This is the third in a series of blog posts about teacher stress. Having dealt with teacher burnout myself, I am looking to determine some of the issues educators consistently experience that lead them to struggle with and/or leave the profession as well as the positive aspects that keep them in the classroom. This interview was conducted over the phone.
I have spoken to quite a few teachers while writing this blog series and Carol has the distinction of being the only teacher who includes a ½ in the number of years she has been teaching. She is a high school math teacher and has taught this subject and level for most of her 28 and a half years in the classroom. She has taught in U.S. public and Catholic schools and in independent schools in the U.S. and abroad.
Carol sees her career as one that has been “busy but satisfying”. She feels content at least some of the time, very aware that as a teacher “you always feel you could do better and there are always irritations”. Like many teachers, Carol has seriously considered leaving the classroom. At the time, her desire to leave arose because “the irritations became overwhelming compared to the satisfaction.”
When she began one summer to pursue another line of work, she discovered this would not be as easy as she had anticipated. Again, this is something many teachers encounter. Carol chose to stay in teaching, for which I am so thankful. If she hadn’t, we wouldn’t have met. We taught together for 2 years in Dakar, Senegal.
If you feel leaving the classroom is the best choice for you, there are now many resources to help you make that transition. Search ‘alternative careers for teachers’ and try to make a plan before you quit teaching altogether. Email me if you need any help!
There is pressure to answer the question ‘Why do you teach?/Why did you stay in teaching?’ with ‘for the love of the students’. But this is not always the case, and I don’t think there is only one good, solid answer to this question. It is usually many factors. When she began teaching, Carol “enjoyed all the challenges” but did eventually feel a desire to leave. Among several reasons she chose to stay are the comfort and connection she has found with her fellow educators. “I have been lucky to always work with really good colleagues.”
Good relationships with co-workers are vital to being happy in your workplace. “Like any job, you’re always going to have the irritations. With teaching, you’re going to be (working) with people who are pretty like-minded and will help you work through it. The students and people you’re working with are what keep you in teaching.” Carol seeks out a fellow teacher to talk things over with when she is dealing with stress at school. “I always feel better because they are a calm voice of reason.” Readers, be sure to connect with teachers you feel you can help and who can help you.
Carol shares her experiences and how she believes the following can be improved and successful:
"Smaller classes at lower and high school levels, fewer preps, which gives you more time to plan lessons that would give you and your students more satisfaction."
"Same as above, so you can individualize, differentiate, get to know them better. More time to prepare better lessons means you will have more successful students."
Relationship With Administrators
"For the most part, my relationship with administrators has been good - I would hope due to the fact that they recognize my hard work. An exception is one year in which the principal and I had no relationship. Not a bad one, just no communication."
Relationship With Students’ Parents
"These have been mostly good but later in my career, there have been more parents blaming teachers and not their children. Not all, just a few. It’s not worth my time or effort."
Every job has stress. Teacher burnout is a real thing that is, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent. Carol fights burnout by leaving work at work, whenever possible. She finds this easier in private schools. When it isn’t possible, she makes sure she limits how much she takes home. “Students don’t actually die if you don’t get papers back the next day.” (Love that!) She has worked with principals who’ve had unrealistic expectations when it comes to returning work to students. No matter what, Carol says, “Weekends are always mine.”
Carol’s plan is to retire in about 4 or 5 years. She doesn’t know any teachers who have really struggled with burnout, but she does know teachers who have retired and been happy to do so.
More questions for Carol:
What aspect of your job would you like to never have to do again?
"Grading. If I could just plan the lessons and teach I would be in heaven."
What aspect of your job do you love (not just like)?
"When the students are getting it and you can see they’re getting it."
Keep checking back for more stories from educators. Comment and share if these stories resonate with you. Join the #TchrWellness chat on Twitter and seek out positive people and helpful resources. They’re out there. Let me know if I can help.