Secure Your Own Mask Before Helping Others

Avoiding Teacher Burnout in a “Post-Pandemic” World

Lauren Racela, OFLA Technology Integration Committee Chair
French Teacher, Milford High School 

It’s no secret that after two pandemic years, getting adjusted to the “new normal” has teachers feeling burnt out. This school year has been characterized by a return to in-person activities and the shedding of mask mandates. Most of us are back to the configurations we had built before COVID interrupted our routines. 

The 2020-2021 school year felt like peak chaos – we were in survival mode, just trying to know enough to get through the week, the day, or even the class period. Personally, I spent the 2020-2021 school year teaching in hybrid form. I was in two different buildings teaching five grade levels, and in each of those grade levels I had a mix of online and in-person students. It had me feeling frazzled, and just delivering the material seemed to take all my energy. Now that we are “post-pandemic,” our communities are returning to normal and our calendars are filled with all the activities that were canceled during the pandemic.

I say “post-pandemic” in quotes because many lives are still touched by COVID even now. We will never truly be over the effects of the COVID pandemic, but as businesses and schools open up, it can feel like we are finally out of the woods. 

How can we reconcile the chaos of pandemic learning with the expectations of a “normal” school year? 

The re-adjustment to a normal school year may have been challenging. Here are some quick tips to recenter your perspective, evaluate your needs, and find the joy in being together again. 

  • Set time-based boundaries. These are easier said than done, but becoming aware of the extra hours you put into your work life can help you economize your time. Maybe your goal is to leave school by 3:30pm each day, or to stop working by 6:00pm and leave the leftover tasks for another time. These boundaries will help you create more balance in your schedule. 
  • Say no. Again, much easier said than done! Especially in the season of prom, end-of-year picnics, spring sports, and all the other projects that keep us so busy, it’s important to hone your ability to protect your time. 
  • Ask for help. Whether it’s from your coworkers, your family, or even your students, you’d be surprised to know how many of the people around you are willing to support you by lending a hand. Ask students who finish their work early if they’d be willing to cut out flash cards. I’m always touched when students are willing to help out with small tasks like wiping down desks, sharpening pencils, or erasing the board. And typically, they are happy to help out!
  • Disengage from negativity. Jennifer Gonzalez talks about finding your marigold. Whether this was your first or twenty-fifth year of teaching, I find this advice to hold true. By avoiding negative talk and gossip, we can focus on positivity and write our own narrative about work and school culture. 
  • Have rituals for breaks. Maybe it’s taking a lap around the school at the start of your plan bell, or taking a moment to refill your coffee before your toughest class. Maybe it’s closing your laptop or powering down your computer entirely during lunch so you can minimize distractions. Build breaks for self-care into your daily schedule and stick to them. They can be just as important as everything else on your to-do list. I make Wordle part of my daily routine, completing the puzzle during my down time as a brain break. 
  • Create and hold space for positivity. I have a rule about discipline write-ups. If I have to write a negative student discipline report, I also write two positive ones. This ritual helps me focus on the positive with intentionality. 
  • Put it into perspective. We’ve all heard it before, but remind yourself: Will this matter in a year? Five years? Ten years? Instead of showing up with anxiety, how could you benefit from showing up with gratitude? 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that nothing can replace the value that teachers add to the lives of their students. It can be incredibly tough to dig yourself out of a spiral of negativity, especially when the pandemic years have changed us and our students so much. Know that you are worth investing in. As this school year winds down, take a moment to care for yourself and invest in your well-being. It is always a good idea to be kind to yourself, and it will always pay off. 

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