Teaching Profession Opinion

Teachers, Forgive Thyself or Burn Out Quickly

By Starr Sackstein — May 25, 2017 3 min read
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Psst! Come in closely. I have a little secret I’d like to share with you. It’s important, and although obvious, often overlooked...

Teachers are human beings.

Being human means we make mistakes, and if you’re anything like me, a lot of them. Some are larger than others, but they are mistakes nonetheless.

It can be very easy as teachers to beat ourselves up about the mistakes we make because of the implications they have and/or the impact of our choices on our children and our schools.

Please remember that beating yourself up over these mistakes only makes it worse.

As we begin to forgive ourselves for our digressions and/or missteps, we can embrace our humanness and offer real advice and modeling for how to behave when being human gets in the way of doing what is best.

How many times, at this time of year in particular, do we snap unexpectedly because we are stressed? It’s not because the student has done something particularly egregious, but because our usual level of patience is depleted. That is clearly not the best way to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our kids, but it happens.

So how can we rectify this situation?

First, we have to forgive ourselves for this human response. We should probably take a few breaths to calm down and then reassess the situation. Once we have taken that meta-moment to really get back to the issue at hand, it may be appropriate to apologize to the student or students we snapped at.

Since we are the adults in the room, even when students push our buttons, we have to remember that taking the high road is important. Although it may not be our first reaction, it does need to be our last. Students watch our behaviors and learn quickly what is appropriate and/or acceptable. And therefore we must treat students as we wish to be treated: with respect and humanity.

It’s completely okay to tell your class if you’re having a bad day or if something is going on at home that has your attention. Kids are very perceptive about something not being right and can actually be extremely compassionate if we allow them to be.

Since empathy and compassion may not be a part of their everyday lives, we can certainly model those behaviors when we notice they need it and then honestly share with them when we need them to behave a certain way.

If it doesn’t work out, well... it isn’t always going to work out. We are in the business of working with kids which means they are carrying their own emotional baggage in with them too.

Being kind and remembering we are all human is a great way to focus our energy on what we bring to the table. Not every lesson will be successful and not every day will be great. Punishing ourselves for what we didn’t do well doesn’t serve us in a meaningful way. Reframing the situation and allowing time for reflection will almost always present another perspective that can help de-escalate what is currently going on.

Someone once taught me that it is important to sleep on certain major decisions and often, when we react in a moment in lieu of really considering what is going on, we fail to realize that we have been triggered, and the best version of ourselves is more than likely not going to present. We need to practice what we teach kids and slow down. Bring the situation back into focus and allow ourselves the space to grow as people and teachers.

So as this year winds down, if you have a bad day or you find your patience growing short, give yourself permission to take a time out and if you don’t make it there, don’t beat yourself up about. Tomorrow is a new day and it’s amazing what a little distance can and perspective can heal.

If you see a colleague in distress, it’s always good to remind them of the positive impact they have. If you overhear students saying nice things about a colleague, share what you hear or, better yet, ask the students to share it with the teacher directly. There is no better medicine for a bad teaching day than a positive reminder of why we do what we do.

How can we support each other so we don’t burn out? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.