concordia University in Ann Arbor and can be reached at vanessa.lane@cuaa.edu. When she's not at work, she can be found taking her kids to the Hands On Museum or watching NBA basketball with her husband.

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