Teacher Burnout: Losing the Passion & 'Why'

Maura O'Reilly

This is part of a series of blog posts about real teaching experiences. I am looking into which factors lead educators to potentially leave the profession and which factors keep them in the classroom. This info was gathered via email.

I’m not sure what to consider a ‘new’ teacher, but Bridget is headed into her 4th year. I think I would call that new, but 3 years of teaching brings a lot of knowledge and experience so she may not feel that new! Maybe I just feel old… Bridget currently teaches upper elementary grades in the Southern U.S.

Reflecting on how to improve classroom teaching, Bridget said she would benefit from receiving immediate, constructive feedback from administrators, coaches, and fellow teachers, who have been present in her class. Additionally, she has seen students succeed when resource teachers collaborate and are present in the classroom. Alternatively, when students are pulled out and come back later, it can be difficult to stay on top of their needs or really be able to help. Despite requesting meetings, Bridget has found she is not kept informed and feels this affects the progress of these struggling students.

To maintain a positive relationship with the parents of her students, Bridget communicates with them frequently and promises to push their children to do their absolute best. In the coming year, she wants to improve the number of positive calls and emails she sends out and reach out to students before school begins in order to establish and maintain these positive relationships.

Here is how she describes her teaching career as a whole:

“A roller coaster. Constant ups and downs, tons of unexpected turns. Dizzy and nauseous while on the ride, but in love with it when it’s done and keep getting back on!”

Teaching is a roller coaster ride.


Bridget defines burnout as “losing the passion and ‘why’ for teaching”. Though she does feel she has started to struggle with the profession, she has not yet seriously considered leaving teaching.

Bridget sites her relationship with the administration as contributing to her struggles as an educator. “I would love an administration that is not absent, even when present in the building. One that is actively involved in the school and hallways, interacting with teachers, parents and students in a positive way. I would like an administrator who is welcoming to all and goes out of his/her way to meet with staff or students when there are concerns. I would like an administrator who pops into the classroom more than once every few years.

“While there are days that I hate my job and dread getting up in the morning, those feelings have primarily stemmed from the culture of the school that I am at. While I don't want to leave the profession I would love to leave my current school. I stay around for my students and the families at my school. I love the relationships that I have built over time and, while I feel like my administration doesn't appreciate me as an educator, my families do and really that is more important.”

Bridget’s description of feeling burnt out this past year is honest and telling:

“I had really let the negativity take over me and it spun me to a dark hole. There are so many factors that can play into teacher burnout: your administration, your school climate, your team, the never-ending pile of lists and things to do and above all not taking care of yourself.”

She has some excellent suggestions for dealing with overwhelm.

“No matter the job there are going to be highs and lows. I think it’s how you take those on. I think you have to remind yourself of your why. Why did you choose teaching?

“I think it is also important to take time out for yourself. YOU DESERVE IT! I often times feel like I am a mom of 60 kids. That can be exhausting! I know most teachers are workaholics and perfectionists, but sometimes you have to stop and reflect: What have I done for me today? It doesn't have to be big, but I think every teacher deserves time for them each day.

“If you are going through burnout, ask yourself: how did you get there? Are you bored of your lessons, work at a school you hate, or some other reasons? See if it is something that you can change. Try something new with your lessons to spark that excitement again, see about moving schools, or better yet find or develop a PLN (Professional Learning Network) that share the same interests. I made it through last year solely by those I found via Twitter and Voxer. I loved being able to collaborate with other amazing educators that had the same interest and encouraged me to take risks and cheered me up when I failed.”

In a recent #TchrWellness chat on Twitter, Eryka Desrosiers and I noticed that not only is burnout a big topic, it is also sometimes one that creates fear in teachers. They anticipate the burnout, they dread the thought of admitting they need assistance or a break, and often they can’t imagine the stress of hunting for a job outside of the classroom.

As wellness-minded educators, we need to be on the lookout for those who may be struggling. It’s what we do for our students. We also need to admit we are not superheroes and cannot do this big job alone. I don’t like when I see those ‘I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower?’ mugs and t-shirts. First, because we are not more important than other professionals or workers so I find it condescending. Second, because this could create an atmosphere in which teachers feel hesitant to admit they are overwhelmed and need help.

Bridget works out at the gym to deal with school-related stress. She finds it helps her get a healthy distance from those issues and even has a meditative quality. When she experiences stress at school, she will take a quiet moment in the hall or visit Go Noodle or ClassDojo “for some dancing or yoga.”

More questions for Bridget:

What aspect of your job would you like to never have to do again?

“Unnecessary meetings. Whether they are staff meetings that could have been done via email or having extra meetings before and after school and during planning time that lead to nowhere. I think in any profession time is money. No one wants their time wasted especially in teaching. There are so many things that we have to do daily, that when you have to attend a meeting the teacher feels has no ‘purpose’, it’s really irritating.”

What aspect of your job do you love (not just like)?

“The kids' hugs and smiles. Each morning when I get a big hug and a smile I know that I have built a good relationship with that student and when you have a good relationship with a student the impossible becomes possible.”

I loved Bridget’s reflections and honesty. If her answers resonate with you, please join the #TchrWellness chat on Twitter: Sundays 8:30 pm EST. Just search the hashtag. Other great chats include #122EdChat #TeachPos and #WaLEdChat among many others. There are lots of great podcasts too….

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