Avoiding and Embracing English Teacher Burnout

We all hit that wall eventually.   We look around at the stacks of essays waiting to be graded, tests to be written, parent emails to be answered, books to prep and we wonder if we picked the right profession.  We realize that something has to give.  We may have to give up some of our responsibilities at school like moderating a favorite club or that extra essay assignment that would be an amazing learning experience, but also the proverbial straw that will break our back.  Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in our personal lives also like that extra hour of sleep we would love or that Sunday afternoon hike we were invited to take.  The struggle to find balance between school and personal life has been a huge part of my career for the last 10 years.  We all know how important it is to take care of ourselves so we can be better teachers to our students, so today I want to offer you the following lessons I’ve learned in this area:


1. You are not alone.  When it feels like everyone else in your department or on your pinterest feed has it all together, I promise there is more to that story.  We have our moments of glory, but we also have those seasons of burnout.  I highly recommend finding someone with whom you can commiserate and celebrate. There is strength in numbers.  In addition to your colleagues at home, I’m here to listen and sympathize.  I blog mostly about my successes in the classroom, but I promise I have those days too! Sometimes knowing we are not alone can make all the difference.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Take advantage of the amazing resources offered by Secondary Solutions!  Long before I started writing for this blog I was a loyal customer of the reading guides and writing instruction tools.  Although I love a nice paper resource to flip through, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve opted for an immediate download of a reading guide or quiz that I needed to check off my to do list in order to save my last bastion of sanity.

burnout 2

3. Design lessons that will rejuvenate you.  It seems like every year my burnout comes around the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter.  With the inspiration of one of my colleagues, this year, I planned a project that has helped me stave off those blues by keeping my curriculum rigorous but taking the planning off my shoulders.  Click here to download the handout I gave students, which you can edit to suit your needs. Here is the gist:

  • First, I took the novel (Huckleberry Finn for juniors and Wuthering Heights for seniors) and I divided them into 10-12 even sections and created a reading schedule/group sign up for each section.  Students formed groups of 2 or 3 and signed up for a given day and set of chapters.
  • At the beginning of each class, I gave a short reading quiz for the whole class, just to keep everyone accountable.
  • On the first day of the project, I gave a sample lecture and activity with explanation of what grade I would have gotten and why.  I also gave a lot of ideas for variation.
  • For the next few weeks, the group of the day gave a 20 minute lecture on the chapters. I encouraged students to use powerpoint, prezi, or google presentation.  They summarized their chapters and related to the major themes I assigned.  I loved this because it taught presentation skills and I believe we always find that students know the novel so much better when they are asked to teach it (plus they get a healthy dose of appreciation for what we do everyday!).
  • After the 20 minute lecture, they did a 20 minute activity around the chapters.  I asked students to bring in their ideas of best practices and things they enjoy from across the curriculum.  I loved this because it gave me insight into their metacognition and also allowed me to see the great ideas of my colleagues in action.  Student activities came from a wide range, including small group discussion, socratic seminar, jeopardy, theater activities, media clips, and even a student created video game!
  • For a few weeks, I gave students control of my class and it was amazing to see the work they came up with, but it was even more amazing to take a breather from the constant preparation grind without sacrificing content or academic rigor.

Are you feeling the English teacher burnout?  What are your strategies for stemming that tide?

3 thoughts on “Avoiding and Embracing English Teacher Burnout

  1. I’m a first year ESE teacher and I am feeling the burnout. I have been sick so much, I feel like I’m out more than there. I have IEPs piling up on my desk and emails flooding my computer. My students are sweet, but often very difficult to motivate. I just leave work feeling defeated and I am losing confidence in myself as an educator.

    It was nice to see that even veteran teachers feel overwhelmed. It seems like everyone around me has this amazingly well-ran classroom and I’m just over here treading water, praying I can make it to summer.


    1. Teaching is one of the only jobs in which it is harder to be absent than to be present! I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling, but please know that you are not alone. Behind all those shiny “well-run” classroom doors are teachers who are in over their heads most of the time. I can almost guarantee that you are doing a much better job than you give yourself credit for. Keep your head up and I will be sending positive thoughts your way ;)

      PS Sometimes I have it all together, but mostly I’m right there with you! Next week’s blog is all about the surprising challenges I struggle with regularly.


  2. Thank you! I felt weird talking to my colleagues about it, because I don’t want them to think I’mnot good at my job (especially since some times I feel like I’m not).
    They tell you in college that this is the hardest profression and so many people quit after the first year. It doesn’t hit till you’re in the thick of it yourself. It takes over your life completely and the little triumphs seem to come fewer and further between.
    I look forward to reading your next post on struggles…and thank you for the positive thoughts, I’ll take all I can get!


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