It’s Time To Combat Teacher Burnout

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Will you do nothing this summer holiday?

A few weeks ago we reported on the spread of Teacher Burnout, listed the causes and provided you with some tests to recognise the symptoms. Now the holidays are coming – it’s time to start combating it.

If you are a committed teaching professional then this summer you will be taking a holiday and moving yourself as far away as possible from any school work.

Doing plenty of nothing is a great idea and so is actually physically leaving your normal surroundings to have some adventures and recharge. The word ‘holiday’ should be a clue….take a break, take two, take several but whatever you do, don’t spend your rest time nipping into school to ‘sort your room out’ – leave it until you get back.

Don’t spend time fretting over planning – leave it. Have you forgotten already what ‘holiday’ means?!

No Go

UK teachers aren’t good at resting but there are lots of teachers further afield who won’t have any qualms about leaving their school work until after their holiday. They holiday when on holiday.

One of the stand-out messages in Timothy D. Walker’s book Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms is the Finnish respect for wellness and wellbeing.

We quoted this book in the popular blog 8 Strategies for a Happier Classroom. Now it’s time to make you happy.

Tim describes the Finnish attitude of ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ where free time and holidays aren’t spent working but pursuing their own interests and hobbies.

I think it’s fair to say that we all suffer from professional guilt and given such a long summer holiday we might talk ourselves into working some of it – but why should you?

Our colleagues might want to meet during the holidays to do some planning but you are allowed to say “No, I’m busy doing nothing!”

There is no obligation to do any school work and if you want to go back fighting fit, refreshed and ready for anything then take the opportunity to rest and revitalise.

Disconnecting for the majority of the summer holiday is absolutely essential to preserve your identity and keep your mind, body and soul intact for the long hours and long days when you are working. Excessive workload and stress are not welcome in a holiday. They are not welcome full stop.

Going Nowhere

Okay, ideally, it’s great to imagine having 6 whole weeks or more to luxuriate in your own time and unplug for the duration but there will be some who will find not doing any school work ends up making them more stressed.

I used to go into school for the last week of my holidays to ‘get ready’ and whilst it made me feel better, I can honestly say that it made little difference – most of what I did could have waited until the first couple of weeks back.

Constantly cheating myself out of the last week of my summer holidays stopped after about 15 years of teaching but even then I felt guilty I should have been doing something.

Senior leaders have their part to play here – close the school. That’s what one Head did I worked for. She didn’t open the school until the last three days of the summer term – teachers were barred! Of course, not preparing at least something would be too much of an extreme and would leave you ill-prepared. As Tim says in his book,

I’m not proposing that teaching-related work go completely untouched for the entire summer. Rather, I’m suggesting that we teachers prioritise designated stretches of putting work aside.

Tim proposes a hybrid approach whereby we take lots of time for disconnecting and also devote time to improving ourselves professionally because we have the space to do it.

Break Away

Ultimately, you have to do what works best for you and your lifestyle but taking time off and enjoying the long summer holiday does contribute to a better work-life balance over the long-term.

Embracing the summer holiday mindset Finnish style means letting go of teacher guilt, setting aside big chunks of time for yourself, family and friends and realising that a holiday is what it says on the tin. Yes, do a bit of work if you want but don’t feel bad if you don’t.

Squeezing every last-minute out of the summer is what children do and teachers should be allowed to do the same!

Ignore the teacher-bashers out there who constantly drone on about teachers having 6 weeks off every summer…in Italy it is 13 weeks, Greece and Portugal get 12 and Finland 11.

You might also want to take a look at a previous blog on holidays.

Are you interested in taking part in a teacher wellbeing research project? Download this pdf for more details.

3 thoughts on “It’s Time To Combat Teacher Burnout

  1. Head teachers have a lot to be responsible for here – this week I heard a conversation where a teacher was told I expect your room to be ready on iday one of inset in September. When would this be done expectation holiday quote “we are open 8-4 every day of the holiday!! “

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