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Teacher Burn-out

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Never thought it would happen, but it has. It has been coming on for some time, but I can’t say what triggered it, or when it started exactly. All I know is this morning, I went to put some board pens in a classroom for one of our teachers and I was suddenly and unexpectedly gripped by a cold dread – it started somewhere behind my solar plexus and spread across my chest and down my spine like ice and ended in a sharp intake of breath and a pricking behind me eyes. The thought of standing up there, inadequacies exposed; with expectant students in front of me; pen in hand, poised and ready, made me reel.

All this took a split second because I knew I wasn’t going to be teaching at all – I was merely doing my “Wonderful DOS” impression and preparing the classrooms for my teachers. The relief that sluiced through me when I remembered this was overwhelming, and nearly made me cry again. “Thank you, God, thank you, God,” I whispered. “Thank you for letting there be other teachers who can do this for me today.”

What’s happened? Why do I feel like this? Maybe I’ve just had enough: 30 years is long time to give and give and give and merely move from A to B and back again while all your students move on to C and probably D, E and F. Maybe my “teacher impression script” has worn thin and the fear of being revealed as a fraud has become all too real. Maybe what I know is not enough any more.

Maybe all of the above……but what I do know is, I cannnot stand, inadequacies exposed, in classroom in front of expectant students. Nor will I be able to for some time to come.


8 responses »

  1. I know what you mean here… I’m in the middle of probably my first genuine block of genuine annual leave in more than 12 years, and it wasn’t until the reality of the break set in that I realised how bloody worn out (to the bottom of my boots and to the inner core of my bones) I was, and how important it is to push the teacher self away when it mutters in my ear of a morning, urging me to get ahead and be ready in advance…

    The only way to handle teacher burn out is to have a genuine chill out – away from teaching.

    Hope 2012 is a great one for you!

    – Mr. Raven

    • Mr Raven
      Many thanks for this. It is good to know that one is not alone and alos that you are having a truly well-earned break from it all. I wonder why it is so bone-ache wearying? Much of it so from the passion we bring to it, but I also think- PLNs and coferences, training opportunities, staffroom banter and year-end parties aside – it is a lonely road….

      Enjoy your break to the bottom of your boots and the inner core of your bones.


  2. Anthony Gaughan

    I have felt something similar recently. For me, it was more a sense of self-loathing that what I was doing with my trainees was inadequate and that I was leaving too much of the work for my colleagues. Neither of these things were confirmed by how my trainees or my colleagues perceived things, but that doesn’t matter on the inside, does it?

    I’m hoping to escape into the classroom (the language learner populated one, not the trainee-teacher) for a while, but I am also taking a 3 month unpaid sabbatical this year – starting with IATEFL Glasgow – to recharge the batteries, take stock and shake a few monkeys off my back, like my long overdue MA dissertation.

    Something has to give sooner or later, and it’s better to take a break than break.

    Thinking of you.

    • Anthony – how very good to hear from you.

      The self-loathing – ah yes, that too. I have ached for a sabbatical for some years. It just isn’t possible – of any kind. I have been notified by our head office that even two weeks is merely to be tolerated…..

      I will see you in Glasgow – I am booking as we speak….


  3. Living with a none-teacher has shown me how the ‘other side’ lives and has taught me to take regular breaks, still not enough, but Friday evening to Sunday afternoon are all mine. Teachers are famously over-worked and under-paid but I think the main issue is what we demand from ourselves – I see my student teachers all falling into the ‘perfectionist’ trap and try my hardest to let them know that it’s ok not to know or be able to do everything. Yet in my own way I do exactly the same. Good luck to you, the first step has been made by being able to admit it’s all just a bit too much at the moment! And I read through the lines that you have support (teachers) around you which is wonderful. Hope you make time to enjoy 2012!

    • LouiseAlix

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I have seen this “other side” too. What makes it different is that teachers HAVE to BE there. There’s no closing of the door and hanging up a “Do not Disturb” sign. There’s no having a half day, or coming in latre once in a while. We don’t get public holidays, or time off over Christmas, two week breaks a rarely tolerated and I even work every second Sunday and another night every week – have had this for 12 years……

      Thank God for my staff and support team….

      Pop by again ,when you have time. 🙂

  4. Hi Candy

    I’ve been meaning to respond to this post for a while, but haven’t been quite sure how to word it, perhaps I’ve got bloggers block too. All I can say is that I’ve been there too and like you, it took me by surprise. For me it involved a change of context, moving countries, falling ill and more. The bottom line is I lost my self-confidence and the place I suppose I felt most vulnerable was in the classroom in front of my students. Up until then I had been in a job I loved, and still do, but there was a period of time when I had to regain my teaching self. I really felt for you when I read this post and I wouldn’t be surprised if if has been brought upon by changes to your duties and responsibilities that you may feel unsure about – however, I’ve no idea on this, just a thought. I think a break of somekind is important but in short you need to regain that sense of who you are as a teacher again.

    Thanks for writing this post.

    best wishes

    • Oh Richard – thank you so much for your very real support. I appreciate it more than you can know. Yes I have had a change in duties and a massive increase in responsibilities which demand much more from me than I first thought. I never imagined in all my travels and doings that I would land up feeling so inadequate and lost.
      It is the support of fellow teachers that has made me able to tackle the bigger issues in the hope that the little things would work themselves out. As I said on my reply to aother comment – thank God for my staff, without them I would have gone to the wall.
      Thank you once again and hopefully in this wide, but small and familiar world of ELT, we will bump into each other.

      Best wishes to you


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