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Avoiding Teacher Burnout
March 15, 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 12
Table of Contents
Reignite Your Passion for Teaching
It's your prep. The students' desks are empty, the chairs piled all over. Your desk has disappeared under stacks of paper; you have e-mails to respond to; and yet, you are sunken in your chair. Your morale is low; you feel anxious, frustrated. You wonder, "Why did I choose this profession in the first place?" That's burnout.
Before I continue, let me offer a bit of context. I taught technology at a New Jersey school that served students between the ages of 7 and 21 with language-based and associated learning disabilities. Through project-based lessons offered twice a week throughout the year, we covered graphic, web, and game design; computer-aided design (CAD); video; and 2-D/3-D animation while reinforcing basic skills, such as keyboarding and those necessary for Microsoft Office.
This variety evoked dissension among staff, and I was asked to focus more on basic skills in Microsoft Office. In comparison to other projects, teaching Microsoft Office seemed commonplace. The students were upset at having to do simple projects and acted out as a result. I needed a way to motivate both them and myself. To do that, I put into practice three solutions that helped renew my passion for my teaching.
1. Find New Ways to Develop Professionally
One day in my online quest for new ideas, I discovered free "unconferences" taking place across the United States. This web-based format of professional development has been growing in popularity. After I attended my first one, I was hooked. It was the only conference I had attended to date that did not try to sell a product, but rather focused on peer-to-peer sharing of professional practices.
An unconference is not about theory; it is about practicality. During my first unconference, I learned about Edmodo, a social networking platform resembling Facebook but that is much more appropriate for K–12 settings. That same week, I walked into my classroom excited to share my newfound knowledge with my students.
As in the seminar, we started off by creating accounts and replying to a discussion question I posted. Immediately, I saw insightful posts and students exploring the features of the site, which led us into a discussion about cyber safety. My students loved using this tool, and at the start of the next year, they asked me if we could use it again.
2. Try Something Innovative
Teaching the same Word, Excel, and PowerPoint lessons day in and day out with no variation didn't serve my students in the computer lab, and I felt like I was stagnating. As I sat staring at another mundane lesson plan and students who were listless, I decided to make a change.
Who says that Excel has to be only for entering numbers? Catering to my students' visual learning style, we created a picture in Excel by filling in the cells with various colors, which were coded by cell location (e.g., A1-A3: red). Then students gave only the numbers to their partners, who decoded the picture just by filling in the correct cells. The students loved this activity and often went back to those projects throughout the year to increase the complexity of their pictures.
3. Share Your Passion
In class students would ask what I like to do for fun, to which I always replied, "ballroom dance." Realizing that ballroom dancing could help students with their social deficits or challenges, I approached my administration with the idea of a ballroom elective. The enthusiasm was so great that this expanded to a ballroom team.
Regrettably, time limitations allowed only one elective to be offered each marking period. To circumvent this issue, I held practice during the common periods of homeroom and the recess portion of lunch. We successfully performed dance routines for peers and parents at selected school events.
After a year of continued interest, it blossomed into a ballroom program for students with learning differences. Not only did this give me something else to look forward to at the end of a challenging day, but I also built a rapport with the students. I recommend choosing a special interest that you enjoy and would like to share with your students, and then offering that as an extracurricular activity.
I wish I could say that this transformation happened overnight, but I can't. Basically, I took small steps to change my outlook. First I started with the unconference, and then midyear I set up the extracurricular activity, which continued to the end of the next year. During the first half of the next year, I designed the Excel activity. My outlook changed over the course of this year and a half, which should not be surprising because the process of burning out also builds gradually over time.
Finally, remember that we chose this field for a reason: to make a difference in children's lives. So, take small steps and persevere in seeking ways to get excited again—you'll find them.
Sophie Idromenos, who is dual licensed in art and technology, has worked as a technology teacher, teaching/research assistant, instructional technologist, and graphic/web designer/developer.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 12. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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