Redefine and Combat Burnout: An Educator’s Perspective

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Talk About Burnout

Educators across the country talk about burnout. Teachers, principals, and administrators want a way out of the profession. They cannot take the stress of all of the demands put on them. Unfortunately, support for them is minimal and there is a “suck it up” mentality. Eventually, that mentality runs out, and burnout becomes a reality. So, its time for educators to take matters into their own hands. It’s time to redefine and combat burnout on your own terms.

Definition of Burnout

First, let’s take a look at the definition of burnout. It is usually defined as physical or mental collapse due to overwork or stress. You can experience mental or physical exhaustion. According to Psychology Today, “Burnout is not simply a result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when a person is not in control of how the job is being carried out.”  

As a teacher, you want to teach and run your classroom based on the needs of your students. Principals want to manage and administer based on the needs of the students, teachers, and families. Often central office personnel dictates policies and mandates. Then school personnel feel unsupported and left out of the decision-making process. Teachers and principals feel the weight of the mandates such as additional paperwork, reports, and too many assessments.

AFT Survey

In 2017, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conducted the Educators Quality of Work LIfe Survey. It consisted of 80 questions and over 30,000 school staff members participated in the survey. The responses generated important information about teacher wellness. According to the survey:

  • Teachers reported having poor mental health
    for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the
    general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-recommended
    levels of health outcomes and sleep per night.

  • The stressful workload, the feeling of having to be “always
    on,” the lack of resources, and the burden of ever-changing
    expectations take a toll on educators and the health problems
    educators face are compounded by deficient building
    conditions, equipment, and staff shortages, and insufficient
    time to prepare and collaborate with colleagues.

Review more information about the survey, visit the ATF website.


Redefine and Combat Burnout

To redefine and combat burnout, you must know more about it. Understanding the burnout experience may shed more light. In June 2016, World Psychiatry published an article Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry explore the effects of burnout. It states that for years, burnout has been an occupational hazard for people-oriented professions like human services, education, and healthcare services. All of these professions have higher than normal turnover rates.  

Calm down and make wellness your priority.


Occupational Hazard

The article continues to state, “Within such occupations, the prevailing norms are to be selfless and put others’ needs first; to work long hours and do whatever it takes to help a client or patient or student; to go the extra mile and to give one’s all. Moreover, the organizational environments for these jobs are shaped by various social, political, and economic factors (such as funding cutbacks or policy restrictions) that result in work settings that are high in demands and low in resources.”  Can you relate to the statements?


Three Dimensions of Burnout

In your quest to redefine and combat burnout, understand it is psychological.  It is your response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. The article continues on to discuss whether burnout is a precipitating factor for depression, and thus is a predictor for it, or whether burnout is the same thing as depression, and thus is itself a mental illness.

It is difficult but through certain steps, you can reduce or avoid burnout. Find ways to redefine and combat burnout on your own terms. However, if at any point you feel depressed please seek professional counseling or psychological assistance. Meanwhile here are a few suggestions to help you create a path of resistance to burnout.



First, take a moment to breathe. Recognize that you cannot do it all. You are human and was created with limitations. A classroom or a school is a busy place throughout the entire day. It is nonstop with activities, talking, teaching, and learning. Some days are more drama filled than others. It seems your work is never done with mandates, reports, grading papers, meetings, etc. Finally, it’s not what you signed up for when you dreamed of being a teacher or principal. Your dream was redefined without your permission. You’re on the path to burnout.

Stop! Take a step back and reflect before you react to all of the above. Count to 10 or maybe count to 100. Learn how to take deep breaths. The Harvard School of Medicine gives good advice on how to properly breathe to maximize good health and tranquility.

“First steps. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First, take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.”
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Continue your journey to redefine and combat burnout by unwinding. Start by calming down so that you can clear up what has you riled up. Then you can compose yourself.  A school or classroom is filled with many personalities. Sometimes personalities don’t mesh whether its adult to adult, adult to child, or student to student. At times you may lose your composure or you may hold in all of your feelings. Whatever the case, it is not good for your well-being. Unwind and don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t ignore the big stuff, but work on what you can control. Things you can’t control, hand it over to those who have more power than you.

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One of the hardest things to do for an educator is to relax. You have so much on your plate. The physical, social, and emotional well-being of your students are constantly on your mind. Therefore, it’s very difficult to shut down your worries. Plus, educators are notorious for taking work home. The Psychology Today article, How to Relax gives five steps to relax.

  1. Orienting yourself to your surroundings
  2. Grounding yourself by intentionally noticing ways to connect to your surroundings
  3. Slowing yourself by bringing your attention to what is happening inside you (i.e., your breathing rate or heart rate)
  4. Coaching by giving yourself positive, reassuring, and calm messages
  5. Emerging and gently getting back into the flow of your day 


Next, redefine and combat burnout by saying to yourself “Now is the time to take care of myself!” It is an urgent matter! Now is the time to deal with your stress and burnout. Create a stress management plan. Visit a doctor for a check-up. Begin to exercise and eat healthily. Spend time with family and friends. Now it’s all about you and what you need to stay grounded.


Throw out, kick out, or oust whatever makes you miserable. You must take a good look at the positives and negatives in your life. Then it is time to make difficult decisions about people or things that emit too much negativity and upset your peace of mind. Sometimes, you have to redefine who and what is important in your life. Oust it!

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Useless means to have no value to you or your life. It is not beneficial, so it has no place in life but to contribute to your burnout. Oust anything or anyone that is useless and brings you no joy, balance or peace. Consequently, it means ousting the job or career that makes you miserable.



Redefine and combat burnout by ousting useless tangles. What are tangles? They are the jumbled, confusing, and complicated things that weigh you down. Tangles are the knots, snarls, and gnarly messy situations in the teachers’ lounge or staff meetings that create an unpleasant work environment. Untangle yourself from things you cannot control or have no power over.



Burnout is a serious problem among educators. Unfortunately, most school districts have not recognized the severity of the problem. Some organizations and educators recognize the importance of teacher wellness and self-care. Now Teach and Take Time for You workshops and teacher self-care conferences are available. These venues serve as a place for educators to seek support and realize they are not alone. Moreover, the best opportunity to redefine and combat burnout is for educators to take control of their well-being and make their voices heard.



The Truth about Teacher Burnout

Burnout/Psychology Today

Understanding the Burnout Experience

2017 Educators Quality of Life Survey

Redefining The Grind: Five Ways To Be Productive Without Burning Out

The 12 Stages of Burnout According to Psychologist

12 Ways to Recover from the Effects of Long-Term Burnout

The Desperate Person’s Guide to Getting and Staying Free of Burnout

Take a Deep Breath – Harvard Medical School

20 Ways to Relax and Unwind

How to Relax – Psychology Today

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