Updated article originally published December 10, 2020.
Burnout can be a dangerous mental health condition. If you feel like you’re struggling with burnout, you are not alone. This article contains strategies that may be useful, as well as links to mental health resources. Please do not hesitate to seek help.
For the first time, a significant number of instructors who have spent years relying on traditional assessment methods had to abruptly shift their teaching style, assessing students entirely online. Remote education is not a completely new landscape. Still, the change in pace and volume of assessment required for online learning and the fatigue caused by remote teaching have led to instructors facing unprecedented burnout.
Fortunately, there are methods that instructors can use to manage themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. In this post, we will offer effective strategies to help you feel less overwhelmed, including: lesson planning suggestions, tips on remote instruction, and information on how to organize yourself for working and learning from home.
Signs of Instructor Burnout
The danger of teaching burnout is that it’s insidious—it creeps into your physical, mental, and emotional well-being and goes unnoticed until significant health changes appear. Recognizing the signs and taking action before severe effects take hold is essential.
Signs of Teaching Burnout
- A lack of enthusiasm and energy—just going through the motions and cycles of teaching
- More than the usual fatigue and exhaustion at the end of the day, or waking up feeling exhausted
- Failure to check necessary equipment/materials and ignoring small details
- A decrease in passion for teaching that students and colleagues themselves can recognize
- Arriving at the classroom (physical or virtual) at the last minute before it starts and leaving immediately
- Dealing with boredom related to the course content and a lack of commitment to the material
- Difficulty focusing on students’ questions and ignoring their comments
- Forgetting student’s names and essential details about their personalities, needs, and abilities
- Loss of humor and the inability to smile when teaching
- A sense of dread when getting out of bed
Experiencing any one of these symptoms is not due to personality flaws or a “bad attitude”: they’re signs that you’re dealing with teaching burnout, and it’s time to take urgent stock of your self-care.
Practical Tips to Deal with Teaching Burnout
Fortunately, you are not alone, and strategies exist for handling teaching burnout when teaching remotely. The most effective way to start this process is to take a step back and examine both your approach to teaching and your routine.
Most importantly, remember that what you are feeling is normal and understand that you are not the only one feeling this way. When dealing with a mental health crisis such as burnout, it is essential not to change everything at once, at the risk of feeling more overwhelmed. The best thing you can possibly do is take a break from teaching.
If a break is not within your reach, there are ways to help manage your mental health while continuing teaching. Here are five suggestions, many of which have been recommended by teachers. Start small by trying one thing one day, and go from there.
Review and Revise your Routine
- List everything you have to do at specific time slots to organize your schedule.
- Create a schedule of things you need to do that can be completed with more flexible timing.
- Group related tasks together and execute them simultaneously (i.e. sending emails, marking papers). This way, you can get more done at once.
- Make sure to schedule a time for breaks, eating, and self-care.
- Use technology to automate and streamline recurring processes (i.e. Crowdmark to make online grading faster and easier).
Check your Workspace Ergonomics
- Keep your computer screen about 25 inches (arm’s length away) from your face.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain—that’s looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
- Keep the contrast and brightness of your screen balanced.
- Adjust your seating and screen position so that you are not slouching or engaged in the forward head posture.
- Consider the use of ergonomic keyboards and mouse to reduce strain on hands.
Practice Appropriate Physical and Mental Self-Care
- Establish a bedtime routine, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
- Use apps and technology to help you stay on track with these routines.
- Devote time to an artistic or athletic hobby each day.
- Take moments throughout the week for mindfulness activities such as journaling, meditation, puzzles, etc.
- Carve out opportunities for mindful reflection or simple quiet time.
Connect with Others
- Speak with colleagues about teaching-related challenges and exchange ideas on how to minimize the burden.
- Meet with new individuals in virtual events or public ones.
- Schedule time to speak with your family members, friends, and relatives.
- Visit a mental health professional if you do not feel comfortable sharing your frustrations with others.
Seeking Help for Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout is an age-old problem in the education world. Just like remote learning is not a new experience for students and instructors, neither is burnout.
It is possible to minimize the effects of burnout by adjusting your pedagogical approach and methods of self-management. Do what works for you, and do not be afraid to abandon what does not. Putting yourself first will help to focus your energy.
Creating awareness is the best option to ensure you can manage your feelings and create hopeful moments in times when stress and anxiety may feel the worst.
For help dealing with a burnout-related mental health crisis:
- Search for and access your institution’s mental health resources
- Check out Edutopia’s Teacher Self-Care resources
- Reach out to your peers through Happy Teacher Revolution
- Check out the Garrison Institute’s Creating Awareness and Reslience in Education (CARE) programming