There’s a basic formula for teacher burnout, and it works like this.
Passionate Teacher + Coaching/Advising + Committees and Meetings + Professional Development + School Politics and Administrative Bullshit = BURNOUT
Note it isn’t the kids or the work itself. Instead, I have yet to go one school year without (at minimum) two of each of the preceding , things - sometimes in a single day. Hell, a single hour. And THAT is what exhausts me. Not teaching.
Needless to say, I frequently find myself clicking on articles about teacher burnout and retention, hoping to find the holy grail. Unfortunately, I get a mixture of the same thing.
Self care. Prioritizing. Reflection. Community. Saying “no.”
And, of course, those things help. My world changed when I moved in with my significant other and made the decision to leave all grading at school. (Or at least, get home at a decent time). In much the same way, I find immense comfort in my colleagues. Simple nights of Moscow Mules and venting have single handedly keep my afloat. And I’ve said no - or, let’s be real, ignored - more requests in the last two years than ever before.
But the burnout is still real, if not worse.
I come to a new conclusion. There’s a reason that some teachers need to prioritize or say “no.” It is the constant stream of requests directed at them because they are the reliable, trustworthy, accountable member of the team.
It is a tendency of humanity that infiltrates every level. My AP students are pulled in too many different directions, simply because people know they are capable. Even within this microcosm, there are variations. These same kids are currently creating documentary films, and I can promise you, the reliable, trustworthy, accountable kid is responsible for so many more aspects than their peers. When is it my responsibility as their teacher to hold the other students accountable? To bring them up, instead of relying on my harder workers. How do I teach the RTA (Yeah, I made it an acronym) kid to not accept the apathy of their peers?
Especially when I am not even capable of that.
I deeply understand their frustration. The fact of the matter is, you can’t always say “no,” and frankly, if I tried in my current situation, I would look inflexible or irrational - despite years of being the team player. It’s a pattern of inequity that chips away at my resolve. I just can’t shake this whining voice in the back of my head, saying, “Why do I always have to make the sacrifice?”
And just like the tightrope I walk in my classroom, I don’t see a logical solution. Putting my foot down either makes no difference or makes me look like the inflexible peers I complain about. Going along with another request just continues my own self-destruction. For my students it’s the same. Either they throw up their hands and let the project fail, or they push themselves one more time.
But those “times” aren’t going to stop. Every day, week, month, year - there will be new requests, conflicts, and demands. These are the kids whose potential gets buried. The kids who get swallowed up by college. The kids who turn out like myself - still fighting that whining voice indefinitely.
I apologize that I have no solutions tonight. I’ll keep looking, of course, but fundamentally, we can’t make everyone invest the way we do. Just know, you aren’t alone as the teacher constantly being pulled for one more thing. In fact, schools in this country wouldn’t survive without us, and I guess, there’s something admirable in that.