Burn-out: fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity (Dictionary.com, 2017)
We have all been a victim of burn-out. While every individual regardless of age, intelligence, and profession has the potential to experience the effects of burn-out at some point in their lifetime, educators seem to struggle often with this negative phenomenon. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of Learning Policy Institute and founder of Stanford University's Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, “We have a very high attrition rate in the United States: 8 percent of teachers leave every year. That's a couple-hundred-thousand teachers. Less than a third of them are leaving for retirement” (NPR, 2017).
As educators, we all know the demand of time and energy that burdens us throughout the year, including during our holiday and summer breaks. “About 51 percent of public school teachers who left teaching in 2012–13 reported that the manageability of their work load was better in their current position [outside of education] than in teaching” (U.S. Department of Education, 2014).
If we want to avoid feeding into the statistics above, we need to use our time over the summer to do something about it (or, rather, to do nothing about it).
While society often gives educators flack for having several weeks off in the summer, we all know that we do not spend our summer-break days sitting in pjs and eating ice-cream. If you’re like me, and most of you likely are because educators are often over-achievers, you find it difficult to fully power down over summer break. We continue to check email, attend webinars, conferences, PD workshops, or plan for the upcoming year.
Unfortunately, we do not always do these things because we have a burning desire. We do them because we feel compelled by peers, employers, or personal guilt.
We need to make an effort to stop doing work over the summer that will not directly transfer to positive effects for our careers and personal lives. We need to learn to recognize what we really want to do with our time and know when to say “Maybe next time” to what we do not. Saying “Maybe next time” is not only an option that we have during our time off; it is something that may save us from being a victim of burn-out and equip us with renewed energy to tackle our in-season with the passion that initially led us to pursue a career in education.
Recognizing our purpose for completing work over break is key to understanding whether we are working because we truly need and want to or because we feel pressured by outside factors. Knowing where our motivation comes from will empower us to make more intentional choices about the load that we take on over the summer and maybe even throughout the year. Ultimately, taking well-deserved time away from our career in the “off-season” can make us happier individuals and better educators during our school-year.
Questions to ask yourself when deciding what to tackle over your summer break:
- Who is directly affected by my decision to do or not do? -- Do not limit yourself by thinking that only colleagues, employers, students, or even yourself are affected. Consider family members, friends, and others with whom you have personal relationships. Also, how will these individuals be affected? Can you afford to not do something work-related on their behalf? Or will they suffer as a result of your “not doing”? On the flip-side, who will suffer from your personal life if you take the time to “do”? Personal relationships are not always as salvageable as we think they are.
- Is this the only opportunity that I have to do or not do this particular task? -- Is attending this conference a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Will my educator’s license be lost if I do not earn these PGP’s or complete this course at this time? These are situations that may be great reasons to DO; however, most opportunities that come along over the summer are not as dire and you will likely have the ability to make up for an opportunity missed.
- How much time is really involved? -- If you’ve ever built a house, you fully understand that estimated time is far from actual time involved. The time it may take to get a job done does not often include the time it takes to plan the job, think about the job, make changes once the job has been completed, and reflect upon the job. Do you really have that much time to devote to doing?
- What are the direct consequences of doing or not doing? -- Have you been specifically told that you must do? Are others actually counting on you to do? What exactly will not doing mean, both personally and professionally, to you?
- What are the long term effects of doing or not doing? -- How will doing this affect you in 6 months, 1 year, 5-10 years? Will not doing this affect you down the road? In 1 year, will anyone even remember (including you) if you do or do not do this?
What to do when you decide NOT to do:
- Schedule time with family and friends. -- It’s amazing what time with family and friends can cure. You will not fully understand how time with family and friends can positively distract you until you allow it to do so. And, you will not be disappointed by allowing such a distraction.
- Take a mini-getaway -- Take a vacation far, far away if you can! OR - One-tank travels (trips that can be completed on one tank of gas round-trip) are great ways to relieve stress and see the local world around you.
- Immerse yourself in a hobby -- Being well-rounded can easily transfer to your career, so no hobby is a waste of time.
- If you feel compelled to work over the summer, limit your time and stick to it. -- Allow yourself 10 minutes a day or an hour a week for self-study, planning, or research. Or, allow yourself to attend one professional conference a month. Of course, be sure to allow time for reflection after any professional activity, but also be careful not to feel pressured into doing more than you wish to!
No one wants to be a victim of burn-out, and we should not feel guilty for taking personal time over the summer to avoid its side-effects and potentially life-altering consequences.
Goldring, R., Taie, S., and Riddles, M. (2014). Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results From the 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey (NCES 2014-077). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch. (APA Style)
Westervelt, E. (2016, September 15). Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It's Time To Address The National Teacher Shortage. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/15/493808213/frustration-burnout-attrition-its-time-to-address-the-national-teacher-shortage.