How To Burn Yourself Out As A Teacher

How To Burn Yourself Out As A Teacher

by Terry Heick

Several years ago, we published a post titled, Why Good Teachers Quit.

Tens of thousands of social shared and scores of comments–later, it’s pretty clear that this idea resonates with teachers.

We’ve taken a few different approaches to the idea in the past, including 25 Ways To Reduce Teacher Burnout & Secrets For Teacher Survival, as well as The Best Teachers Don’t Do What They’re Told, as well as a recent post about “teaching differently.”

So here we are again, taking another look at teacher burnout, this time trying to understand how it happens. If you’re increasingly tired, prone to the Sunday night blues, and have had your July’s excitement increasingly replaced by a sense of dread, teacher burnout could be the reason why.

How To Burn Yourself Out As A Teacher: 10 Ways

1. Stop being fascinated with the art and science of teaching.

Teaching is a wonderful mix of curiosity, content, and process–ideas and data; love and numbers; soft and hard. Once you’ve lost your fascination here–with what works, how it work’s why it works, and what else might be possible, you turn into something less–a teacher just trying to survive each day.

And that inspires no one, and won’t tantalize the inner you, which leads to deeper mediocrity, and so on in a downward kind of spiral, until you’re that teacher in staff meetings just wanting to be told what to do while you count down the days until summer.

2. Lose your creativity.

Your creativity is your spark. It’s both a cause and an effect; a cause of exceptional learning design, and the effect of your own professional engagement with compelling content, and students you believe you can reach. As with #1 above, once you stop treating your classroom as playful and human and fun, so will your students.

3. Think “workflow” isn’t important.

How do you assign work? Collect it? What do you do–exactly–the moment it’s collected? Is it physical or digital? How do you separate grading and learning feedback? How do you collect data? How are your units and lessons designed to incorporate data?

The workflow of the modern teacher is everything.

4. Forget that you’re a professional.

Teaching is a deeply human process. It’s also one of the most humbling “jobs” you can do. In the end, you’re educated, trained, certified, and dedicated. You’re a professional. And it’s easy to forget this in the face of so much pressure and accountability and paperwork and CYA and, well, you probably already know.

5. Try to grade everything.

Don’t. Distinguish between practice and “measurements,” learning feedback and points so that both students and parents understand.

6. Refuse to set boundaries.

Between school and home. Between this class and that. Between last year and this year. Between healthy skepticism and negativity.

In fact, “get good” at unplugging altogether–and that doesn’t simply mean to put down your phone or tablet. It means to mentally unplug. Let go. Do something selfish every now and then. Be lazy. Flirt with life. Giggle.

It’s okay to set boundaries; you’re not good to anyone worn out, deflated, uninspired, and running on lethal levels of Diet Coke.

7. Take it personally.

It’s natural to take something as important as teaching personally. After all, it’s probably why you chose teaching to begin with. But i t’s also a recipe to wear yourself out. Trust yourself. Remind yourself that you’re a professional. You work exceptionally hard to better understand your craft, and how to design powerful learning experiences for students.

There will be times where you won’t be on. You’ll mess up. Something won’t work. You’ll feel lost. Worrying will just drain you, and paralyze your ability to think like the professional you are.

There is absolutely ego in teaching, no matter how selfless and noble a profession it seems. You’re acting as a content expert to lead students to life-changing knowledge and understanding. There’s real hubris–and hope–in that. But you can’t take it personally. I mean, you can, and at times this will pull you through, but it’s a dangerous game.

There is a thin line between believing in your work, and taking it all personally.

8. Fail to meaningfully collaborate.

This includes asking for help when you need it. Humble yourself. Reach out, connect, and try something new.

9. Say “yes” to everyone.

Join every committee, extra-curricular program, or planning event you’re asked to join. Submit to peer pressure and get roped into things until you’re completely over your head. That’ll wear you out in a hurry.

10. Refuse to call in sick when you’re sick.

Yes, it probably is just easier to come to school when you’re sick. Sub plans, behavior issues, learning continuity, etc. Listen to your body. If you’re sick, rest. Plus, nobody else wants that mess.

How To Burn Yourself Out As A Teacher; Signs of Teacher Burnout; image attribution flickr user Boudewijn Berends

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I’d add : “Forget that teaching is performance art, and the teacher is an actor on a stage.” If a teacher is just going through the motions, and forgetting that your students are your audience, you’ll bore them to tears. And bore yourself…


Wow! This was all so true. All the teachers I know who are just tired exhibit all of these things. The hardest one for me to swallow is no. 10- I hate to be absent and try to work through illness each year. I guess I should gibe that up, lol! Thanks for sharing!

Martin Riemer

This post is about teachers an their burningouts. Why do you choose a pic, showing a children?


Josain Zsun

I avoid any time away from the classroom. It costs ~1 day prepare and ~1 day repair for each day away.


Yup… I went to school with laryngitis today. And tried to teach. At some point, I felt a bloody taste in my throat… Trying to keep my rhythm, not break the flow, not stay behind… Idiot… Best and simplest advice: Listen to your body. If you’re sick, rest. Period.

So much truth in all of this. I love your choice for #1. It’s one of the fastest ways I can tell when someone is either burned out — or maybe never should have become a teacher in the first place — when they don’t totally dig into a conversation about methodology, strategy, or whatever. #7 is also incredibly important. There is so much vulnerability in teaching; so many ways to get it wrong. You have to be okay with failing at something every day. And because you’re dealing with people — your students, your colleagues, administrators and parents —… Read more »

3,5 & 6 are critical. If workflow / efficiency is not optimised, the focus is too short-sighted, too much on “getting through the day”. I often feel that the culture is far too self-flagellating: if we’re not flogging ourselves to death grading papers, we’re not doing enough. The problem with this outdated mindset is that no time or energy is left for self-reflection and evaluation of the learning process.

craig shapiro

Excellent list! I’d add that while the list is about what you shouldn’t do, there are things you definitely should do.

1. Greet kids at the door
2. Remember that you’re teaching young minds, not adults.
3. Bring your passion to the class and school. If you don’t have it yet, talk to others that do.
4. Make the class all about students and less about you.
5. Smile and laugh every class period. It keeps the mood positive.

It’s easy to keep going, but hopefully the 5 listed will be useful.

craig shapiro

This is a follow-up to my previous post. The best advice I can suggest is called avoiding the “Gas Gap.” I learned this from a colleague while we were chatting after school. It simple means, making sure that you Give A ..,. as much as and hopefully more than your students. During the year there will always be times that cause stress and anxiety. This is normal! No teacher I’ve ever met goes through an entire year without some situation that gives them pause. But, avoiding the Gas Gap is a great way to stay reflective and realize that if… Read more »