3 Ways for Veteran Teachers to Prevent Burnout

The concept of teacher burnout is nothing new. However, much of the discussion surrounding teacher burnout focuses on new teachers that wind up making a quick exit from the profession.

The reality is, only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of teachers who leave teaching each year are novices. Veteran teachers too, it turns out, are quite susceptible to burnout. Each year, a growing percentage of the nation’s experienced teachers are voluntarily leaving the classroom.

It makes sense. Teachers are expected to do more than ever: teach content, support social and emotional health, learn and integrate technology, keep abreast of professional best practices, improve test scores, and a great deal more. At the same time, in exchange for all of that effort and years of service, teachers feel a lack of professional respect and appreciation.

Ultimately, teacher burnout remains both a complicated societal and institutional problem. Changing educational priorities and shifting attitudes will not happen overnight.

That being said, there are several ways that, as a veteran teacher, you can proactively combat personal feelings of dissatisfaction, stress, and under-appreciation before succumbing to teacher burnout yourself.

Observe Your Peers’ Teaching

Professional isolation can become a breeding ground for dissatisfaction.  It can be easy to close the classroom door and run the same old curriculum year after year.

Rather than shutting yourself off, venture out to observe what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Seeing the craft from a different perspective can lead to new ideas and inspiring collaborations.

Some school districts actively encourage this type of collegial professional development. In others, it is a foreign concept. Regardless, all you need to do is find a teacher willing to invite you into their class during one of your free periods. If that is not feasible, discuss with an administrator the possibility of obtaining class coverage to be able to observe a peer.

For some, the logistics of peer observations may prove too daunting. Thankfully, there are plenty of teachers who post their lessons and classroom routines online. Virtual peer observations are no substitute for experiencing a new learning environment first hand, but technology can still provide a means to similar ends.

If given the chance to interact with the virtual host through social media or email, take advantage! In both in-person and virtual visits, the follow-up discussions can often bear more fruit than the observations.

Create a Digital Professional Learning Network (PLN)

Sometimes getting schedules to line up makes peer collaboration difficult. Other times there are professional barriers that make getting face-time with other teachers challenging.

Luckily, there are several avenues to extending your professional learning network beyond the confines of your school building.

Social media is a great place to connect with other teachers. There are professional forums, Google Educator groups, and plenty of other social networks focused on teacher collaboration.

Twitter chats are an increasingly popular way to connect with teachers to discuss a wide variety of topics. Participation is easy and you can target discussions that of particular interest.

If you choose to go the digital route, be sure to find communities that are positive and productive. While everyone needs to vent and blow off steam from time to time, spending time dwelling on negativity won’t do much to prevent the onset of burnout. On the other hand, interacting with positive, passionate educators can be a source of uplifting support.

Reduce Stress with Increased Transparency

One of the biggest frustrations teachers face is the pressure to repeatedly justify and explain their practice. There are lesson plans, curriculum maps, parent conferences, administrative evaluations, and other inquiries that can quickly make a veteran teacher feel overwhelmed and micromanaged.

No one likes to feel like his or her competency and professionalism are being challenged, especially after years of experience and success.

Finding a way to make the classroom goings on more transparent can help hold some of the interested stakeholders at bay. Consider implementing practices that can help answer questions about your practice before they are even asked:

  • Create a class website (and keep it up to date!) with announcements, policies, and handouts.
  • Use a digital workflow like Google Classroom, Seesaw, or Edmodo and give access to students, parents, and administrators.
  • Invite parents, administrators, and other teachers into your room regularly.
  • Keep your gradebook and grading policies up to date and available.
  • Establish regular non-internet contact with stakeholders with phone calls, notes home, and/or regular newsletters.

These steps require work to establish and maintain, but the effort up front can help diffuse (and even completely avoid) stressful interactions later on. Being proactive is easier than being reactive!

Teacher burnout is a real problem with real consequences. When veteran teachers leave the profession, they take their experience and expertise with them. Prevent this from being your story by connecting with others in the profession and minimizing the potential for feelings of stress and frustration.

Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting focused websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter.