Many of us decided to teach abroad because of the heavy workload that we had to endure in our home countries on a daily basis. What we did not envision was that working in the Middle East would come with its own set of challenges which undoubtedly can lead to teacher burnout. If you work in the private school sector in this region, the demands from school owners, school leaders and the parents are enough to leave any good teacher reeling. For those who work with the government, the constant changes in the curriculum and shifting expectations are not very easy to grapple with. A lot of teachers find themselves regretting their decision to move abroad and often many end up depressed and burnt out after the first or possibly second year of their contracts. In this article we will explore what teacher burn out looks like and what we can do to alleviate it.
What does Burnout Look like?
It is not easy to diagnose teacher burn out as it manifests itself in many different ways. For many teachers it may be the cause of them becoming physically ill. There is a constant feeling of overwhelm. You tend to feel that, even after working around the clock, you still have not done enough. You are constantly worried about about school and about how to complete every task you have to do. You may even find yourself waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep because your mind keeps racing.
Below are some of the more frequent signs that indicate that you may be suffering from teacher burn out.
- This is no ordinary exhaustion. You feel overwhelmingly tired no matter how much rest or sleep you get. The tiredness has become a part of you and you cannot remember the last time you felt completely rested. This is the kind of tired, where you just want to stay in bed and avoid any form of human contact or communication.
- Antisocial Behaviour.When you begin to deliberately avoid talking to the people closest to you. You find yourself preferring to be alone at home than being on a coffee date with one of your best friends. This is a sure sign that something is gravely wrong.
- Extreme Anxiety.The persistent, feeling that you can and should be doing something for school every time you have a free minute. The inability to really disconnect from work and connect with your spouse, children, family members or friends.
- Feeling overwhelmed.Always thinking that you could be doing more, knowing fully well that you are doing every thing you possibly could. It is that feeling of just wanting to get more done, so that you do not displease anyone or cause your superiors to pay close attention to your shortcomings. It leaves you feeling like you can never do enough.
- Loss of Creativity.Teachers are some of the most creative people on the earth, so when you begin to lose your creativity, you need to pay attention. Just wanting to complete a task for the sake of ticking a box and not putting anything creative or special into it is a sure indication that you might be burnt-out.
- You Stop Enjoying the Students. Let’s face it, we became teachers because we wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. When you get to a point in your career where you can’t stand being around the children, then it is time to really evaluate your career choice. Burn out can cause you to stop enjoying the very reason you entered the profession.
Below are some suggestions on how to get back in control of yourself and your career. They are by no means a cure-all for teacher burnout but they are simply suggestions to get you on a path to healing and loving your profession again.
Find harmony. We hear a lot about work-life balance but that may not be possible to attain. Motivational speaker, Lisa Nichols suggests that instead of striving to find work-life balance, we need to find work- life harmony, that is where all the areas of our lives work to support each other. I think that is more feasible. If you have some amount of harmony in your life you should be able to work on not only your job but yourself. It means that there will be time when the job will take precedence and other times when you focus more on yourself and your family. Try to find work-life harmony.
Take care of you first. Whenever I tell people to take care of themselves, I often remind them of the fact that on planes they advise us to put on our oxygen masks first before we assist others. It therefore means that we need to take care of ourselves first before we can give to others. Our students deserve a happy, well rested teacher and that is what we should strive to give them, no matter what.
Relationships. Faith, family and friends are vital. Take time to re-charge your “batteries”. Do not neglect any spiritual practices that you choose to follow. Always make time for family and friends, as they keep you grounded. Humans are social beings and when we neglect our relationships and become isolated we suffer, emotionally and physically.
Practice Gratitude. It may seem hard to find things to be grateful for when you are having a hard time, but practicing gratitude everyday will do wonders for your mood and mind-set. Get a journal and write down five or more things that you are grateful for everyday. Try to remain in the present as much as possible. Find ways to enjoy the simple things around you and seek joy in even the most mundane of tasks.
Do not suffer alone. This might be my biggest takeaway. Whenever you start feeling like you may be experiencing teacher burnout, you need to talk to someone. This could be a trusted colleague, your line manager, your spouse or a friend. The value in talking to someone else is that, they can help you to see things from a different perspective. They can be more objective about the issues. Many teachers feel isolated when this happens to them, talking to someone may make you aware that this is a more common occurrence than you think and that you are certainly not alone.