Life as a teacher is full of stress.
A recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of teachers in grades K-12 reported high daily stress, while other studies have found that teachers endure stressful moments two to four times per day.
We at Teaching Channel wanted to reach out to teachers to see how they handle the day-to-day stress that comes with the job, and how they avoid burnout.
There are many ways to help deal with stress to keep you engaged with your students and your administration. Some strategies involve finding an activity outside of school to clear your mind.
Here are five tips from a veteran high school science teacher in Kentucky on how to avoid teacher burnout and maintain lower stress levels.
Keep Your Mind Fresh
Hannah Karell, a high school biology and chemistry teacher, said that it’s important to “take a daily vacation” from your mind to avoid teacher burnout. She recommends meditation or physical activity.
“You have to find something you enjoy to do or something that’s completely mind-numbing,” Karell said. “For me, I do like to meditate because it’s five minutes a day – or however long I need it to be – where I’m constantly focusing on nothing else but me. I’m breathing, I’m thinking about my heart rate or something happy or whatever my meditation app, Simple Habit, tells me to do. But if that doesn’t work for you, do sports or a physical activity. Anything that can help you clear your mind is really important.”
Try to Keep Work at Work
It’s not always possible, but Karell advises that it’s best to keep your time away from the classroom free from work-related tasks, allowing you to take time to enjoy yourself.
“I know a lot of first-year teachers or teachers teaching something new will stay at school for hours every day,” she said. “That’s the quickest way to burn yourself out as you would in any job.
“One thing I try to do is make sure my weekends are for me and my weekdays are for school. Sometimes I try to make my weekdays for me, too. It’s just making sure that you stay at school maybe a little bit longer to work on papers on Friday, so that way you can go home and not have to think about school. That’s a good mental break.”
Lean on Your PLC
Professional learning communities are gaining popularity in schools across the country. Karell said PLCs help teachers plan daily lessons as well as collaborate on best practices for their students.
PLCs have been a positive addition to Karell’s school to promote camaraderie, boost productivity and limit teacher burnout.
“It’s just kind of nice to have a vent session every once in a while with somebody that understands what you’re going through, “Karell said. “It also it spreads the work – you’re working with others so you can spread the wealth. If your students are struggling but another teacher has successful students, you can trade tips and tricks to help improve your students, for example.”
Try Something New
Perhaps a situation at your school or your subject area is stale and you need a fresh start. Karell recommends that a big change like moving to a new grade level or a smaller change such as changing subjects within your field may re-invigorate your career.
“I taught biology and then I switched to chemistry for a year,” Karell said. “Now I teach both. And that difference has kind of opened me to a new way of thinking and refreshed the way I was looking at things.”
She also suggests trying something new to avoid teacher burnout, like finding a new lesson online and giving it a shot.
“If it doesn’t work, don’t worry – no one’s going to know and there’s always the next day,” she said. “Trying something new and switching it up makes the normal routine less boring.”
Get Professional Development
Learning from and working with other teachers on professional development is Karell’s biggest source of motivation. Professional development can “help motivate you to think differently about your classroom,” she said.
Karell attended a conference in Florida with her PLC partner two years ago and they gained strategies and ideas that they still discuss frequently. “We were able to see teachers present sessions where they had students that were struggling so much, but by implementing PLC strategies, they were able to get success out of these poorly performing students,” she said.
Professional development re-invigorates teachers with a new, fresh outlook, Karell said. This is ideal for anyone on the verge of teacher burnout. “You went into teaching how to make a difference and professional development will help you find out how you will make your difference,” she said.