Burnout — How I Turned Around

Twenty-four years ago, I sat in a church service. The pastor asked how many in the sanctuary actually enjoyed going to work. I was the only one that raised my hand. I was being honest. It was my very first year in the classroom. I truly loved watching my kids “get it”. I loved watching them learn to express themselves with their words. I also enjoyed that they shared their hopes and dreams with me. I taught in a small, private christian school. I had 12 kids in my first class. The energy in that class was electric. Everyday, I couldn’t wait to see them again. Every day was full of the love of learning.

A few years later, I took a job in the public school system. I still loved what I was doing. But honestly, I was not being innovative. I relied heavily on the textbook. Surely they wouldn’t have given us a textbook if they didn’t want us to use it. Throw in a project every now and again and teaching became a piece of cake. It became somewhat routine.

Even more years down the road and I’m in another district. I’m at a school that required me to think creatively. There were no textbooks. Once books did arrive, some of my students recognized their parents’ names inside the covers. Yes, I had been given books that were about 20 years old. Certainly it wouldn’t be a problem. Math never changes. Besides, I was a good teacher. I could make it work. Well, honestly, I don’t think I made it work at all. In fact, I think my students suffered greatly because I didn’t know how to speak up for them or for me.

A couple of years later, and I’m helping to open a brand new school with tons of new possibilities. Or so I would think. But again, I just went along to get along. My observations were always fine. I knew how to jump through the hoops. Again, I had students that I know I helped. I thrived on helping the students. They were my life blood. Without my students, I would not have survived for as long as I did.

I left the classroom. I became a Media Specialist. I thought this would help me. I could do so much more in the library. But, as the years rolled by, I became more and more jaded. It was clear that I was a rule follower. I expected all around me to follow those rules as well. I don’t know exactly when I became bitter. But I do know that my family suffered. I would come home with a scowl on my face. My daughter and husband would have to put up with my nasty attitude. Why didn’t the kids just want to do what they should do? Why didn’t they just listen? I had so much to teach if they would just listen. When decisions about my job began being made without any input from me, I was done. I couldn’t do it anymore. What did I do? I kept going to work. I kept doing my job. I no longer loved it. I started saying I was going to work. I never called it going to work. I had always called it going to school. (When I was a kid I would PLAY school. Going to school was like playing.)

Then I got a phone call. A friend of mine called. Would I consider changing districts again? His school needed a math teacher. He had worked with me in the past. He had faith in me. It took me all of five minutes to make a decision. Which it turns out was good because the job closed in three hours. Once I got the application completed, I had an interview. Then came the phone call. They wanted me. THEY WANTED ME. I hadn’t felt wanted professionally in a very long time. It had been eight years since I stood before my own classroom. Now I had something to prove…to myself.

This time it would be different. This time I gave everything I had to my classroom. I wanted those kids to learn. That year I was blessed with a group of students that needed me as much as I needed them. Together we walked through the Algebra 1 program together. We marveled together when we found a new method. We celebrated the wins and consoled each other when things didn’t go well. Their energy fueled the fire inside of me. The fire that had long since burnt out. Their needs made me work harder.

Many things have happened since then. I no longer teach math. Now I teach Computer Applications and Game Design. This is my fourth year since the rekindling. I’ve learned so much. I began reaching out to educators around the world through twitter. I discovered there are educators everywhere suffering from burnout. Most of them leave the profession. The sad part is that it isn’t necessary. I didn’t think anyone understood. I thought I was alone. It turns out that I wasn’t alone. I was never alone. I just wasn’t asking for help. Once I started asking for help, I got it. Now I have a professional network of educators that help me learn and grow on a daily basis. They are honest with me as I am with them. They are also kind and considerate. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.

Ask me now if I love going to work. My answer is YES, without a doubt.

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