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Self-Care for Teachers to Avoid Teacher Burnout

A tired and stressed teacher sits at her desk reviewing a lesson planTeacher burnout is not new, but it’s more widespread in recent years as the worldwide pandemic forced educators to make many adjustments. The stress around remote learning, masked students, worried parents and changing rules have added another layer of stress to the job and made teacher self-care more critical than ever.

Even as the pandemic has started to loosen its hold on society, teachers may not get much of a break. As The Guardian columnist Emma Brockes put it, “Sadly, it appears that respecting the teaching profession was just a pandemic fad.” She noted that people went from praising teachers to, in some areas, becoming furious that they wanted time off to deal with burnout.

The situation has increased the number of teachers feeling worn down by the demands of their job. Incorporating daily teacher self-care is essential for the future of the teaching profession. To address this challenge, Fresno Pacific University offers two related professional development courses for educators called Self-Compassion for Teachers and Teacher Burnout: Prevention & Recovery.

The Impact of Teacher Burnout

Teacher burnout involves more than just having a few bad days in a row or even a bad week. Burnout manifests itself in various ways, all indications of chronic stress that leads to emotional and physical exhaustion.

It takes a toll on individual teachers and the schools and districts where they work. In an interview with community-supported KQED in Northern California, an Oakland teacher talked about watching as nearly 75 percent of teachers decided to quit after just two years in the profession.

The article stated: “It’s very hard to make progress on long-term goals like improving school culture, deepening reading instruction, or improving how special education teachers and general education teachers work together when half the staff is turning over each year.”

Teacher Burnout Symptoms and Consequences

Self-aware teachers may notice symptoms that indicate job burnout. These job burnout symptoms can vary depending on the person. The Mayo Clinic offers a long list of potential signs of job burnout.

  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Having difficulty wanting to go to work and trouble getting started once on the job
  • Becoming irritable or impatient with co-workers or, in the case of teachers, students
  • Lacking the energy to stay consistently productive
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of satisfaction in achievements
  • Feeling disillusioned about the job
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or not to feel at all
  • A change in sleep habits
  • Physical symptoms such as unexplained headaches stomach or bowel problems

The clinic also lists consequences for people who do not manage these symptoms. They include feeling excessive stress, sadness, anger, irritability and fatigue. Burnout also can lead to physical consequences, such as insomnia, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and vulnerability to illness.

Practicing Teacher Self-Care

The key to preventing burnout is to practice teacher self-care. Like how daily exercise and healthy foods can prevent physical problems, self-care helps teachers strengthen resilience and avoid burnout.

Self-care looks different for each person, but some steps for practicing self-care work with almost everyone. The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds offers some ideas to get teachers on the right path toward healthy self-care.

  • Determine what is causing stress and focus on changing the situation.
  • Build self-care into a daily schedule, making it a priority that’s equally as important as work, chores, family time, etc.
  • Manage time better by setting healthy boundaries and not allowing work to creep into weeknights and weekends.
  • Schedule “fun” time in advance, such as hiking, trips to the museum and practicing hobbies.
  • Build short breaks into the day that offer a 10- to 15-minute break from work.
  • Stay socially connected with other teachers, offering support and the chance to talk through similar challenges that teachers face.
  • Studies show that spending time with a pet is an instant stress reducer.
  • Keep life organized so that chores, errands, paying the bills, etc., are part of a scheduled routine rather than something that must get done at the last minute.
  • Celebrate all successes, including taking time to reflect on the positive impact teachers can have on students, co-workers and the community.

The Fresno Pacific University Online Self-Care Courses

The two courses offered by Fresno Pacific University give teachers the chance to learn how to practice self-care and build resilience while also earning professional development credit.

In the Self-Compassion for Teachers course, educators learn about the importance of self-compassion, self-renewal, and the myths about self-compassion. Outcomes from the course include the ability to cultivate loving-kindness for self and others in the classroom, applying self-compassion practices in the teacher role, managing difficult emotions, and modeling and measuring the progress of self-care as a teacher.

The Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators course seeks to empower educators to develop resilience that better helps them deal with the challenges of the teaching profession. Both new and veteran teachers benefit from learning strategies to build resilience. Topics covered in the course include managing daily stressors, rebounding from setbacks, taking in painful information, managing difficult conversations, developing confidence in handling emotions of self and others and fostering healthy camaraderie.

Practicing self-care for teachers is the best way to avoid burnout and its consequences on teachers, their students, and fellow educators. These two courses can help educators set their feet on the path to better wellness and improved mental and physical health.

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