5 Teacher Burnout Signs That Tell You It’s Time for a Break

Carolina Jacobs

Jan 23, 2023
teacher burnout signs

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You went into teaching because you were passionate about helping young people grow and reach their potential. However, years of dealing with administrative woes and dissatisfied parents have you begging to stay home from school, facing possible teacher burnout signs. Although paid sabbaticals used to be the norm, they’re no longer available in many districts. 

You still might need to step back and reassess, regaining your passion for your profession or setting sail for different shores. Here are five teacher burnout signs that tell you it’s time to take a break. 

1. You Start Losing Your Patience

One of the soft skills no one tells you that you need as a teacher is patience. It’s practically implied in the job description. It goes beyond being “nice” to your students — it influences your students’ long-term retention of critical concepts. 

For example, let’s say a student struggles over a challenging equation. Patient encouragement permits them to work through the problem independently, gaining valuable skills — including persistence. A frazzled, burnt-out teacher may direct them toward the correct answer while losing the process, meaning the student will be less likely to solve a similar equation by themselves come test time. 

A lack of patience also creates a toxic classroom environment. As a teacher, you have a solemn duty to serve as a role model, demonstrating how to deal with frustrating behaviors. Snapping and shouting reinforce negative coping mechanisms students might already get at home, triggering worse outbursts. Your attitude can promote chaos and confusion or harmony and positive relationships — you hold the helm.

2. You Stop Experimenting 

Education is a growing, dynamic field. People are always learning more about the best ways to reach each student more effectively. Part of the process involves healthy experimentation. Will this seating arrangement promote cooperative learning or disruption? Will this activity engage those tactile learners who tune out during the lecture? 

A sure sign of burnout is neglecting such experimentation, opting instead to steal lesson plans off popular sites without modifying them. Experienced instructors might fall back on the same methods they used in years past, ignoring the changing reality of today’s learners. For example, they may cling to the long lecture format when research shows that most adolescents can only pay attention for a few minutes, a span that continues to decrease as electronic use and instant gratification increase. 

Fortunately, getting inventive may cure your burnout. Your students are probably as tired of the same old, same old as you. Shaking things up can reignite their passion for learning, spreading that spark to your attitude. Get creative and try something you never have before. As long as you ground your practices in educational theory, you can’t fail — only learn how to approach your lesson better 

3. You Get the Sunday Blues 

Do you find your mood growing increasingly sourer as the hour grows later on Sunday afternoon? If you dread the thought of Monday morning so much that you can’t enjoy your time outside of the classroom, it might be time for a lengthy break. 

Another sign of burnout is not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Get mindful — your reasons may not all be burnout-related. For instance, you might dread waking up on chilly mornings, putting your feet on a frozen floor and shivering your way to the bathroom. Can you drape a robe and slippers over the end of your bed before turning in for the night? It might sound like a silly, simple trick, but you’d be amazed at the difference it makes. 

4. Your Grading Gets Haphazard 

Grading piles of papers can create decision fatigue — you’re constantly making snap judgments. Is this grammatical error egregious enough to warrant a B instead of an A? You might not even notice all your brain’s tiny choices, but your body keeps the score. 

Experts on decision fatigue note that it leads to increased impulsivity and avoidance behaviors. You might find yourself saying, “the heck with it,” assigning credit to any paper with words on it without reading the content. Conversely, you may let that stack of ungraded papers build up on your desk, creating an ongoing stress loop — you know you should tackle them, but the thought overwhelms you so much that you don’t. 

5. You Complain More Than You Compliment 

Your job as a teacher consists of more than being a cheerleader. However, your students need you as a positive influence — you might be the one cheerful adult in their world. 

Does this mean embracing toxic positivity and pretending everything is fine when it isn’t? No — your students will ultimately respect you more when you keep things real by acknowledging the dark side of life. They know things like crime, war, poverty and homelessness exist. They need people who show them there is also a lot of good in the world and just as many people working to make life better for all as there are making it harder. 

However, pay attention if you catch yourself saying things like, “It’s all the parents,” “there’s nothing we can do,” and “that’s just the way it is.” Maybe things look dire right now, but your job as a role model is to hold out the promise of a better tomorrow. If you feel like your mission is futile and nothing you do influences your students’ lives for the better, it’s time to step back and reassess your life’s work. 

Recognize These Teacher Burnout Signs 

Most teachers enter the field because they feel called to the vocation. However, even the most dedicated instructors aren’t immune from bureaucratic headaches and parental nightmares stealing their mojo. 

Nevertheless, you owe a duty to your students to be an upbeat, positive role models. Recognize these signs of teacher burnout and take the appropriate actions to avoid passing on your negative emotions to the next generation. 

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