Am I suffering from Teacher Burnout?
You might feel like you’re asking a silly question, but you’re not alone.
Recognising teacher burnout in ourselves is not always easy. It’s usually the people around us that make us aware we don’t seem to be managing well. Although you may have noticed you are exhausted, unmotivated or alienated, we tend to brush this off as “just a busy term” or frankly, “just being a teacher”.
Burnout can strike at any time, but there are ways to recognise the warning signs early and take action. Learn how to recognise and combat the symptoms of burnout before it’s too late.
What is Teacher Burnout?
Unfortunately there is no “one-size-fits-all” definition.
The most commonly cited and widely accepted definition is that of The Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual. Maslach, Leiter & Jackson (1997) define burnout as:
“a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.”
So what does that actually mean?
Signs of Teacher Burnout
If you Google search “signs of teacher burnout”, the list becomes endless. We have collected and grouped the symptoms into 4 distinct categories, so you don’t have to.
Losing interest in both work and activities outside of work can leave you feeling numb – like nothing matters. Do you find yourself no longer wishing to get involved in things you used to love? Maybe you now prefer sitting in your classroom alone to eat your lunch rather than enjoying time with your colleagues, or find yourself no longer wanting to attend social gatherings after work, preferring to go home and rest alone. Meetings may pass you by or you no longer feel like contributing to that email chain or bouncing around your ideas. If you notice yourself pulling away from aspects of your everyday life then you may be on your way to burnout.
If you find that you feel like nothing can fix your problems, and those few conversations you do hold with your colleagues are all about complaints, then you may need to look at your emotional health. Do you feel like you are sometimes out of control of your mood, or find it hard to be your normal self? Every profession has legitimate complaints, those down days or the common Sunday-night dread, but if those feelings of hopelessness or dread are becoming your normality, it may be due to something a little deeper.
Having trouble sleeping? Work stress and anxiety are some of the biggest contributors to sleeplessness and ultimately, insomnia. If you’re feeling like work may be getting on top of you, it’s no wonder your mind is racing at night. Planning the next day in our heads whilst we lie in bed, the inability to “turn off” our minds from work can quickly lead to burnout. Bouts of insomnia can lead to chronic fatigue, meaning we feel completely exhausted well before the end of our day, only to find we can’t sleep at night. Both contribute to the over-arching feeling of helplessness, and can be a sure sign of burnout.
Following closely behind Restlessness is Mindlessness. If you have a racing mind, it’s no surprise that you’re finding yourself battling brain fog. You’re usually on top of your marking, but are those papers piling up and you can’t seem to find the focus to get through them. Are you forgetting things when usually you are on top of your game? These types of mental symptoms occur both from stress but also unfortunately as a result of the other symptoms of burnout such as those attributed to Restlessness and Detachment.
So What Now: Conclusion and Resources
Teacher burnout is a multi-faceted, complex mental state to be experiencing. Each symptom seems to feed into and exacerbate the next, until you don’t know which way to turn. No matter what, the most important thing to notice is change; whether that is in your body, mind or behaviour. Whatever the symptom, as with anything, the sooner action is taken, the better.
If you have read the article above and are still unsure, there are some intuitively useful tools available for you. MindTools offer a free Burnout Self-Test which uses a radio button approach to self-assessment for burnout. Alternatively Teaching Tools also has a PDF test of a similar style, “Burning Brightly or Burning Out?”. Always remember that these tests are for information only and should never replace the diagnosis of a medical professional.
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In our next article, we will explore how to tackle the symptoms of Teacher Burnout, and how to avoid and reverse this state of mind.