Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Being a Teacher and a Student: From Burnout to Balance

May 13, 2019 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

- Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I was the typical, quiet, studious “nerd” in school. I loved getting new school supplies, sitting in the front of the room, and I embraced each new topic as an exciting milestone. Who’s with me?

In my experience, most teachers become teachers because they loved school and enjoyed helping others reach their potential. For me, it was also a family business. My mom, the math teacher, was the equivalent to a superhero in my eyes. I was more than happy to borrow her cape and continue with the family tradition, trying my best to fill her shoes while carving out my own path.

Although I am a teacher,13 years later I still feel like a student learning more and more every day. It saddens me when I read articles discussing the increase in teacher-burnout rate, one article citing that “roughly half a million teachers leave the profession each year.” I’ve found that the balance between being a teacher and remaining a student is what keeps me fresh and wanting to stay in the field.

So, why do teachers have to choose?

Here are a few of the go-to strategies that help keep me from “feeling the burnout":

Take Risks

I was afraid of not being perfect at the beginning of my career. I was the teacher, the authority, I had to always be right. What a rigid and nerve-wracking mindset. Not a way to live. It’s impossible to always know the correct answer or how best to handle a situation. But it turns out that my greatest moments in teaching were when I made a mistake—that’s when I learned the most.

Our students aren’t fragile antiques, they want to be challenged and engaged. It’s tiring sitting in the same spot for over 40 minutes (unless, of course, they are swiping through their phones). I find the best ways to keep things interesting in a classroom is to incorporate hands-on group activities where the students make the discoveries. A quick Google search is a great way to learn activities that others have already tried out and that you can use in your classroom right away.

I also like to present problems for which I haven’t previously worked out the solution. I know this goes against everything I learned in teacher college, but it helps my students see a true thought process, not one that is perfectly worked out. They can learn a great deal by watching us work through our struggles and frustrations.

Reflect

How did that lesson go? Was it a success or did it bomb? Am I happy with my student performance and engagement today? What can I change to make it better for tomorrow, next week, next year? I have gotten into the practice of reflection—making notes in my plan book about the pros and cons of a lesson and ways to improve for next year.

During the year, we get busy. It’s unrealistic to say we can correct everything in the moment. Adding these notes while the lesson is fresh in my mind is quick and a great reference to use when I’m preparing lessons for next year.

Set Goals

Think about what motivates you. How do you stay engaged and continue learning? Each school year I ask what I want to improve upon. This year, I challenged myself to create one new hands-on activity for each unit. At the end of the year, I will have 13 new lessons that I didn’t have before. Slowly, I will create an entire flash drive of hands-on activities.

Setting small goals keeps me engaged and excited about what I’m teaching, even if it is the same prep for the past five years. This excitement is contagious—our students can feel when we’re engaged in our lesson, and this helps them get behind the concept.

Choose at least one new goal to get you excited about each school year and enjoy that feeling when you have accomplished it!

Get involved

Become an active member of your school community. It allows you a different avenue to learn about your students but also introduces you to other teachers in your school. Advise a club, coach a sport, find a competition, and get your students involved. If there isn’t an activity that interests you, start one! Share a passion of yours—you never know what students or teachers you will inspire.

Connect

My most valuable lesson was learning the importance of connection. The best decision I ever made was joining a districtwide literacy committee. A math teacher learning about literacy in the classroom—how strange! But it’s this one decision that I consider to be the turning point of my career.

I went out of my comfort zone and joined a group of colleagues to learn something new that helped me become a better teacher. I strongly encourage all teachers to get involved in their local, state, and national organizations. As a math teacher in Long Island, N.Y., I’m a member of:

As a result, I belong to a network of knowledgeable and passionate educators. We follow each other on Twitter, attend and lead professional-development workshops and conferences, and share our experiences and opportunities. Don’t wait, there is an organization that’s right for you; find one and join today!

Anyone who is or knows a teacher understands the challenges of the field. It’s not a career for those in it for the summer vacations and early afternoons. To stay invested for the long haul, it’s important to keep the balance between being the teacher and continuing to be a lifelong learner. To me, you can’t be one without the other.


Christina Pawlowski is a math teacher at Commack HS, a New York State Master Teacher Program Emeritus, Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State County Chairperson, and 2018 New York State Teacher of the Year Finalist.

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year believes expert teachers will lead the way to a more equitable and exceptional future for all kids. Do you agree?

Then help ensure that great teacher voices keep coming your way by donating to NNSTOY now. Donate Now

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers to Admin: You Can Help Make Our Jobs Easier
On social media, teachers add to the discussion of what it will take to improve morale.
3 min read
Vector graphic of 4 chat bubbles with floating quotation marks and hearts and thumbs up social media icons.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Missy Testerman Makes Immigrant Students Feel Welcome. She's the National Teacher of the Year
The K-8 teacher prioritizes inclusion and connection in her work teaching English as a second language.
5 min read
Missy Testerman
At Rogersville City School in Rogersville, Tenn., Missy Testerman teaches K-8 students who do not speak English as their first language and supports them in all academic areas. She's the 2024 National Teacher of the Year.
Courtesy of Tennessee State Department of Education
Teaching Profession Teachers: Calculate Your Tax-Deductible Expenses
The IRS caps its annual educator expense deduction at $300. This calculator allows teachers to see how out-of-pocket spending compares.
1 min read
Figure with tax deduction paper, banking data, financial report, money revenue, professional accountant manager abstract metaphor.
Visual Generation/iStock
Teaching Profession Opinion All About Teacher Observations: How to Get Them Right
Educators and other experts offer a decade’s worth of insight on the highs and lows of teacher observations.
5 min read
Collage of a blurred classroom with a magnifying glass over the teacher, sheets of note paper,  and a tight crop of a woman in the foreground holding a clipboard.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week via Canva