Sunday, April 30, 2017

Burned-INterview #1- This Burned-Out Teacher is Teaching with Her Emotions, When She Was Told Not To

Welcome to the very first Burned-INterview!

BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers are feeling or what they felt in the past, before they ended up leaving their education profession. 

AH: (Me!) Amber Harper   BiT: Interviewee

AH: How long have you been teaching?
BiT: I've been teaching for 5 years.
AH: How many school systems have you worked in?
BiT: I've worked in two.
AH: Hey! Me too! Were the schools rural, suburban, or inner city?
BiT: One is a complete Title school with a high free/reduced lunch population. It is a rural school. The other used to be pretty affluent and now half are Title but not completely free/reduced lunch. There is more economic disparity than the other school system I worked in. It is suburban. 
AH: What school setting are you working in?
BiT: I work with elementary school students.
AH: Did you always want to be a teacher?
BiT: Yes, but I don't know when I decided or why I wanted to be one.
AH: Of all that is hard about being a teacher, what is burning you out the most?
BiT: I realized really quickly how little control teachers have. You think you get to plan and interact with students the way that you want to, but then you HAVE to do "X,Y, and Z." Making things transparent means having to share lesson plans with other teachers, principals, and other staff which makes me feel really micromanaged. It's like their always watching me, as opposed to watching out for me. 
AH: Where do you feel you are the most unsupported as a teacher?
BiT: I get no acknowledgement for the work that I do with kids from my administration. Education is going through a lot, so resources are being taken away from me and administration is just like, "Well, we don't have this anymore, so you need to figure out a way to deal with it, pull up your boot straps and move on."
I feel that the rug is pulled out from under us all the time and then they tell us, "Don't be emotional. Leave your emotions at the door. They have no place in the classroom. Your job is to teach. You are a teacher." 
Well, I WANT to get emotional! It's the only way that I can connect with my kids on a HUMAN level, you know? I work with KIDS! Things happen to us! Why should I not be allowed to show some friggin emotions? Come on. I'm not sorry.
AH: What do you feel is the best way to support a teacher who is burned-out?
BiT: Show a little empathy! I want to feel like I can identify with other teachers and that I am not alone in how I feel. I want others to feel like they can talk to me too. Like we are in this together! I mean, I want administrators to try to teach my students and see how they feel about it. You know?

AH: Oh, I know. I think about that a lot. Do you feel that you have other teachers to confide in?
BiT: Yes, I do. I have a coworker who I talk things through with. But, you know, you can't have a relationship where all you do is complain. We take a 'time-out' to complain about what happened and then we discuss what we can do about it to keep it from happening again. You know? It's really hard not to just bitch all of the time, but I want to solve the problem. Sometimes there is no real solution, though. It's WAY more helpful for me to confide in a teacher. Other professionals don't get it. They just shake their heads and say, "I don't know how you do it." Well, you know? I don't know how I do it sometimes either. (chuckle)
AH: What do you wish was available to burned-out teachers?
BiT:  I wish there was like, NOT Pinterest. Do you know what I mean? It makes me feel AWFUL! I don't have the time or the energy to spend making pretty things for my kids. And quite frankly, I don't think they'd care. Every one is always sharing their BEST lessons and BEST teaching life. TEACHING IS NOT PINTEREST PEOPLE! I want to be part of a community where teachers can build each other up and make each other feel awesome!
AH: Who do you feel you associate with best when you are at your worst? Energetic people or people who share in your unhappiness at school?
BiT: You mean when there is a problem and no one wants to acknowledge it? I would really like someone in the middle. Like, someone who will listen without judgement and offers solutions. Someone who gets it, but that is positive and helpful.

Take Aways and Burning Questions

I, personally, am a very emotional person. I am passionate and excitable and cry to show a variety of emotions. Just ask my co-workers and husband. It's the truth. So when our conversation turned to emotions, I was all ears.

Throughout our entire conversation, the topic of emotions kept returning over and over again. She told of her feelings of resentment from being micromanaged, inadequacy from not being trusted to do her job well, lack of real control over her life within the walls of her school, and disappointment that the word 'transparency' has become a way of being checked on, instead of looked out for by her fellow teachers and administrators.

This teacher has been told on many occasions that she is to, "Leave emotions at the door. Whatever happened this morning, weekend, or the night before has no place in the classroom. Your job as a teacher is to teach the curriculum and when you bring in outside baggage, you are distracted and, therefore, not focused on teaching."

Is this realistic? She answered this question herself:

Why are we told to leave our emotions at the door? We should be using those emotions to connect with students on a HUMAN level. 

Teachers are social animals. We CRAVE communication and emotional connection. In fact, we don't just crave it, we THRIVE on it. And yet we are literally locked into a room, with children, and told not to be emotional. 

Should we be expected to pack down all of our emotions for the sake of breaking some invisible 'emotion boundary' that lies mysteriously between teacher and human?

Upon hearing about the Sandy Hook shootings, back in 2014, the teacher I interviewed was devastated, as was the World. When she entered her classroom the next day, a student approached her and asked, "... if that happened here, you would protect us, right?" Curriculum out the window. Insert emotional conversation about fear, guns, and the need for love.

How do you NOT get emotional when tragedy happens and you are asked a question like that by a child? 

I challenge you this week to take the advice of this teacher.      

OWN YOUR HUMANITY.  Be an emotional teacher. Get excited about your ability to shape lives or that you got a new car. Teach them the steps you took to save for it. Get angry about events in history, that you spilled your coffee all over the carpet right before the kids walked in, or that a student puked all over your phone while you were reading together. Talk to them about it. Then, teach them how you controlled that anger.

