No matter how passionate you are about your role as a Jewish educator, the threat of burnout exists. Like anything that becomes a part of our day to day lives, teaching day in and day out can become routine, and routine can become very monotonous and boring. On the other hand, teaching a class full of young students can be very dynamic, you never know what trouble a ten-year old might come up with, but all that excitement may be too much at times. Whether bored, or stressed, burnout is a definite threat for any teacher.
You may be tempted to despair when this happens, and even wonder if you made the right decision in your career choice. Don’t overthink it, though; everyone goes through career burnout at some point, and teachers can be especially susceptible to it. All you usually will need to fix the problem are some useful tactics, tricks and tools to get you through it. Thankfully, education provides enough avenues for variety to spice things up so that both you and your students can stay engaged in the classroom, even when things seem to get stuck in a rut.
Don’t be afraid of trying something new
Lesson plans take a lot of time to map out, and as with any labor of love, it can be very easy to become attached to them. You may however find that, after some time, what was once considered a tried and true lesson plan starts to feel dry and boring for either you or your students. Don’t be afraid to switch things up and try a different approach. Go online and do some research to spark new ideas for how to approach your lesson plans. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do this, either – a slight change here and there may completely change the dynamic of the lesson.
Online communities of teachers, like JedLab, or peers at your institution can be excellent resources for finding new lesson plans that will help you keep things fresh.
Look to students for inspiration
One of the richest resources educators have is their students. With so many different personalities in the classroom, there are endless opportunities to find ideas from your own students when it comes to making classroom work engaging and fun for everyone. Don’t be afraid to incorporate games into your lessons where your students will have the opportunity to let their skillsets shine. Instead of quizzes, have a Jeopardy style trivia game, with students split into groups. Or you could have students re-enact dramatized scenes from Tanakh and Talmud. Let them laugh, have fun and of course, learn. Watch how your students react to these kinds of approaches, and adjust as needed. If you need to, don’t be afraid to ask them what they would enjoy.
The best kinds of educators are lifelong students, and if you are here following my series, you are already on the path of learning. One of the things that probably attracted you to education in the first place, is a love of learning. Once you are at the front of the classroom, don’t assume that means that your learning journey has stopped. Always be willing to learn more, and then incorporate that into your class time. Read books that are interesting and relevant to your classroom. Read up on teaching techniques and give them a try in your own classroom. And always listen to your own students’ thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs. Even the most educated teacher can sometimes learn something new from a much younger and less experienced student. Life is a journey of learning and growing. Keeping that in mind and embracing the idea that your students have a lot to teach you will keep you on your toes and provide you with new ways to approach how you teach.
Take care of yourself
Teaching is a very rigorous and demanding job, and sometimes burnout happens not because the content isn’t right for you or because your teaching methods are out of date. Sometimes burnout happens because you are simply exhausted. No matter how much you love what you do, it can still take its toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally if you do not take the proper measures to care for yourself. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise, full nights of sleep and finding healthy ways to de-stress are absolutely essential to keep yourself from falling prey to burnout. There may be times where pulling a late night or pushing yourself past your physical comfort levels will be necessary to get the job done, but by no means should it be a regular occurrence. Your physical and mental health are important not just to you, but it is important to the students who rely upon you as well. If you are struggling to keep yourself healthy and the demands of your teaching job are taking a toll, do not hesitate to reach out for help from fellow teachers and colleagues.
Keep a positive attitude
Sometimes burnout happens because you are struggling with other aspects of the job. If this is the case, don’t be too hard on yourself. Being an educator requires you to sometimes wear many different hats – you want to be the fun, engaging teacher passing on a positive education to students. At the same time, you must be professional and prove yourself to the institution you work for. You also must keep up with the demands and wishes of parents, and may even have to provide emotional support to a student who is struggling with something in or out of the classroom. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, either from your employer, a colleague, a trusted friend, or even a counselor. No one should feel that they must take on the stress of the job alone. Keeping a positive attitude during these kinds of struggles will help you get through the rough patches of the job. This does not mean ignoring problems or pushing forward with a grin and no real solution. What it does mean is knowing that you can use the tools and resources available to you to get through anything. Negativity and pessimism will only make the struggle harder. Keep positive in defiance of whatever comes your way, and you will find that you will have an easier time working through a burnout.
Education is one of the cornerstones of a Jewish life. As “people of the book” we have a long history of loving the art of learning, growing through knowledge, and making education a large part of our lives. Burnout is never fun, no matter what we are feeling burnt out from, but when it is something so ingrained in our day to day lives, it may seem more challenging to conquer. It doesn’t need to be that way. Identify the source of where the burnout is stemming from, and then attack it with these tactics. No burnout is permanent when you know how to fight it.