Updated: Apr 4, 2018
As I prepare to attend a job fair (I’m on the other side of the table this time!), I can’t help but again begin thinking about job hunting tips. This is always the time of year when we begin to re-evaluate our roles and try to determine if we are satisfied with them or not. One thing that does tend to happen is you get a lot of job seekers who have confused burn out with the need for a new job. Teacher burnout and the need for a new job are two different things—though they are related, one does not cure the other. Teacher burnout is psychological—a new job may alleviate the symptoms, but will not cure them.
Like many of us, I’ve left a school due to burnout, only to find myself, a few months into a new school year in a new position, still feeling the same way. For this reason, I implore you to reflect a bit before you begin updating your resume and preparing for that upcoming job fair. Below are a few things to consider when trying to determine if you are suffering from burnout or if it’s just time for a new job.
#1: You find yourself generally unhappy. You wake up, and you don’t feel like going to work—ever. You may find yourself feeling anxious on the way to work or walking into the building. You may feel a sense of heaviness when you’re in the building. Sometimes you find yourself crying at work, and you can’t pull it together. You’re generally very unhappy at work.
#2: You struggle to interact with colleagues and students. You struggle with the social aspect of work or begrudgingly participate. You don’t want to participate in staff outings or work on building relationships with students. You simply want to go to work, do your job, and leave.
#3: You take one too many “mental health” days. You come up with all kinds of reasons to explain why you can’t go to work. You realize it’s March and you don’t have any sick days left because you’ve taken all of them already. You call in sick when you have light symptoms. You create symptoms of illness in your head. You purposely schedule things during work time so that you have to take off of work. You simply can’t make yourself go to work, and you don’t particularly care about the consequences of not going.
#4: You find yourself self-medicating. There is always a general joke about teachers and an open bar, but this is more than a fun evening at a staff outing. You may find that instead drinking a few glasses of wine a week, it’s increased to a couple of glasses everyday to handle your daily stress. You find that you need to self medicate in order to cope.
#5: You find yourself sleeping more or not enough. Our ability to sleep is indicative of our mental state. For some reason, you can’t seem to wake up when your alarm goes off anymore, or you come home from work and you fall asleep immediately waking up only to put on your pajamas and get in bed again. On the other hand, you can’t get to sleep at night or find yourself waking up throughout the night—never getting good night’s rest. Either way, you constantly feel tired and can’t figure out how to remedy your rest situation.
How to Cope
Coping with burnout is the only true way to get rid of it. Contrary to popular believe can’t bandaid it with a new job.
#1 Self-reflect to find your true role in education. I find that when you truly understand your purpose, you feel lighter and happier. Ask yourself what is it that you truly want to contribute to the field and how can you do that? For example, you may find that you want to help students find a love for art and starting an art program or club at your school may rejuvenate you. No matter your path, you really have to think about what you truly want for yourself. (See my guest blog on TEACHER GUILT for a bit of insight and encouragement!)
#2: Create a plan for yourself. Once you’ve reflected, create a plan. In my current role, I tend to look at things positively. I generally see the glass as half-full and accept any lessons learned from my experiences. The reason that I am the ever-optimist is that I always have a plan. I can clearly recite to you a ten year plan with goals along the way. I am constantly working to better myself professionally and complete work to help me reach my professional goals. My plan gives me purpose and helps me put everything into perspective.
#3: New career. You may find that working in education isn’t what you want to do, and that’s okay. After you reflect on your role, you may realize that teaching art is not what you want to do, but working with kids in another capacity is where your true passion lies. You may even find yourself in a completely new field altogether—either way it’s okay if you want to start a new career path—people start them everyday.
#4: Professional counseling. You may have to talk to someone professionally to help you get to the root of the problem. There’s no shame in professional counseling—we all need to talk to someone who can objectively listen to us and help us constructively solve our problems. If you find yourself feeling so emotionally stressed and overwhelmed that you don’t know how to cope, reach out to a professional counselor.
Now you ask, how do I know if I simply need to find a new job? See below for a few things to consider before you apply for a new job.
#1: Differing philosophical views. This happens to us often. If you do not philosophically agree with what is happening in your building, then it’s time for a new job. If you sign up to work at a school that focuses on humanism, for example, but you don’t believe in it, then you will find it difficult to buy into and implement the systems that your school has in place. You must find a position at school in which you are philosophically aligned.
#2: You are stagnant. If you are in a position in which you are stifled and cannot grow professionally, then it is time to go. If you are denied the opportunity to participate in professional development (both in-school and out-of-school), you are not exposed to leadership opportunities, there are not opportunities to strengthen your craft, you aren’t being offered legitimate feedback to help you grow as a professional—then it may be time to leave your position.
#3: You are in the wrong role. Sometimes you are hired thinking you will do one thing, but then you find yourself doing another. Granted, schools require people to be flexible because there are so many changes happening on a day-to-day basis, but if you thought you would be teaching middle school, but have kindergarten—then it may be time to find a new position. If you are doing something that you don’t think is a good fit for you, be sure to find something that will be a better fit.
I hope this blog—though long—gave you something to think about and consider before finding a new job. Honestly, if you are burned out, dealing with that emotions that come with burnout must be addressed. If you don’t address those issues, a new job won’t fix it.