drawing of teacher with mask in front of blackboard with coronavirus scattered around

Just Say No to Teacher Burnout

Guest Author Post

Before we dive into the topic of teacher burnout, take a minute to think of the first five words you would use to describe the school year so far. I bet they include things like:

  • Crazy
  • Angry
  • Chaotic
  • Frustrating
  • Distant
  • Stressful
  • Exhausting
  • Isolated
  • Challenging
  • Traumatic
  • Desperate
  • Disturbing
  • Out of control
  • Unreal

Teacher burnout: the risks are real

Posts on “super teachers” currently flood social media. These amazing teachers seem to have this whole online or socially distanced teaching thing down pat. They are going above and beyond to create inspirational lessons and experiences on a daily basis. These superhero teachers have apparently mastered the art of teaching in COVID-19.

Without taking anything away from these teachers, many more, though they are likely just as heroic, are feeling anything but. They are still supposed to “put on a brave face,” express calm confidence, and create a positive environment. This includes addressing the needs of students who lack access to technology, assistance from parents, or support from other community agencies.

Many teachers also take additional time each day to follow up on students who miss online classes, worry about kids in less than ideal environments, and help parents who are out of work, stressed, and trying to cope with having everyone at home.

What’s more, teachers also hear challenging, difficult stories from students, parents, and other professionals working with families in the community. Constant exposure to these deeply personal and tragic stories can create a secondary form of trauma that impacts personal lives and relationships.

Oh, and one more thing–teachers have to balance their professional life with caring for their own families as well. For many, it is a challenge to live up to the role of super teacher while also trying to be the best possible mom or dad, daughter or son.

Be realistic and just say no

In times of change, chaos, and crisis, prevent overwhelm and teacher burnout by being realistic about what you can and cannot do. Be realistic about lesson plans; accept that you won’t create the ultimate online lesson every time; and remember that you do not have to be all things to all people in your world.

Saying no can be difficult, but it is essential to reduce the risk of burnout or stress.

Do not be pulled into comparing your teaching with some post on Facebook or a lesson plan posted on Pinterest.

Do not allow yourself to become the teacher that will cover for everyone else. Don’t take on additional roles within the school if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Taking on more than you can handle is not emotionally, mentally, or physically healthy. Negotiating deadlines, asking for assistance from school administration, or reaching out to supportive teachers can all empower you to determine and stick to the limits of what can reasonably take on.

Still not sure you can do it? Here are some ways to get started:


Focus on the top priority activities, those tasks that MUST be done that day. Then move to the second level–tasks or requirements that need to be completed within a couple days. The third level of priority is reserved for tasks that do not have specific deadlines. You can fit them in when you have time. And remember, you can always delegate some of them, which brings us to…

Eliminate “energy drainers”

When I coach teachers experiencing feelings of overwhelm, burnout, and teacher fatigue, one of the first things we do is look for the “energy drainers” in their lives.

  1. Make a list of all the things in your life you dislike doing. These can be professional or personal. For most people, they are some of both.
  2. Circle all of the things on your list that are non-essential for YOU to complete. This doesn’t mean they don’t need to be done. It simply means you do not have to be the one responsible.
  3. Rank all of the circled items, from the biggest energy drainer in your life to the smallest. Think about the top energy drainer. Determine who else can handle this task. Talk to that person and delegate the task, getting it out of your life. Sometimes, trading tasks helps people find the right combination of things they can do to free up time.
  4. The following week, look at the next biggest energy drainer on your list and delegate that task. If you do this every week, by the end of a month, you have eliminated four energy drainers from your life. Imagine how this would help you to focus your energy on essential tasks that you need to be the one to do.

You can avoid teacher burnout

Remember, it is not selfish to say no to taking on more responsibility and more work when you are feeling stressed, stretched, and overwhelmed. While saying no may be difficult, it is essential for your mental health and well-being. Hopefully this post has given you some ideas on how.

Mardi Winder-Adams is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Credentialed Distinguished Mediator, and Divorce Coach. She has a background in classroom teaching with at-risk students,  education consulting, mediation and conflict resolution, and professional development training. Mardi is the founder of Positive Communication Systems, LLC.



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