Here are some take-aways from our discussion about solutions to feeling over-emotional at school:

- Talk to others about how you are feeling without the fear of being judged. Other teachers are feeling the same way you are. Have a healthy, constructive conversation about them. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Connect, talk, cry or laugh with other teachers. Show emotions to each other.

- Leave. Go home and do something that makes you happy. I rarely stay past my contract time these days, because I have found that if I stay, I begin to find things to keep me busy. I'm happier and able to control my emotions better.

- Know you are not alone. When a student thew up all over my phone last week, I took a 20 min break and cried in the bathroom. That was the tipping point that day for me and I had had it. I didn't want anyone else to know, but they found out... just like they always do. My friends talked me down. They reminded me that I, in fact, wasn't crazy and that I am a human-being. (Also, that they would have also lost their minds if someone tossed their cheerios all over their lifeline!) Losing your cool is part of being alive. That felt good to hear. 

Do you agree? What are YOU doing to own your emotions within your four walls? 

I know you are not excited to share your thoughts with me via social media. I totally get it! Send me an email at and let me know your thoughts. Want to talk? I can interview YOU too! Other teachers want to hear your stories. It helps us feel connected and human. 


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Stop the Shame: Admit You are Burned Out and Take Action

Stop the Shame: 

Admit You Are Burned Out and Do Something About It 

We've all felt it. Some of us may feel burned-out now and are afraid to take the steps necessary to get us out of that slump! This is a post from last May and I'm bringing it back for all of you who are rethinking your career as an educator. Here are the steps I found helpful as I pulled myself out of burnout... more than once.  

Step 1: Admit That You Are Burned Out

When I was feeling burned-out and hating life, I felt 100% alone and isolated. I didn't feel that it was acceptable to feel the feelings that I had. After months of tears and not talking to anyone but my husband about this, because I was ashamed,  he was exhausted and told me to quit. I knew that I was an awesome teacher. Students, other teachers, and parents told me all the time how great I was. They showered me with compliments, and although it used to fuel my fire, I had found myself numb to it. 

It wasn't until I started doing some searching online that I realized, not only were other teachers feeling the same way, there was actual research being done about it. Up until the last few weeks, I had skimmed some of the articles and then closed out thinking, "Okay, I'm not alone, but these people are full of sh@#! How am I seriously going to feel better about my career choice?"

Recently, I have been doing some deep research about being burned-out online and it is helping me so much! I am becoming sharply focused on my attitude and behaviors as a burned-in teacher. After reading a lot of articles (you will find the links below), here are the biggest take-aways that I have for you to reflect on about YOURSELF as an educator:

Potential Causes of Teacher Burn-Out:
1. Your students don't seem to care.
2. You feel you are disciplining more than teaching.
3. The pressure to perform is high and your workload is even higher.
4. You are experiencing constant changes in expectations and standards.
5. You feel you are being over-evaluated.
6. You are constantly dealing with colleagues who are less then fun to work with.
7. You have low self-esteem.
8. You are working for administrators who are terrible managers.
9. You are confused about your role as a teacher.
10. Your working conditions are bad.

Signs You are Burned-Out:
1. You take a lot of days off of work
2. You don't share or seek great ideas.
3. When you do converse, you are complaining.
4. You have lost that "spark".
5. You are exhausted.
6. You rarely smile or laugh (especially at school).
7. You are anxious.
8. You feel overwhelmed.
9. You seek collaboration and can't find anyone willing to work with you.
10. You isolate yourself.
11. You feel that everything is an emergency.
12. You feel numb to feeling any emotions for students or other teachers.
13. You take forever to get out of bed to go to work.
14. You despise staying after school to do work in the classroom.
15. You feel severe annoyance about every little thing.
16. You use planning time to search for jobs outside of education.

Step 2: Take Action

Possible Solutions:
1. Be more playful.
2. Be present in your teaching.
3. Decide what you want to be and who you want to be.
4. Be an actor. (Fake it!)
5. Embrace the uncertainty.
6. Find balance.
7. Search yourself. What do YOU love to do?
8. Grow relationships in and out of school.
9. Show gratitude.
10. Heal. Know these feelings will pass if you want them to and you will come out stronger.

Find Inspiration:
1. Google 'Teacher Burn-Out'. Read about burnout and solutions.
2. Find TED-ed Talks.
3. Find a hashtag on twitter that inspires you or find great people to follow. (Follow me on Twitter @burnedinteacher)
4. Find funny teacher memes.
5. Find a group of teachers online to share triumphs with.
6. Decide what is important to you and what is not.
7.Plan activities in your off time that have nothing to do with teaching.


I hope that recognizing the signs is helpful to you and your journey to become burned-in again. Now, take the next step and TAKE ACTION! For me, taking action is simply enjoying my summer vacation with no thoughts about school for weeks on end. I love my school and my kids, but I am done for now.

FYI: There are MANY more articles out there on the topic of 'Teacher Burn-Out'. I strongly encourage you to read all you can about it. I am finding new articles every day. They are extremely confirming and refreshing to read. Plus, you may find out (after reading about someone else's teaching life) that you don't have it nearly as bad as you think you do. 

Email me signs that you know you are burned-out. Tell me about your situation. Share your shame so you can become sharply focused on fixing this. You can become burned-in again!
You can also tweet out what you are doing to stay burned-in with #burnedinteacher.

Burn on!