Confessions of a stressed-out teacher and what I’m doing about it

4 Tips for Managing Teacher Burnout and Stress

by Tammy Ozolins

Ms. Oz, middle school health and PE teacher

I know other educators can agree with me when I say I surely did not learn how to manage my own mental health as a teacher when I was going to college to prepare myself for education (as far as teaching virtually, and hybrid and in the pandemic). I teach Middle School and I have now been teaching for about 17 years. Last year and this year by far has been the toughest yet.

We always have had duties, but this year, due to a shortage of subs, we now must sometimes cover classes during our planning. There are days when I get home and I literally throw myself on the couch and close my eyes and just release a big sigh.

Then are times, I have to have chocolate or stop and get fast food, just to treat myself. It is bad enough the amount of stress we have as teachers. But I must manage and control my own mental health condition and it can be a challenge.

I know it has been difficult and challenging for the students, but what about us TEACHERS? I can only speak for myself, but my brain has been packed and all over the place! The best way I can describe it is a hamster wheel, I feel like I am tripping over my thoughts because there is more and more, and sometimes, I cannot keep up! A lot has been put on my plate.

Teaching Middle School has its challenges. I prep for two subjects (Health and PE), and usually my class sizes are rather large ranging from 30-45. Here is what a typical day for me looks like. Start out my day with an Advisory class then teach 3 classes (grades, 6, 7, 8). I have about a 20-minute lunch, then depending on the day sometimes I have planning time, other times it ends up half the planning time because I must cover for a class due to lack of substitutes.

Add to that, doing homework boards, lesson planning, grading, making sure accommodations are being met, and the list goes on and on. So naturally, my brain would be overloaded. I find myself at times not being able to keep up and feel burnt out.

Moreover, I must manage and cope with my own Mental Health condition (bipolar) and of course, extreme stress, lack of sleep, making it that much more challenging. I feel my anxiety is at a high when it has not been like this before.

So I wanted to share the coping skills I use to help manage my mental health. I’m not sure if it will help other teachers but I thought I would share.

Tip # 1- Learning how to say NO!

I have always been and will most likely always will be a type-A person. I have high expectations of myself and not being able to do it all can be hard for me. Trust me, it has been HARD to make even the small changes. But, for my sanity sake I had to make some. I have always been the one to volunteer to help run an event, go help someone with anything they need, but I finally have learned to say the one word that has always been the toughest for me to say and that is the word “NO.” I have been having to say that and to be honest with you, it has helped me out. I now limit myself when helping others, so this way I am not completely saying NO all the time. This includes in my professional and personal life.

Tip #2- Taking things off of my plate!

I have always coached several sports throughout my teaching career. I have coached Softball at the JV and Varsity levels for several years. Along with being an Assistant Coach for Boys Soccer at the middle school level. I finally gave up coaching softball for the high school level, but still coach Boys soccer. I also have coached cheerleading and basketball, and softball at my middle school. This year, I was the boys Assistant Coach for Soccer again (which l loved doing), but this year I made the decision to take things off my plate and coaching is one of them. This was my last year coaching, because I needed more time for myself. As I get older, I realize I need time for myself, to do the things I like to enjoy. So, I am allowing this to happen.

Tip #3- Try not to bring a lot of work home with me or give myself a cut -off time

This one is a tough one, no matter how far ahead I think I may be, on lesson plans or grading etc, something always must get done. I then decide can I wait till the next day to get this accomplished. I am fortunate enough that I can get to work early and do it then. If so, then at times (not always) I will keep my computer bag closed for that evening and do something I enjoy. If this is not possible then I will set a timer for myself. Get as much done as I can in that time slot (let’s say two hours). Obviously, if it is something extremely important and I must go past this time I do. But at least I have allowed myself some time to myself.

Tip #4- Enjoy the weekends

I have now put schoolwork aside till Sunday (unless I choose to do anything earlier than that day). I allow my weekends to be “no schoolwork.” I do not care if I do not even have any plans that weekend, I will go ahead and just binge-watch my shows, go for walk, or read. I just NEED that downtime for sure.

These are a few things I have now been using to help me get through the chaotic world of teaching. Even though it has been crazy, and at times I am like, “Can I keep doing this?”

And then I get that one letter, email, or drawing from a student that says, “YES, I can.”

To all the educators out there, please remember you are MAKING A DIFFERENCE in someone’s life.

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