By: Lori Foxwell:
Through hard work and determination, I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a teacher. I have my master’s degree in education and have taught young children for over twenty years. I am a proud mom, wife, and lover of all thing’s cats. Most of all, I am lucky to be surrounded by some wonderful people! Their unwavering support has helped me throughout my life and during the many twists and turns of my career as an educator.
A-Absence of any work/life balance. As a teacher, my plate is overflowing, and nothing is ever taken off. There is no way I ever feel that my work is done. I bring work home, work on the weekends, work on my days off, take personal days off to get schoolwork done, work during bereavement leave, and work during my unpaid summer vacation. My school to-do list is never done. It is highly suggested from the school gods above that I should rest during the evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers but I still get school-related emails at all hours of the day and night. When actions and words don’t match, the words feel hollow and meaningless. Maintaining a work/life balance feels unattainable when the work is piled higher and higher, and nothing is ever taken off in its place to lessen the burden. Self-care, self-care, is what we’re always told as a solution to this imbalance. However, self-care feels like another job when I am already so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from being a teacher.
B-Burned out and broken is how I feel in a nutshell. Yes, nutshell, it’s not just a pun here, it’s how I feel like a person right now. I literally feel like an empty shell of a person. I have been overworked and overstressed as a teacher for so many years now, that I feel a sense of mental, physical, and emotional collapse. I have given for so long; I feel empty inside!
C-Cranky is how I feel most of the time. I feel that I have lost my overall sense of positivity and happiness. I am always just so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted and drained that I am easily irritated by even the littlest of things. When I look in the mirror, I want to feel proud of the person I am. Not just the outer person, because she has been looking ragged due to overall exhaustion, but the inner person. Living my life in a cranky state of mind is not how I choose to continue living.
D-Dreaming at night about teaching, which leaves me feeling drained and exhausted when I wake up. I dream of all the things I need to do and worry about how I can ever get them all done. Even sleep doesn’t allow me to take a break from my teacher’s worries. I never wake up and feel well-rested because my teacher’s brain is on 24/7.
E- Exhausted is how I feel emotionally, physically, and mentally. Over the years, I have spent countless weekends in bed trying to rest and recover from my school week, while using the rest of the weekend in preparation for the week ahead. Summer vacation usually provides me with enough time for self-care and overall mental, emotional, and physical recovery. Unfortunately, the time provided during this past summer vacation did not cut it. After my hybrid teaching experience in early 2021, there was no coming back. The word exhausted didn’t even seem like a big enough word to describe how burned-out I felt after teaching virtually and in-person simultaneously, while also trying to navigate the pandemic for my own family!
F-Frustrated with the overall school experience of today! I started teaching many years ago and I have seen it change over the years. The fun and excitement of learning have become overshadowed by testing, testing, and more testing! Students have become numbers and data instead of individuals with differing needs and talents. Seeing students cry as they are taking tests in which I am unable to console them is excruciating. This data-driven system chips away at their genuine love and joy of learning and of my love and joy of teaching.
G-Guilt, just guilt! Choosing to leave teaching, has left me feeling so very guilty. I feel like I am letting so many people down including my students and their parents, my colleagues, and my administration. Leaving this profession means the one I choose is me and that is so hard, it feels selfish. Daily, I must remind myself that I am important, and my family needs me also. I should not feel guilty about deciding to take care of and preserve my mental, emotional, and physical self but the teacher’s guilt is real!
H-Heartbroken! I have dreamed of being a teacher since I was a little girl. I never thought college was possible for me, due to finances, but with student loans, I did it. I thought this would be my forever career because I always loved working with children. Teaching has changed so much over the years. It literally feels like the joy I used to have of teaching, has just been sucked right out of me. The in-humane expectations of being a teacher have weighed so heavily on my heart, it literally feels shattered!
I-Identity crises! Being a teacher has been an integral part of my identity, just as being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, niece, and granddaughter. Questioning being a teacher feels like I am questioning my own identity.
J-Jaded is a word that describes how I currently feel about teaching. I used to see teaching through rose-colored glasses. I was excited, hopeful, joyful, and positive about my career choice. I loved this profession and gave it everything I had. However, as each year of teaching passed, I became increasingly fatigued, stressed, overworked, taken advantage of, and disrespected. All these things made it difficult for me to see and feel the positives I once saw and felt.
