#YourEduStory: Avoiding teacher burnout…brown out

Since there is not a topic for this week, I’m skipping to next week: How do you cope with the stress of being an educator? What do you do to avoid “teacher burnout”?

I first learned of burnout when I was ten. Yes, ten. I’m like many other teachers in that I invest all I have into the projects I’m interested in. However, if you deplete all of your fuel on one task, you don’t have it for others. You also need to make time to refuel. I know this. I think most of know this. Yet, avoiding burning out is something I face yearly. And, I’m not alone. The spring wears on us. If we depleted our energy earlier in the year, we are left running on fumes for the remainder of the year. Every year, I say I’m not going to feel the “burn,” but I do. 
I am not an expert, but I am a work in progress. Burning out is a reality I have to understand. It’s a reality I know I will always deal with. However, it’s a reality I can change my perceptions of. I can change how I react to the feelings of burnout I encounter. This is not how you avoid burnout. It’s how you cope with burnout. 
Despite our best efforts, most of us will feel the effects of burnout at some point. We will be faced with how to cope with the feelings – not how to avoid it. 
Three years ago, everything was coming together in my career. I felt I was on fire (burnout often comes after feeling like you’re on fire). I was at a relatively new job. I was helping teachers and students in ways I had only imagined before. I had organized a community-wide lib dub. I was in the beginning phase of planning a 500+ attendee conference the following fall. I applied and was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy. I presented at ISTE for the first time. I started several student clubs, including an elementary robotics team. Yes, I was on fire. 
But, by the next year, reality set in. The fire cooled. Things were normal. It’s the normalcy after the extraordinary that starts my burnout. It’s easy to invest everything into something when it is excelling. When it slows down, it is harder. It drains you. You aren’t achieving the high you once felt. 
This is how my burnout starts. I know this. I recognize this. How does yours begin?
Since that point two years ago, I have had pockets of “fire,” and pockets of “burnout.” I understand I won’t avoid these feelings, but I can change how I deal with these feelings. 
Last year, I started my snapshot diaries in an effort to capture a moment that…captures me each day. I also started a five year journal that challenges me to write and reflect for a few minutes each day. 
When I would feel burnout, I would crave art, writing, exercise, and nature. The more I’d feel burnout, the more I’d crave those things. So, in challenging myself to reflect each way, I was able to keep tabs on my mental health. Does it stop me from burnout out? No. But, it does help me deal with it in a positive way. 
I also made an effort to devote two nights a week to my art projects – no exceptions. Art is something that makes me feel alive. However, it’s also something that I don’t always get to do. So, I made time for it. 
This year, I’m challenging myself to finish what I started. When I feel accomplished, I feel stronger and more apt to cope with negative feelings. In finishing what I start, I also want to spend less – and use more of what I have. This is a challenge we should all take. You feel lighter. 
I don’t know if I can avoid burnout, but I can cope with those feelings. I will always devote  200% of my energy into tasks. And, when they are on fire, I’ll feed off of those feelings. When they slow down, I’ll feed off of those feelings. I can, though, give time each day to reflect to improve my mental health, work on art projects to further my creativity, and accomplish what I set out to achieve to feel stronger. 
I can outnumber my feelings of burnout with feelings of strength, creativity, and wisdom. 
I heard the term brown out the first time last year and it fits the burnout I experience deeply. It’s pockets of brown and pockets of excitement. Many of us never crash to the point of burning out, but we do hit low pockets that can be difficult to rise from. This is my greatest fear – of being stuck in a brown out – surviving, but not thriving. 
Focus on the feelings that make you, you. Nurture those feelings. With these feelings, you can cope with the negative feelings of burnout and brown out.  

One thought on “#YourEduStory: Avoiding teacher burnout…brown out

  1. Thanks for a great post, thoughtful and inspiring. I love your observation that “burnout often comes after feeling like you're on fire.” Thanks too for the acknowledgement of the importance of “creativity.”


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