YOU ARE NOT A SUPERHERO: How to Avoid Teacher Burnout


In the world of fictional heroes, we see patterns of adoration, support, and acceptance. Superman can’t be near Kryptonite. Batman needs Robin to be successful. Does anyone tell Superman how to fly? What if Batman was told to help with a situation in Room 252 but not to use his gadgets? There is no superhero scenario where the hero stops what he is doing to be evaluated or told mid-crisis to try a different method. Superheroes have something that teachers are often not given, value in their autonomy and skill set. If Superman had to function within the constraints our teachers face daily, he wouldn’t survive. You are much more than a superhero; you are a teacher.

What Causes Teacher Burnout?

The time to reflect on the teacher experience has never been more needed as the desire to be a teacher is decreasing. Not only are there fewer students going to college to be an educator since 2009, but for those who choose this profession, approximately 25% of teachers who make it into the classroom leave by their 5th year, with 8% of teachers walking away each year. In addition, there is an increasing need for people in this profession, and a shortage in cities throughout the United States. There is an education crisis, and it can be summed up in two words: teacher burnout. Why is this once respected, growing career path experiencing such a decline? Low salary, lack of support, and constant focus on standardized tests are the main reasons teachers are feeling stressed and devalued. Teachers need to be respected to feel effective and valuable.

Have You Checked on A Teacher Today?

It is valuable when you reach out to another person and let them know you are thinking of them. We do this often for those we love, but have you checked on a teacher today? Too often it is an expectation for teachers to deal with their students, parents, co-workers, curriculum, extra-curricular activities, etc. without any mention of a job well-done. The picture of teachers as people who have short workdays and a lot of vacation time is outdated and harmful to the profession. Teachers are counselors, educators, problem-solvers, peacemakers, and life-changers every day of their careers. As with all helping professions, it is important that the person giving all they have is nourished. As a community who needs teachers, it’s our role to take the time to check on those who are the leaders in the classroom. Our part in preventing teacher burnout is to ensure those growing the minds leading us into the future are in a good place emotionally and mentally and feel supported enough to stay in the classroom.

Teachers, Do You Have a Lois Lane?

Who do you go to when you want to talk? This person should recognize your value and enjoy being the person you go to for support. Engage in self-reflection with your teacher advocate and with yourself. Why did you want to teach in the first place? Remember the ideals that brought you to the classroom. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and nourish the part of you that desires to help others. Stay positive.

Birds of A Feather

The people who understand you best are other teachers. Be wise in choosing your support group. Students are constantly urged to pick healthy peers, don’t forget to follow your own advice. Schools don’t need any more teacher’s lounge drama, and you don’t need it either. Join an educator group.

To combat the teacher burnout crisis, we have an initiative designed to support successful educators and share their great advice with others seeking to achieve the same great results. We call this our PRO Educator Recognition and Network. Recently, we asked our PROs what they do to avoid burnout and stay inspired all year-long. Here are some of their tips:

During tough times I do something for me, such as get my nails done, get a massage, or coffee with a friend. The other thing I do is to plan a special theme day around an objective in my classroom. For example, I have had “Pizzeria Day” during a unit about teaching fractions; students create paper pizzas and make fractions with the toppings! Making my lessons engaging and memorable gives me a boost on difficult days.

Beth Kelly, Woodstock Elementary School, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA

My students and I have monthly individual conferences about where they are and where they need to be. We share obstacles and we celebrate - even small successes. Each student has their own plan and goal that we revisit it each and every month. I love to see all the high fives, dance moves, and faces light up when my students meet their monthly goal!

Nicole Hawthorne, Terrebonne Parish School District, LA

One of my favorite ways to keep motivated during the long winter months is to sit down with my kids and their data notebooks. We look at where they started and where they are now and can always find something to celebrate. We then set goals to finish out the year strong!

Sarah Hamm, Fleming County Board of Education

I stay inspired during the year by spending a great deal of time flipping my classroom. I let the students lead discussions and enjoy listening to their knowledge especially when it comes to the topics of the Achieve3000 articles. A flipped classroom inspires me because the students grow throughout the year and you can see it so plainly. I avoid burn out because of course, it makes my job easier and less stressful when the students are leading the way.

Amy Brown, Deane Bozeman School, Bay, FL

I have Fun Friday activities at least once a month to help with both student and teacher burnout. Scrabble, UpWord, Apples to Apples, Boggle, and other games are fun ways to get kids having fun and break-up the monotony of class.

Maria Luevanos, Mission Middle School, Escondido Union School District, CA

I love to attend conventions, workshops, and training sessions, or collaborate with other teachers whenever I can because it allows me to create and implement new and impactful lessons! I just attended the Technology conference in Miami and am already integrating FlipGrid, GimKit, Google Classroom, and Virtual and Augmented reality activities like Google Expeditions and Merge Cube into my lessons!

Amy Carr, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, Glades County, FL

The way I stay inspired is by treasuring the small moments I share with my students. I have celebrated with a student who just had to share that her mom was going to have a baby. I have compared race-track length, style, loops, speed of the cars with another student. I have experienced an archery competition with another, and I have cried with a student who lost his father. I treasure all of these moments because we get to see others as people, not just teachers and students. I think this is an important part of our job as educators. We need to be inspired by each student's curiosity, passion, hobby, ideas, and feelings. We need to remember that they need us to be interested in them on a personal level because that is how we can make a connection with our students!

Laura Burgess, White County Middle School, White County, GA

The toughest teaching month for me is February. It's the middle of winter, the shine of winter break has worn off, and spring break is still over two months away. The kids are stir-crazy, and so am I. Every. Single. February. I start off by reminding myself that I am in charge of what happens in the room. If I want happy kids, I need to put the effort in. It's easy (for me) to get lazy and just assume things should work because I've done all the legwork to create great classroom communities. When I transfer plans from one year to the next, I write in my planner that I need to do a temperature check on February 1, to make sure that I'm not letting things slide. I usually do a new seating chart for all of my classes and often move the desks around. My co-teacher and I also try to take field trips to the library and have traded rooms with other teachers—just for a change of scenery. We also do a video project where the kids have to choose an article from Achieve3000 Literacy and report on the information in the article by taking a video with their phones and using action figures and toys as the "actors" in the article.

Kelly Mann, Bolingbrook High School, Valley View 365U, IL

To avoid burn out during the school year, I enjoy spending time with my students during lunch, recess, etc. Eating lunch or watching your students play on the playground helps build relationships and helps you get to know your students on a different level than what class time allows.

Kammara Scott, Park Avenue Elementary, Danville Public Schools, VA

You Are a Teacher

You are more than a superhero; you are a teacher. You don’t fly, or shoot a web from your hand to travel, you change lives. Your impact on each student’s life affects the lives of multi-thousands of people across generations. Our world, country, community’s success is dependent on you. Take care of yourself and be patient as we learn to take better care of you. You make a difference not only in the lives of students, but in the lives of those who teach now, and those who choose this profession in the future. Unlike the fictional superheroes that entertain us, we cannot survive without YOU. Despite challenges and obstacles, you thrive. May your example light the way for future educators to follow, and society, as we learn to be better people by watching you.

To learn more about teacher burnout, please check out the following resources:

The Current State of Teacher Burnout in America

Fifty Percent of Teachers Say They Have Considered Quitting

Twenty Percent of Teachers Say They Plan to Leave in Two Years

Teachers in Crisis

Combating Teacher Burnout