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Burnout occurs often in the field of teaching. Rarely does it have anything to do with the children that we teach. Usually, it has to do with decisions made by non-teachers and the ever increasing paperwork that comes with those decisions.
I went through two burnouts during my teaching career. I survived one and continue teaching for many years afterward. The second burnout resulted in my early retirement. I am sharing them with you so that you know that you are not alone.
My first burnout occurred at the beginning of my tenth year of teaching. My district was headed into the second major strike of my career and I was my sole support. The strike was about the same old thing – benefits, pay increases, and class size. My district had the highest class size in my part of the state and they wanted to increase it to 35 students. We never had enough supplies or books for the class size we already had so an increase would have been a nightmare. I felt that I couldn’t continue teaching much longer under these circumstances, but I also knew that I couldn’t just up and quit. I needed a plan.
Phase one of my plan was to find ways to reduce my stress while teaching. I began walking every work day until I was up to almost two miles a day. I decided that a new hobby might help so I enrolled in a Czech beading class at a local junior college. Creating jewelry using seed beads got my creative juices flowing and became a sort of meditation. But I still felt that I needed to consider another profession.
Phase two began when I enrolled in an associate degree program in computer programming at a local college. This served two purposes. It would prepare me for a potential career change and, if I decided to remain a teacher, it would give me a pay raise. The challenge of learning new things was just what I needed. Finishing the program would take two years and that was a short enough time to remain in the classroom and remain sane.
Phase three came when I had my degree and I began looking for employment outside of teaching. After an information gathering meeting with a supervisor of a programming department in a large bank that a friend had arranged I felt quite defeated. You see the supervisor apparently didn’t understand that I wanted information, not an interview. I don’t think that he had much respect for teachers because of the questions that he asked, but I didn’t let him stop me from looking for a new job I went through the application and interview process at another firm and was offered a job. The problem was that I would have to take a $10,000 a year pay cut. That was a deal breaker. After contacting several other companies for a position, I realized that a large pay cut is what I would need to take to leave teaching. And so I came to the next phase.
Phase four was a reevaluation of my entire life. I realized that much of the problem was my personal life. I had thrown myself into my job and then into a change of careers so I didn’t have to deal with the real problem. What I finally realized was that part of my burnout was me. Because I couldn’t take a large pay cut and still support myself I continued to teach but with far less stress because I knew how to let things go.
My final burnout began in my 29th year of teaching. I was enjoying the classes I was teaching, but my administrators were seeking to move into central administration so they enforced every edict that came from the superintendent’s office even if it would harm the students. In addition, they wanted no one to question any changes or speak up if the changes were not in the best interest of the children. The stress was brutal. Having lived through one burnout, I knew that I needed a plan.
The summer before my 30th year I consulted with a financial adviser who told me how much I would receive each month from my state pension. I went into my final year of teaching knowing that I could retire at the end of the year if I needed to. Things got worse that year and so I put in my retirement papers at the end of the year.
In summary, it is possible to survive burnout if the problem is how you are handling your reaction to stress as I did. But be sure that the stress is manageable if you stay. My final burnout and my early retirement came when I realized that I couldn’t remain complicit in harming my students by following the directions of administrators who only wanted to move up the chain of command.