When the Kick-Butt Anything Teacher Feels the Pull of Burn-Out

This is my tenth year teaching.  My first group of fifth graders will be graduating soon, and part of me can’t believe I’ve been teaching long enough for those booger-flicking 10- year -olds to be headed to college–they will vote in this year’s national elections!  Another part of me, however, feels a hundred years old–teaching years sometimes feel like dog years to me, at least lately.  I ignored this feeling for a while, but it insidiously creeps up, inch by inch, this feeling that I am tired of…what?

Teaching?  I don’t think so–I feel my teacher-ness down to my bone marrow, it is my identity, my vocation…and lately, my job.  Small things really–we used to sing, and dance, and laugh along with reading, writing, and reaching for understanding.  That slowly, slowly became the exception, not the rule, of a day in my fifth grade.  Frustration with a broken and broke education system, backlash against my entire profession for a wide array of social and economic ills, complacency from staying in a single type of teaching assignment, and weariness from pushing against the constant failures of students/parents/administrators that I internalized (along with my genuine, and regular, failures) just all seemed to surround me, and I didn’t know what to do.  I don’t really know what to do now.

I was getting close, so close to what feels like a point of no return, where I would metamorphose into those vacant, grouchy teachers I spent years making fun of, secure that my passion for learning and teaching and kids would sustain me.  I am trying to draw back from the precipice of burn-out, but the geography of my situation has me somewhat at a loss.  I am making my own map, looking for a way through the detritus that I’ve allowed to get between me and a better path to teaching.

First, I started by admitting to my colleagues and principal what was wrong.  After reading the book The Highly Engaged Classroom by Deb Pickering and Robert Marzano, I attended a workshop led by Pickering.  Spending a couple of days reading, thinking, and interacting with others around the topics of student attention and engagement was like looking in a rather unforgiving mirror.  I tried to look away, really I did, but once I started looking at my recent practice, I couldn’t stop.  Don’t get me wrong–from the outside, I have done a lot right.  I teach to the standards.  I use flexible grouping, and strategic technologies, and include student choice…but something was clearly missing.  The day after this workshop, I presented about engaging students to my colleagues, the K-4 teachers who have worked to grow our students, and then have trusted me to do the same, and I admitted that I’ve been giving less than my best.  That I’ve been meeting my students’ frustrations and special needs with my own frustration, instead of remembering that I’m supposed to meet their needs with teaching.  I stood there and admitted that, for a while now, I’ve forgotten that the difference between a serviceable lesson and a compelling opportunity to learn is…me.

I want to teach like this guy grew sideburns--richly, fully, a little wildly.

So now I’m out here without a compass, and maybe the next piece is just to keep moving.  Today we played a couple of simple games to review ideas in social studies.  Tomorrow, I’m planning some  “move around” components in math.  And I’m afraid–afraid I’ll fail, afraid I’ll fall asleep again, afraid I won’t find my way back from the edge, back where my students need me to be.  Where I need me to be.

And I’m excited.  Because part of me remembers what it was like to be awesome.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BookMama
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 03:26:52

    I hope you get your mojo back soon! A little bit of “fake it until you make it,” maybe? Good luck.


  2. hloney
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 21:21:55

    Thanks, Andrea!


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