by David Gutbezahl –
When I was a young student attending Hebrew school, I was, like so many of my classmates, a bit of a terror. A memory from that time that fills me with shame even twenty years later, was when my behavior became so disruptive that my poor teacher pointed to the door and said, “David, get out. No, you stay here.” He then walked out, holding a hand to his face as he held back tears. I still feel terrible about it, and I find it ironic that I became a Jewish educator myself. I too had moments where I felt like just walking out of the classroom. This may be an extreme example, but the constant pressure of juggling the role of disciplinarian and transmitter of Jewish knowledge builds up and leads to teacher burnout.
Burnout is something most of us experience at some point in our careers. We feel physically and emotionally exhausted. We can’t focus, and getting anything productive done is a challenge. Our work becomes a Sisyphean undertaking, and no matter how hard we try, we just don’t feel up to the tasks at hand. People in a wide range of careers suffer from burnout, but the unique challenges of being an educator seem to place many of us on the fast track to this dreaded state.
The best way to handle burnout is, to avoid it in the first place. Self-care is essential. As educators, we often feel like we don’t get a break from work. After a long day, when the school bell rings, the students get to go home. Teachers however, still have plenty of responsibilities to tackle. We need to organize the classroom, create lesson plans, grade assignments and attend staff meetings. While a difficult task, it is absolutely necessary that we get a grasp upon our time-management and create an appropriate work-life balance. We need the time to pursue our personal passions and take care of ourselves. This can include meditation, exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, or engaging in activities that makes you feel happy and relaxed.
Talk It Out
Also, don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. Talking about your frustrations and the challenges you are facing can play a major role in keeping yourself healthy and relieving yourself of some of the stress of work. Counselors, friends, partners, or anyone that you trust and feel comfortable talking with and who may be a great listener can really help you get things off your chest. Journaling is another great way to get feelings out, if they are something you would rather keep private.
When it comes to achieving an important work-life balance, creating a schedule to help you organize your time can help keep you on track. Knowing ahead of time what is coming your way will help you feel prepared and ready for the task. It will also help you prioritize and ensure that you are getting that much-needed “me time.”
Remember Why You Are Here
It is important for us to remember why we decided to become Jewish educators, and for us to reignite the passion that drove us towards this career. Deciding to become a Jewish educator is not something we did lightly. Within us, sparked by our own teachers, is a love for Jewish learning and a commitment to seeing that light shine in the eyes of the next generation. We need to keep the fire burning by continuously feeding it. Find ways to make class fun for yourself and for your students. Take what excites you and bring it with you into work. Learn, not just for your students, but for yourself.
If you stay on top of your own health and keep levels stress down, burnout is less likely to occur. However, if it does, this list can help guide you back to where you want to be. During burnout, you absolutely need to take a break and focus on self-care, get how you are feeling off your chest, get organized, and reignite your passion for education. Both you and your students will be so grateful that you did.