Wednesday, May 28, 2014


“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”

It's that time of year again. The merry merry mouth of May. The world is merry and bright and in love, and I'm the grumpy dwarf in Snow White's house. 

I'm tired. Epicly tired. Body-tired, soul-tired, brain-tired. Crazy tired. Stupid tired. 

Most jobs have a cyclical nature, I've observed. A busy season, a down season. My sister is an accountant, and when she was working for a CPA, tax season tried to kill her every year. My husband's work ebbs and flows according to what projects are on his plate in any given week. The difference in both of these cases, is that there is ebb as well as flow. 

Teaching doesn't have an ebb. Starting at the end of August and straight through to the middle of June, teachers are on. Every day is high pressure. We get to our "vacation" times and collapse gasping like fish who have been pulled from the water and left on the bank. 

This year was especially rough as a series of snow days removed all teacher work days from the calendar (teacher work days are days when teachers are paid to be at school working on the things that you can't do while supervising students: grading papers, analyzing assessment data, making lesson plans, gathering materials, cleaning your classroom, collaborating with your colleagues, etc.).  The tasks that I do on those days were not removed, however. I just had to find non-paid time to do them in. 

Over the years, I've gotten more and more efficient, capable of doing more in a sixty minute prep period than some manage across an entire workday. Unfortunately, this doesn't catch me a break. It doesn't mean that I suddenly have time to have tea with a colleague or take an actual lunch break during which I don't work. It just means that I bring less of my work home into the hours of the day the state is not paying me for. 

I know, I know. I get summer, right? That depends on what you mean by "get" and "summer." Non school days amount to ten weeks for students this summer in my school district. June 16-August 25. Teachers on the other hand finish work on June 25 and start again on August 18. Myself, I also work six extra days this summer on various kinds of planning and materials development sessions. So, about six weeks. For many teachers, it's even less. 

It's just barely enough to recover from the burnout factor enough to feel like you might be willing to try that again. If you have to work a summer job to make finances meet (as many of us do), or you are trying to fit some classes into your schedule so you can move up the salary schedule from "miserable pittance" to "mere pittance", then you don't benefit from the recuperative effects of the time. 

So, it's the time of year to fight your own burnout at school. 

For me, that means upping my caffeine consumption, making sure I get at least three hours of time outdoors in the sun each week, and reading escapist literature in my downtime (Spiderman Noir was excellent). So, pass the coffee and the comics, we've got a month yet to go!


  1. Even though I'm not teaching anymore, I'll always remember teacher burnout. It's an insidious thing. It creeps up on you slowly as it wears you down day by day and you don't realize you're in a state of burnout until some everyday task suddenly becomes too hard to bear. In my case, I had a lot of trouble making supper. Too often I would tell my family "You're on your own" when it was time to eat because I was literally too tired to expend the energy, even for something as simple as spaghetti and marinara sauce.

    I don't believe that the powers that be understand how devastating burnout is. Not only does it make teachers miserable, but it also robs the kids of the quality of education they should be getting because (in my case) their teacher is stumbling around the room forgetting everything I said as soon as I said it.

    Burnout is a real thing, and it needs to be addressed. Every year it goes unaddressed is a year where more experienced teachers leave the profession to do something else -- anything else.

    I wonder if burnout would be allowed to propagate itself is there was a (dare I say it?) union for teachers in North Carolina.

    1. I have often thought that being a non-union state was a major part of the problem here. It wasn't like this in other states I've worked in. Where's Norma Rae when you need her?