While burnout happens in every profession, it is more common in some vocations than others. According to a study from Gallup, K-12 teachers suffer from higher burnout rates than any other professional demographic. Gallup’s findings reveal that 44 percent of K-12 teachers are always or often burned out, significantly outpacing burnout rates in any other line of work. Several factors account for this high burnout rate, with COVID-19 topping the list.
While the periodic experience of professional burnout is probably inevitable, there are ways for members of the teaching profession to protect themselves and safeguard their mental well-being. In particular, practicing self-care is important. For those considering a teaching career or an advanced degree in education, understanding the causes of burnout and the basic principles of self-care for teachers may provide valuable insight.
What Is Self-Care for Teachers?
Self-care can be a powerful weapon against teacher burnout. One of the big misconceptions about self-care is that it’s all about self-pampering, like having breakfast in bed or spending a day at the spa. While these activities can sometimes be examples of self-care, self-care is not primarily about seeking creature comforts. Rather, self-care refers to practices or habits teachers can employ to safeguard their own work-life balance, emotional levels, and workloads. This allows them to be the best, most engaged, and most creative teachers they can be, which benefits not only them but also their students.
Self-care may be further defined as any action that a person takes to improve their own health and well-being. Self-care for teachers encompasses psychological and emotional health as well as physical, spiritual, social, and professional wellness.
Why Is Self-Care Important for Teachers?
Self-care can be an important strategy in any profession, but it may be especially relevant to those who work in education. Several factors lend to teacher self-care its importance.
Teachers Are Stressed
The teaching profession often generates stress, resulting from a lack of resources, a lack of administrative support, behavioral problems in the classroom, or frustrations over standardized testing expectations. Stress and burnout go hand in hand, but a good self-care strategy can help to minimize or channel stress in a healthy way.
Teachers Often Have Poor Work-Life Balance
All too often, teachers struggle to find the appropriate work-life balance, often bringing their work home with them (sometimes literally so, when it comes to grading papers or lesson planning after hours). Being proactive about self-care can help create a better balance.
Teachers Face Stigmatization
Finally, because the teaching profession places such an emphasis on helping and serving others, discussions about self-care are often stigmatized or dismissed as selfish.
How Can Teachers Practice Self-Care?
For all of these reasons, it is important for educators to take a proactive approach to self-care. There are a number of practical steps that K-12 educators can take to improve their own habits and routines for self-care.
Schedule Alone Time
The tasks and environments associated with teaching can be socially and interpersonally overwhelming, particularly for educators who are more introverted by nature. Long days spent in the classroom, in faculty meetings, in parent conferences, and in school assemblies can take a toll. Teachers may benefit from scheduling some alone time into each day, allowing them to enjoy some silence and decompress. This may be as simple as getting up 15 minutes early to meditate or going on a solitary walk every day after school lets out.
Create a Self-Care Pack
Another practical suggestion is for teachers to create their own self-care packs, stocked with things they find to be enjoyable, and bring them to school for use during break times or planning periods. A self-care pack may include things like coloring books, knitting materials, headphones to enjoy a favorite song or podcast, or even healthy snacks.
When teachers take the time to process their emotions, it can provide some perspective on what triggers their stress, how it can be abated, and how they can maintain a sense of calm even during stressful days. Journaling can be a helpful way to process emotions, especially at the end of a frustrating or hectic day at school.
Foster Social Support
While it is good for teachers to have some solitude, the emotional and spiritual value of connecting with people in their life who love and encourage them should never be overlooked. Prioritizing dinner with family or an after-dinner walk with a child, spouse, or close friend can go a long way toward restoring perspective and improving mental well-being.
Self-Care Starts With Preparation
Self-care for teachers is a simple but sometimes overlooked strategy for maintaining professional balance and minimizing burnout. Most teachers also find that preparation is a bulwark against stress, and from a career standpoint, there is no substitute for a high level of training in the challenges, concepts, and practices of the teaching profession. American University’s Online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program is designed to help future teachers develop the skills, knowledge, confidence, and perspective that make for an effective, healthy, and sustainable teaching career.
Gallup, K-12 Workers Have Highest Burnout Rate in U.S.
National Institute of Mental Health, Caring for Your Mental Health
Talkspace, Teacher Burnout: A Growing Problem in Schools
VeryWell Mind, “5 Self-Care Practices for Every Area of Your Life”
Waterford, Why Teacher Self-Care Matters and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School