You’ve probably scrolled through countless social media posts of teachers and students engaging in remote learning. There are posts with teachers dressed up in costumes, really working to get their students engaged. There are posts of students in pajamas, bodies contorted in different ways as they try to make it through a virtual lesson. There seems to be a nice mix of the positive and negative in this new normal of teaching and learning. Although it seems that more schools and educators have prepared for distance teaching, it brings up another concern — distance teaching burnout. With remote learning a reality for many, it is important to recognize the warning signs of burnout and move towards its prevention. But first, what is burnout?
According to Psychology Today, “burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” With the added challenges and responsibilities of remote learning, some stress is expected but if not reduced it becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to burnout. Although signs of impending burnout can differ from person to person, they generally appear as:
- Regularly getting headaches or dizziness
- Making mistakes that are out of the ordinary
- Frequently feeling exhausted even after getting enough sleep
- Inability to focus and uninterested in activities that were once enjoyed
- Not participating or sharing ideas in class sessions or group discussions
- Quickly getting upset with self and others because of mounting pressure and frustration
Many of these signs are probably familiar. Teachers are trying to balance their professional life with their personal life, and in many cases, helping their own children with remote learning. Add stories of teachers seemingly excelling at remote learning or parents who are running an organized, focused, and “running like clockwork” home and the stress mounts. Without adequate support, some teachers who reach burnout lose the motivation to teach and leave the profession. What could be sadder than students losing a talented teacher who has the potential to inspire positive life choices?
Maybe you’ve found something that has helped you in the short time since school has started for the year — listening to music, having a healthy snack, taking a quick run around the neighborhood. But just in case you are struggling with early signs of burnout, here are ways to decrease some of the stress that comes with distance teaching.
Pointers for Preventing Burnout
- Do not compare yourself with others. Everyone has a different way of doing things that works for them. Not every strategy, tool, or technique is going to work the exact same way for you as it works for someone else. Be patient with yourself and do what you can that works for
- Focus only on TODAY. Yes, plan your virtual sessions and lessons. Yes, plan alternative activities for times and students that have spotty access to the internet. No, do not overthink things that have not happened. Work hard to avoid the anxieties of the unknown.
- Lean on your inner circle of “cheerleaders.” When feelings of doubt and discouragement begin to strike at your confidence, talk to those you trust will give you a needed boost. They will help you recognize that you have talents and strengths unique to you.
- Take breaks and refresh. Depending on the school, teachers can find themselves sitting in front of a screen for 3-4-hour blocks. This can take a toll, physically and mentally, so schedule small breaks in these blocks (your students will thank you!). Take a walk, stretch, grab another cup of coffee, do what you need for a quick ‘refresh.’
- Concentrate on quality versus quantity. You do not need to fill up every minute of a virtual lesson with your voice. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by planning activities and tasks that are long-term. Each virtual session can then center on an aspect of the task, providing meaningful feedback, and providing opportunities for your students to work in small groups (breakout rooms) while you work with one or two students.
- Regularly reach out to colleagues. If not already scheduled, meet with colleagues to talk about successes and share ideas Beyond that, keep each other laughing through this time. I’ve found that the best times I’ve had with colleagues is releasing stress through funny experiences and “teacher bloopers.” Never underestimate the joy of sharing a great teacher meme!
- Set limits and step away. Although it may seem noble to make yourself available 24-7 for any student and parent need, think about it before you commit to this. Naturally, we want to nurture healthy class relationships, but this should not be at the expense of your own emotional health and well-being. Set a time when the screen turns off and step away. If you have shared your cell number for teacher-related phone calls and texts, set a time when that will end for the day. You need downtime.
Remember to make yourself a priority before working with your students. They will benefit from a teacher who is mentally and physically balanced and healthy.
Do you have a few pointers you would like to share to prevent burnout? I would love to hear them so please feel free to add your comments.
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