How to avoid teaching burnout

It can be very easy as a teacher to ‘overdo’ it and end up in a situation where you burn out, leading to all kinds of symptoms from physical or emotional fatigue to lack of enthusiasm or confidence. So what actually is burnout in this instance? Is it physical or emotional or a mix of the two? How does it come about and what can you do about it?

Physical burnout

Making sure there is a good balance between administrative tasks, time with pupils and your personal life is essential to your overall health and well-being as a teacher. Here are some issues to consider.

  • Work culture: If there is an expectation of long hours or you feel you need to prove yourself to your employer, this can take its toll on your energy levels. You might feel you’re slacking if you don’t put in the extra hours.
  • Financial balance: Instrumental teachers tend to be self-employed and therefore generating income efficiently is important. Charging more per hour will mean you can work fewer hours. This may be something to consider, but of course, you need to balance this with charging what is reasonable and will be accepted.
  • Time boundaries: Teaching at weekends or after school is something to be wary of because it eats into your personal life and time to rest and recuperate. Watch that you’re not pushing your own boundaries to accommodate the pupil or the parent’s schedule rather than your own.
  • Hidden hours: If you’re keen to teach well and support your pupils, you may find that you’re adding in extra hours without realising it. Ten hours of lessons can easily become 15 hours of work if you’re also writing emails to parents or talking to them on the phone.

Emotional/psychological burnout

  • When you give too much: If your pupil isn’t engaged in their learning as much as you would like, it’s only too easy to try to compensate by giving too much and trying too hard. You could be giving about 70% with the pupil giving 30% and this can be emotionally draining. It can also happen if a pupil isn’t practicing, either because they’re not interested or because they have too much going on. By sitting back and asking them to engage more, you encourage them to be more responsible for their learning and you maintain your energy levels more efficiently.
  • Expectations: Wanting a pupil to do well or hoping for more than they are offering can be demanding on your energy. Sometimes a pupil simply can’t deliver as you would like for any number of reasons. Reducing your expectations conserves your energy, but also takes the pressure off them too. They may feel more comfortable and start giving you more as a result!
  • Isolation: Teachers can often feel isolated. If you teach at a school, you’re likely to have more support. Seeing other teachers in the staff room or at lunch is an ideal opportunity to share problems with them and give and receive support. If you just teach privately, it might be worth searching out local teachers to make connections and build a support network.

Teaching well needs energy so learning how to conserve it is essential, not only so you can give your best to your pupils but also for your own health and well-being.

Charlotte Tomlinson

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