Burnout, Building Blocks, and Wings

Most teachers feel, at one point or another in their careers, the dreaded BURNOUT.You may not even know you’re suffering from burn-out until it’s too late, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your own attitude and health.Teachers aren’t used to keeping watch over themselves, but we are just as important as our students and our families!

In the Jan-Feb 1995 issue of Instructor magazine, Dr. Judy Downs Lombardi, a professor at the University of Texas, listed these symptoms of possible teacher burnout…

  • You’re bored with teaching and don’t feel there’s anything more to learn about your job.
  • You bristle at suggestions of new ways to teach.
  • You dream of perfection and judge your professional performance without mercy.
  • You are plagued by the feeling that you should be doing more at school, even though you’re working hard.
  • . . . You feel more comfortable doing paperwork than interacting with students, colleagues, and parents.
  • You can’t remember why you went into teaching – or find yourself saying, ‘If only I hadn’t majored in education.’
  • Teaching isn’t fun for you any more, and you complain about it incessantly.You take your frustrations home and can’t get them out of your mind.
  • You count the days until the next break or summer vacation.
  • You worry excessively about your students and their problems.
  • You don’t take good care of yourself.You eat poorly, don’t get enough sleep, have let hobbies lapse, resort to unhealthy outlets for stress, and so on.

Add to Dr. Lombardi’s list the fact that you have been missing days because you just don’t feel like going to school, or that you’re having difficulty eating or sleeping, or that you do not feel safe in your classroom any more, and you just might have a problem.

If any of these sound like you, Dr. Lombardi has a list of suggestions as to what you need to do, right now!

  • Overhaul your job. Make a list of routine or tedious tasks you do as part of your job and come up with creative new ways to tackle them.Even tasks that seem fun-resistant can become more satisfying if you give free reign to your imagination.
  • Challenge yourself to keep learning.Even if you’re a veteran, there’s always more to learn about teaching.
  • Collaborate with colleagues.. . . Colleagues can provide helpful feedback and reassurances.
  • Try changing grade levels.
  • Give yourself permission to be less than perfect. Too many teachers believe that none of their successes count if they have one failure.Accept that teaching is difficult and challenging.Pain and failure will always be part of the profession, just as joy and success will be.Keep in mind that you can only thrive if you give yourself room to make mistakes and learn from them.

Dr. Lombardi’s suggestions are good ones. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself a break. You’ll feel better, and when YOU feel better, your students will feel better, too. I especially like her first suggestion… let’s not be afraid to be silly sometimes. This, of course, never happens in our office when we take breaks to have potato gun fights, play with new science toys or just divide the office into two team to play dodge ball.

Remember that teachers can’t save all of their students from society’s ills.Teachers can’t solve all of their students’ problems.All we can do is try to equip each of our students with a good solid background in facts, and the ability to take those facts and make wings with them.Teachers can’t guarantee that any student WILL make wings, but we can make sure that we’ve done our best to ensure that if the day ever comes, when a student wants wings, that student will have the building blocks to make them.

Building blocks are best remembered when we’ve enjoyed making them.One of our goals at SteveSpanglerScience.com is to give teachers (and parents, for all parents are also teachers) some hints, and some ideas for inexpensive and memorable ways to help our students not only learn science, but remember it as well. And not merely learn and remember it, but also ENJOY it!

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