Perhaps it’s because teacher burnout has been in the news now more than ever, but this school year several of my students have asked me point blank, “Do you enjoy teaching?” It’s never a difficult question for me to answer. “Of course,” I respond. “Would I do it if I didn’t?” I then go on to tell my students all the perks of being a teacher: working with young people, the promise of a different challenge every day, the ability to be creative in the classroom, retirement, benefits—not to mention fun perks like snow days and free time in the summer. By the end of the conversation, I can see the wheels turning in their heads a bit—some of them thinking, possibly for the first time, maybe teaching isn’t such a bad job.
After fielding a question like this, I wonder what my students expect me to say. “No, I don’t enjoy this job. I dread coming here every day.” Perhaps they’ve heard other teachers say those words. Maybe they’ve just read it in their body language. Teacher burnout is real, and many students have probably witnessed it firsthand. I’m not faulting anyone for experiencing this, but what is the solution? How can we truly enjoy our jobs—even when teaching is more difficult than ever?
I ran across a quote a few months back, and I’ve taped it to the edge of my computer monitor. It says, “We don’t burn out because our job gets too difficult. We burn out because we forget why we do it in the first place.”
Now the truth of the matter is: There are days when my inbox is overflowing and the task of getting 150 teenagers to pay attention long enough to learn something is pretty daunting. But I don’t teach because it’s easy; I teach because of the positive impact I (hopefully) make on the lives of young people. I want them to be good readers, good writers, and good thinkers. Focusing on that goal, when everything else is piling up, sustains me through the rough patches.
There is a growing teacher shortage in our country. Current teachers are leaving the profession, and fewer young people are choosing to enter it. Schools all over the country are desperately searching for ways to recruit more teachers (and keep the ones they have). I’m all for schools taking things off our plates and giving us more support. That is wonderful! I would love to receive more pay for what I do, more support. But those are all factors beyond my control. So what can I do? How can I impact a growing teacher shortage? How can I insure that I don’t burn out?
- Remember why I teach. When I’m facing a bad day, I think back to when I became a teacher—so young and idealistic. Remembering those early days of teaching reinvigorates me. Have I become more realistic in some things over the years? Yes, but seventeen years in, I’m still idealistic, and that’s something. I also remind myself that I’m not just impacting my own students; I’m also impacting the next generation of teachers.
- Make my classroom a place of innovation and engagement. My grandpa used to say that a rut is just a grave with both ends kicked out. Getting into the same old routine is a killer for creativity. If you make your classroom more engaging, it will impact both you and your students. They will enjoy being there, and you will, too. You didn’t come to this website looking for the same old thing. There are plenty of new things to try. Mix things up and see what happens.
- Promote my profession. I tell my students the good things about being a teacher. I tell them why I chose to become one. When I am having bad day (and we all have them), I still do the best I can. I don’t complain to my students about my workload or my pay. And on a regular day, I let my enthusiasm show. I don’t just want to say I enjoy my job. I want them to see it in how I act. Once when a student asked me, “Do you enjoy your job?” I shot back with, “Sure. Don’t I act like it?” They thought for a second and said, “You do.” Mission accomplished.
Teaching isn’t an easy job, and the events of the last two years have made it harder than ever. But one of the few things that haven’t changed is why we teach. Our students still need us—and always will.