The need for mental health support for teachers is more important than ever before. Even if you love your job, as I do, it can be stressful working in education. Recently I was taking a workplace assessment, clearly modeled after the MMPI (darn counselors, and their personality assessments!). One of the questions asked me to rate my opinion strongly agree to strongly disagree: “teaching would be great, if it weren’t for the students”. I stared at the question for quite some time, reading and re-reading…I couldn’t be seeing this right? Surely the question should read “Teaching would be great, if it weren’t for all the EXTRAS that limit my ability to be present WITH my students”.
I think of teacher burnout like the draining of an Iphone battery. In my mind I see that battery icon, green and full as I start each day on a fresh battery charge from the night before. Short tasks like checking email, looking at my calendar…these don’t take much energy out of my Iphone charge. But watching video’s, playing Candycrush and streaming music…those will suck the battery life way down in no time. Hmm, sounds similar to work day tasks? Energy suckers - paperwork, roadblocks, IEP meetings that don’t go according to plan, drain my internal drive to power through the school day. Drawing out all that powerful GET UP AND GO motivation, slowly turning my battery to yellow…then the dreaded red, down, down, down into…power saver….mode. Energy gains fill my internal motivational drive, keeping me powered up throughout the school day. Moments with my students are energy gains. I love to sit with them, check in on their progress, discuss their struggles and problem solve with them. These moments are like a quick power up boost, increasing that battery level a couple percentage points.
Internally we all have this battery, a certain level of energy that we begin each day with. A certain level of energy that we hope will power us through the entire day. This blog is part one of a series that is going to focus on strategies to give teachers a quick recharging boost mid school day, but I’d be missing something if I didn’t add in this question. How do you recharge to 100% each evening so that you can begin the school day whole, and ready to tackle your classroom? ….Not literally tackle your classroom…although, that may depend on what grade level you’re in.
Somewhere near the beginning of a relationship with a new teacher I am coaching we create two bubbles of thought to help guide us– energy gains and energy suckers. Identifying what fuels you is important in the prevention of teacher burnout, I’ve found that (and this is true for me too) that most teachers are motivated by the connectedness and support they feel from other teachers and administrators on their campus. I break this concept down into two categories – what actions from others increase your confidence in the connection and support you feel and what FEELINGS these actions influence. For one of my teachers, a 6th grade art teacher, this project began looking like this:
Action: When my principal asks for my opinion about a student who is having issues with tardiness in other classes, but is rarely late to my class.
Feeling resulting from this action: What I have to say is valued and important, (“I feel important and valued”) something positive is happening with this student in my room, and is different from his other classes and the principal not only noticed, but asked...”what’s up?” (“I feel encouraged and reassured that something more is being done to truly understand this issue than just suspending the student for being tardy”)
I love this quote in an article I read recently by Johanna Rauhala “even in frustration and despair, a small flame wants to warm us”. When we get to the point of burnout, when we’ve drained all of our energy and our battery is depleted it is so difficult to find energy gains large enough to make an impact. An impact strong enough to result in a complete recharge. It’s my mission to intervene long before this happens to new teachers, giving them tools to continuously recharge throughout the school day, during their time off, during staff development…whatever it takes. So? I want to know, what are your energy gains?