K-Kids are at the heart of why teachers do their job every day. Personally, I have always been captivated by the innate curiosity of the young learner. My genuine love for watching children learn, grow and flourish propelled me to pursue my childhood dream of being a teacher. When I created my teaching portfolio and wrote my philosophy of education, I said that I would always give my all to all my students. This was a commitment I made to myself and to my students. To explain my feelings to my loved ones, I describe myself as a dying plant, with my leaves crunchy, dull, unhealthy, and brown. I have, just the tiniest bit of green left on one of my leaves. If I continue to give every day beyond my means, pouring from an empty bucket, my plant won’t have any green left, with little to no hope for regrowth and rejuvenation. I am currently in self-preservation mode. I know if I choose now, I can save myself and allow my leaves to become greener, healthier, more supple, and eventually shine again. In short, my students deserve more than I can give them, and I deserve more than I have been giving myself.
L-Lost, I literally feel lost. I have been down Burned-Out Road several times before. Each time I made some tweaks to help me continue down my teaching path. I also took several side streets like tutoring and presenting in an anti-bullying program. Taking these side streets allowed me to still work with children while taking me out of my role as a classroom teacher for a bit. Every time, however, I made the U-turn and went back to teaching in the classroom. Teaching was my childhood dream, and it is what I loved for so long. However, this current trip on Burned-Out Road feels different. I realize that this road is full of too many intentional obstacles, hurdles, potholes, and pitfalls. This road was an unhealthy choice for me, and it was taking me directly to a destination that I was unwilling to make which included losing myself! I will put myself on a new road to head into a new direction which, of course, feels scary.
M-Memories, so many memories made over the course of my career that when revisited, awaken a spectrum of emotions within me. These memories have accumulated over the years during my work with children in a countless number of capacities. I have worked as a nanny, childcare provider in my own home, daycare teacher, teaching assistant, tutor of children ranging in grades K-8, childcare locater for parents, summer camp counselor, support professional for several after-school programs, a presenter in an anti-bullying program, and Pre-K-2nd teacher in varying school settings. Not to mention that my teaching experience includes differing districts in differing states. Through all these experiences, I have and cherish many wonderful memories. However, I also have some disturbing memories which, I’m sure, have only accelerated my journey to Burned-Out Road.
N-Neglecting to take care of my own physical needs during the school day because I don’t have the time and neglecting to take care of these same needs at home because I am too exhausted. Just using the restroom when needed seems like a luxury to a teacher!
O-Overburdened, overwhelmed, and overextended (lots of overs) all rolled up into one. These feelings have been burdening me for so long that I am literally trying to save myself from breaking. I feel like I am expected to be a superhero every day, all the time. I do not have a cape garnered with superpowers to help me manage these burdens. If I did, maybe I could continue this career path. The burdens and expectations placed on the teachers of today are unrealistic and often lead them to the path of burn-out, which according to my inner GPS, is my current location.
P-Pouring my heart, mind, body, and soul into my teaching for such a prolonged period that I genuinely feel empty. I feel that I have nothing left to give. My own personal bucket is empty!
Q-Questioning my choice of career path and my ability to quickly adapt to another career path so I can continue to take care of my family. I have taught for so long, it’s what I know best. I often ask myself, “What else can I do, I’m a teacher?”
R-Rattled by a multitude of decisions that are deeply concerning, made by people above me in the schools, districts, counties, states, and government. Many times, decisions are made by people who have never worked a day in any classroom, or who have left the classroom and quickly forgot what it was like in the trenches.
