Summer isn’t what it seems for many teachers. The average person may think teachers spend three months by the pool, feet kicked up and thoughts far from the classroom. But anyone who’s ever talked to a teacher and listened knows that’s not true. Summer can provide a reprieve, yes–and I sincerely hope all teachers can grab some pool time or enjoy another relaxing activity during these sunny days.
But teachers don’t always mentally leave their classrooms when their students head out for the summer. In addition to attending in-service training during their time off, teachers tend to keep a mental tally of the stresses of the classroom running through their minds: lesson planning, worries about students, scheduling to accommodate ever increasing demands. It can lead to stress that simmers through the summer and reaches a rolling boil as the school year begins.
Doris Santoro, an education professor at Bowdoin College, believes that teachers aren’t suffering burnout, but demoralization. The difference between the words burnout and demoralization implies all kinds of things about issues, blame, and potential remedies. Framing is so important to how we see our work and how we see ourselves (for more on language and narrative, see our discussion on storytelling).
Santoro prefers to frame what many teachers feel with the word demoralization because she says aspects of the modern public education system have infringed on the “moral rewards” of teaching–the reasons that so many teachers flocked to the classroom in the first place. Santoro collected stories of teacher demoralization in a book Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay.
Whether you frame the feeling veteran teachers increasingly face as burnout or demoralization, it still equates to a teacher who once found passion and joy in the classroom and now faces drudgery and discontent. But what’s to be done about teacher burnout? The epidemic is apparent in enough teacher resignation letters gone viral that a Michigan State professor dubbed these letters a new genre of teacher public discourse. If summer can’t revitalize a teacher’s passion for her career, what can?
We may each have a different answer to that question as we each require a different mix of support toward ready minds. This space is to support you, and the teachers in your circles, to ready yourselves for the challenges of such great and noble work. To feed yourself as you feed your students or coachees. And to start that journey to supporting yourself, to addressing demoralization or burnout, let’s look both inside and outside: inside to think about how we’re thinking and feeling, outside to identify what circumstances influence our feelings and the behaviors we’re sharing as a reflection of our inner landscape.
To help with this, I have a free resource, The Way Time Feels, for you to spend some time in reflection. Think about your typical day (summer break day and post-summer break day), and jot down all the activities you attempt in an average day. Then think through how those items in your routine make you feel. Rushed? Stressed? Calm? Fulfilled? Maybe several emotions all at once. This is an honest reflection between yourself and your day, so don’t hold back.
Once you’ve identified the way time feels through your day, you can begin the work of building on the moments that bring joy or fulfillment and developing strategies to confront the stress that parts of your day bring. None of us can eliminate stress, but we can work to integrate supports for the stress, so that it doesn’t boil over.
And you don’t have to do it alone! The entire Paratus community is behind you. If you’d like to explore deeper connections to topics like resilience, stress, and anxiety, consider joining Pushing Past the Pages—it’s group coaching with a book club feel! We’ll share our own thinking, stories and ideas, and make stronger connections and commitments to information and strategies that impact our interactions and experiences with others.