Burning Out or Up

Can we talk about teacher burnout for a second? I need to admit something: I am feeling it this year. Hardcore. I find myself in an unusual and uncomfortable place. Rather than waking up Monday mornings refreshed, revived, and excited for the week ahead, I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and a general sense of malaise. Ennui has come to nest this year, and I don’t know how to get rid of it.

I’ve read hundreds of articles about self-care over the years. I take time out of every morning to begin the day with my yoga practice. I read lots of great books, go on fun dates with my husband, take family vacations. All of the things that matter greatly to me as a human are incorporated into my free time regularly. None of it helps.

So, why can’t I snap out of this funk? I think part of it is adjusting to a new district where things are vastly different, and I feel alone in a sea of people. The difference between spending five years with students and colleagues whom I came to know and love and spending a couple of months with people and students I barely know and who barely know me is discomfiting. I miss being known. I miss being loved.

I know that sounds silly, but relationships are the whole point of teaching, and I am really missing those solid relationships I spent five years building with students. That, combined with giant classes (some double that of my old norm), a tiny portable, waaaay more papers to grade than ever before, and more preps, makes me feel like I am drowning in the paperwork and minutiae and not spending nearly enough time connecting with kids.

When I stand at the front of my classroom this year, I feel worse than I did as a first year teacher. In my first year, I expected to be uncomfortable. I expected to feel out of place. After years of becoming comfortable in my place, finding my voice, and gaining respect, I now feel out of place, silenced, and disrespected. And it hurts.

I want to say, “Don’t you know me? Don’t you know how much I care about each and every one of you? How much I love teaching?” to my students who roll their eyes at me or my administrators who have yet to identify my strengths. But the answer to that question, sadly, is no. They don’t know me. Not yet. And I know it’s up to me to earn that respect, to build those relationships, to become known. But this general feeling of malaise and apathy is making it terribly difficult for me right now. How can I go on? Why should I?

And that is the worst part: I am questioning myself as a teacher. I have always known from the minute I stood in front of my first classroom full of students that teaching was my passion, my calling, my creative outlet, my chance to make a difference in people’s lives, to inspire, to encourage, to motivate, to cultivate the change I wished to see in the world. But now I stand in front of my classroom and I just feel very sad.

My students don’t know any of this, of course. They see the same teacher I have been every year: passionate, committed, friendly, funny. I show up every day ready and willing to do the best I can. But I can’t help feeling like my best isn’t good enough. I don’t know how to push through the burnout.

The statistics are alarming, and I don’t want to become one of the 50% who leave the profession within five years. I have always known my place in this system, as broken as I think it may be, but I am struggling right now. I need answers that I am not sure anyone else can give me.

I do know this: I would rather be ashes than dust, as Jack London’s credo proclaims. The burning hurts, but it means we are trying. It means we are feeling. Sometimes it even means we are failing. I am committed to finding a way through to the point where I am back to being on fire for teaching.

Maybe everything that matters in life is a fire, and we get to choose the way we burn: out or up.

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