How to Be a Teacher for More Than 5 Years Without Killing Yourself Or Others

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There are some crazy teacher statistics out there. Many say that nearly half of all teachers will leave the profession within five years.[1]

It took me nine years before I decided to walk away from teaching. Teacher burnout is very real. It’s important to gird the loins of your mind and heart to make teaching sustainable. And yes, I used gird and loins in the same sentence. Deal.

I decided to make a short list of things that we all know but easily forget.

You’re more than a teacher

You are someone’s wife or someone’s brother. You might be a mom or a dad or a friend or a daughter or an uncle. Yes, you are a teacher. But you are so much more than that. Don’t let teaching define you.

Remember it’s a job

You can read my other post to read more in depth about this. Teaching might be the best thing to ever happen to you. It could be the best career you will ever have. But it IS a career. It is okay to love, love, love it with kittens, rainbows, and Trapper Keepers. But try to remember it’s still a job.

Set boundaries and keep them

Try not to stay at school until the custodians kicks you out. Security gets testy when you set off the alarm that late at night. Not that I would know. Set limits with how much you work in the evenings. Be home in time for supper. Live in the moment when you’re not at school.

Don’t get full of yourself

I pretty much thought I was the man by my third year teaching. It’s easy to get puffed up on pride. Stay humble. None of us know it all. Don’t set yourself and your class up for failure by letting your ego get in your way.

Have other hobbies besides education

One of the things that helped kill my career as a teacher was that I let education become a hobby. It became my only hobby in many ways. It’s easy to do when so many educators are just a tweet away. Keep baking if you like to bake. Keep coaching your kid’s baseball team. Don’t stop playing badminton just because you became a teacher. Badminton is a thing, right?

Don’t let teaching consume you

Learn to let go of the illusion of control. It can be absolute poison to your work. Like the old prayer goes:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Manage your expectations

Teaching is hard. No college class could prepare you for how hard it is. Be prepared to become a mental and emotional punching bag. You will fail. A lot. But that’s okay. Failure is a wonderful opportunity to get better.

You will never be finished with your work

A teacher’s work is never done. Seriously. You will never be finished. There will always be something else you could be doing. Every time you cross off one thing from your to-do list, two more things will be added. Like a sink of dirty dishes, it really can wait until tomorrow.

Take care of yourself

Teaching is an impossible job that we try to make possible everyday. Don’t neglect the basics. Exercise. Eat well. And get plenty of sleep. It’s like the oxygen masks that come down when you’re on an airplane. You put yours on first, then you put them on the children. You have to take care of yourself if you want to be effective.

What am I missing? What other ideas do you have?

photo credit: lisa_eglinton via photopin cc

  1. According to some good, recent data on State Impact’s Classroom Contemplations: Why Teachers Leave The Classroom  ↩


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Please check out my follow-up: 10 Signs of Burnout and Why You’re Getting Crispy Around the Edges