by Drew Schrader
While teaching can be an intensely rewarding vocation, we also know that it is a profession with a high likelihood of burnout. This past year, concerns about teacher burnout are greater than ever, for obvious reasons.
As we consider burnout, it is useful to note that burnout isn’t simply the result of overwork. Rather, as researcher Steven Kotler notes in his book The Art of Impossible, burnout “is the byproduct of repeated and prolonged stress. Not the result of working long hours, but rather the result of working long hours under specific conditions.” Those “specific conditions” read like bullet points for the challenge of teaching during covid:
- High risk
- Lack of a sense of control
- Misalignment of passion and purpose
- Long, uncertain gaps between effort and reward
No wonder educators are feeling burned out!
With summer break on the horizon, it is a great time to start thinking about how to make the most of this downtime.
(Note to educators reading this post. You may be at the point where you have had enough of “helpful” people like me giving you ideas for “what you should do” for a while. As a former teacher, I hear you! If anything, consider these as helping give permission to be a little selfish with your time in the name of recovery. Better yet, just forward this list on to your family, friends, partner, kids, etc to let them know what you need!)
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep is one of the most critical protective factors and preconditions for healthy living and flourishing. Getting enough sleep improves our mood, helps regulate hormones, improves our immune system, allows our brains to consolidate new information for learning, and allows us to recover and grow from stress. Both the quantity and quality of sleep matter. If you are a morning person, try get to bed early enough for the 7 or more hours of sleep recommended by experts.. If you are a night-owl by nature, harness your inner teenager and sleep in this summer to get fully recharged.
- Make time to do activities you love. While a good Netflix binge can be a nice way to relax, the most rejuvenating breaks often come when people make time to engage in fulfilling activities. Similar to active recovery in sports training, engaging in passion activities helps people get into “flow states” which come with a host of psychological and biological benefits. Bonus points for activities that people tend to lose themselves in like hiking, rock climbing, skiing, etc. These so-called “high flow” activities can bring an extra boost of endorphins and other positive hormones and chemicals in the body. Engaging in these kinds of activities may feel like an indulgence, but they are extremely valuable when it comes to recovery.
- Get out in nature. Just twenty minutes in nature has been shown to significantly lower stress hormones. As you prioritize different kinds of activities this summer, know that any time you opt for a so-called “nature pill” you are nurturing both the body and the mind with a host of related health benefits. A walk in the woods, a morning on the beach, whatever your geography allows for you to take advantage of the restorative benefits of nature. Even better if you can go somewhere with no cell coverage!
- Make daily space for yourself. While we often idealize the “summers off” part of the teacher life-style, the reality is many teachers simply substitute the stresses of the school year for the stresses of a summer job or summer family obligations. While some of this is unavoidable, look for ways you can have some regular time just for yourself. Whether you use that time for some exercise, a mindfulness practice, a good soak in the tub, or just some time to do whatever, making that space will be good for you and help you recharge.
- Really get away. Periods of prolonged stress and challenge often require a total reset experience that lets you fully get away. Where possible, looking for a way to take a true vacation – maybe even alone or with close friends rather than the family – can provide the additional recovery space after a long year. If that isn’t feasible in your situation, be creative in carving out longer blocks of time where you are free from the normal pressures and obligations of parenting and day-to-day life.