I am afraid of burnout. There, I said it. For my colleagues who may be reading this, I want to assure you that I do not feel close to it. I am tired, of course, as I am every Memorial Day weekend. Yet, I feel sadness that my classes are about to end. I am excited for reflective and planning work this summer. I keep thinking of the possibilities of next year.
Still, I worry that one May I might just feel done and it might come before I am ready to retire. I wonder if it will sneak up on me gradually, with each day getting a little harder or if it will hit me like a ton of bricks one day. As a history teacher, I know better than to predict the future. As a human, I know that taking care of myself enhances the chances of higher quality of life. So, the question is – How do I take care of myself professionally?
I have been undertaking some quiet, non-scientific research this spring. Instead of collapsing in a heap from exhaustion, I have tried to reflect on what has worn me out when I have had one of those days. Even more important, I have been paying attention to what has happened on those days when I feel full of joy and life, energized not drained at the end.
My conclusions were a little surprising. It seemed to have very little to do with how busy I was or the number of things on my “to-do” list. Sleep, diet and exercise certainly matter, but those were not the deal-makers or breakers.
What mattered most was my relationship to learning. I felt renewed and energized when I felt like I was learning and growing. What I realized is that new ideas and new tools should not wait until a new school year. So long as there is a single class left, there is room for innovation. I had my tables repainted with IdeaPaint so that they became whiteboards in late April, even though it meant doing without my tables for a week and then having limited time to use them before the end of the school year. It was a great time to experiment, and the students helped me learn the best uses for them. I introduced a LiveScribe pen into my classes for note taking purposes, and now students who miss class or want to review can listen to class discussion again. I did not use it every class, as not all classes were discussion – oriented, but I used it enough to incorporate it into my practices. For my last set of essays, I took an idea from a colleague who grades orally, reading and commenting on student papers then sharing those audio files with the students. It would have been easy to delay any or all of these until next year, but instead of draining me all of these learning experiences energized me and my students. My fourth new venture in May was beginning a book club for independent school teachers with a friend. We had our first meeting in the last month of school. Again, this took time but added energy.
So, what I have discovered is that so long as I see myself as a learner in my work, I will be fine. I love teaching because I love kids but also because I love learning. I will continue to monitor to see what energizes me, but I think I have found the key. Keep on learning.