S-Sadness! My tears have started to visit me daily before, during, and after work. I have tried my best to hide my tears from my students, co-workers, and family. My sadness is affecting me physically as well. Regularly, I have been experiencing anxiety, stomach aches, nausea, headaches, heart palpitations, shaking/trembling, exhaustion, panic attacks, and the feeling that I can’t breathe. Trying to get a calming breath at school, when I have a panic attack, has become more complicated when wearing a mask. It is also complicated because I do not have access in my classroom to an outside door or window to open, even for just a quick breath of fresh air, and I certainly am not able to leave my classroom, even for a moment when I am responsible for students. I tell myself to be strong but… Why do I have to be so strong every day? Why should my job be making me feel this way daily? How long am I going to let this profession negatively affect my health? If something happens to me, who is going to take care of my family? Why are these feelings acceptable to me? If someone else told me they were feeling this way, I would tell them, “Follow a different path and find your happiness because life is too short.” Finally, I think it’s time for me to take my own advice
T-Take, take, until they break! Is this the slogan of our education system regarding its teachers? Since day one as a teacher, I have taken money from my own wallet, from my own family budget, to buy supplies for my students who didn’t have any, expecting nothing in return. Most teachers go into classrooms furnished with nothing but the very basics, such as student desks, student chairs, a table or two if you’re lucky, boards to write on, some technology (which doesn’t always function properly), and curricula to teach. If I were assigned a classroom with one or more shelves, I would get excited. A rocking chair would make me feel ecstatic, books for a classroom library would make me feel elated, and some manipulatives, well that would put me over the top! As teachers, we want to provide a welcoming environment for our students, and to do that we use money from our own pockets. If parents, visitors, and students saw the classroom staged with only the materials provided to us by the school system, they would be astonished, to say the least. To do my own job properly, over the years, I have spent thousands of my own dollars to purchase my own classroom supplies, shelves, functioning laptops, dry erase boards, classroom library books, manipulatives, and so much more! It is the giving nature of us as teachers to want to provide our students with the optimum learning environment. Unfortunately, our giving nature has also enabled us to be exploited and taken advantage of. There’s that word taken again. Yes, I have many wonderful memories with many students over the years. Unfortunately, this profession has taken more away from me than I am willing to give.
U-Unable and unwilling to continue my toxic relationship with teaching. No more side streets and no more U-turns. I’m out and I will not be turning back! I delight in the prospect of finding a more pleasant road on which to travel. I have faith that my inner GPS will help guide me there.
V-Victimized as a pawn in the education game, a cog in the education machine, and a puppet in the education show. I began my teaching career thinking I had the power to make changes for the better in education. I tried to fight for my students’ rights and my rights so many times. Most times, I felt that I was speaking to a brick wall, with no one listening to me. My voice felt so minuscule that I felt my words were unimportant. I came to the realization that to the education system; I am just a teacher. I am not an administrator, a superintendent, a politician, an upscale education company, or a corporate investor. I feel very dispensable, even with all my education and experience. I will not be a victim of the education system anymore. Our teachers and our children deserve so much more. I will still cheer from the sidelines for the rights of all people in all school buildings, but I can no longer be a pawn in this game.
W-Weak every day of the week. I was so burned out that I simply didn’t have any energy, even doing the bare minimum. It felt as though my brain was on overload and I couldn’t even think clearly. As a result, I simply wasn’t enjoying life anymore and I finally decided a career change was what I needed to help restore my energy and my life’s balance.
X-Xerox copies are what teachers sometimes make for their students. Xerox copies should not be the expectation of us as professionals. We are all different, in no way identical. Yes, we all go into our classrooms and are expected to teach from an assigned set of curricula, but our approaches are varied. We are not robots who just regurgitate the instructions from a teacher manual to our students, which is very insulting by the way. We are so much more than that; we are college graduates, who have been trained as educators. I am an educated professional who is a creative and talented individual. In many other professions, with my level of college education, I would be trusted and given the creative freedom to meet the desired expectations and goals of my job. Unfortunately, the creative freedoms of teachers have been chipped away over the years by testing, data gathering, benchmarks, and more testing. Learning should be fun, it’s what keeps our students and us engaged. For our world to positively evolve, we need creative thinkers, innovators, people who inspire, and individuals who think outside the box. We should be celebrating our differences, individuality, and our creativity. Creative teachers help to inspire creativity in our students. Diminishing my creativity as a teacher has made me feel more mechanical and less like the unique individual I am.
Y-Yearning to feel different about teaching. I always hope that a new day, a new week, a new school year, a new group of students, a new school, a new grade, teaching in a new state, teaching in a new county, will make a difference for me, but it just doesn’t. I yearn to feel happiness in a career again, to be able to leave work at work (for the most part), to turn off my 24/7 teacher brain. I yearn to have energy after work to want to cook a healthy dinner, take a walk, or maybe go to a Zumba class! Yes, I am aware that all work is tiring but being a teacher feels like I need to deny the fact that I am human.
Z-ZZZ…is for my aspiration to obtain more adequate sleep, which I hope to get now that this burned-out teacher is on the hunt for a new career path.