Anti-Burnout For English Teachers
Anti-Burnout For English Teachers
1. The Ugly Truth About Teacher Burnout
Teacher Burnout Episode 1 Podcast Cover

Episode Summary

Teacher burnout is becoming an increasingly important problem for us to address. Even veteran teachers who once considered making teaching a lifetime career are leaving the profession for good. As classroom teachers, what can we do to mitigate the stress of teaching?

In this episode we delve into the deceptive narratives that have perpetuated within the English teaching community. We’ll investigate the sacrifices imposed upon teachers and the profession as a whole, highlighting the detrimental effects they have on our well-being, relationships, and teaching effectiveness. However, our focus remains on the solutions, offering practical suggestions to create a more supportive and nurturing environment for both educators and students.

Topics Covered This Episode About Teacher Burnout

  1. The Myth of Constant Sacrifice
    • Exposing the prevalent notion that teachers must constantly sacrifice their personal lives and well-being for the sake of their students.
    • Discussing the negative impact of perpetuating this myth and the toll it takes on teachers’ mental health and job satisfaction and how that leads to teacher burnout.
  2. Unveiling the Harmful Consequences
    • Examining the consequences of prioritizing self-sacrifice, including teacher burnout, increased stress levels, and strained relationships.
    • Highlighting how the well-being of educators directly influences the quality of education they can provide to their students.
  3. Challenging the Status Quo:
    • Encouraging teachers to challenge the prevailing narratives and question the sacrifices they’ve been conditioned to accept.
    • Promoting self-care and setting boundaries as crucial steps towards a healthier work-life balance.
  4. Building Supportive Communities:
    • Emphasizing the importance of fostering supportive networks within the English teaching community.
    • Exploring strategies for collaboration and sharing resources, enabling teachers to support one another while maintaining their well-being.
  5. Moving Towards a Healthier Path:
    • Providing actionable suggestions for promoting self-care and self-reflection within the profession.
    • Encouraging teachers to redefine success, embrace balance, and prioritize their own growth and development.

Key Facts

  • Teachers should plan ahead for the entire year and adjust the plan accordingly throughout the year, this approach gives students more stability and consistency in their learning.
  • Achieving work-life balance is a myth for English teachers and that they need to set boundaries for themselves.
  • Prioritizing self-care and starting small with boundaries is important, such as setting a specific time to stop working.
  • By taking care of themselves, teachers can take better care of their students.
Teacher Burnout Discussion Questions

Time-Stamped Overview

00:02:06 The Great Gatsby: Loneliness and Shallow Society with a Misunderstood Cultural Phenomenon.
00:05:59 English teachers work longer, but it’s a lie to think they must work twice as long as other teachers. Good teachers can’t be actively engaged every second.
00:08:17 English teachers need to structure classes to get tasks done while allowing students to work independently.
00:14:08 Have a solid plan to avoid stress and improve opportunities; teaching English doesn’t require more time.
00:15:28 English teachers work long hours, need to prioritize work-life balance and find ways to cut down on after-work tasks to stay in the profession.
00:20:12 Change teaching methods to improve engagement and reduce exhaustion.


Teachers are leaving education and really great teachers. This has gotten me really distressed. I’m now my 15th year teaching, and what I’m seeing is teachers that I started with or maybe started, I don’t know, five years after that have just had enough or don’t feel up to the challenges that we’re currently faced with. And I think this is a huge problem because education needs us to stay, even if they don’t act like they need us to stay. So what I’d like to get into today is what’s gone wrong and offer some solutions. And it’s not going to be, I don’t know, the same self help work life balance that we are normally given or we have been given in the past few years. I think that has its place. I have some other strategies that I’d like to talk to you about.

Before we get into that, I want to talk to you first as an English teacher about The Great Gatsby, and I promise I’ll make this work. We’ll get back to how this relates to the state of education right now. So. The Great Gatsby. This is a commonly read book. It is a book that is read in high schools all across the country, and it has been for a very long time. When I first started teaching, I told my parents about what my curriculum was going to be, which included The Great Gatsby. And my father’s comment was that I was going to be teaching the same books that he read when he was in high school, which, okay, that’s another conversation for another time.

But the point is that it is a book that is read very widely. So it goes to say that a lot of the population should know the plot of The Great Gatsby. And one of the big takeaways that I get from The Great Gatsby is the idea of people living on the outside of society feeling loneliness. There’s a lot of shallow. Shallowness to the story and the people in it and people, in a way, trying to get at something that’s more real, but staying in the shallow. But as a cultural phenomenon, our understanding as a culture is that The Great Gatsby is equated with glitz, glamour, a hedonistic culture, which is definitely there in Jay’s parties, don’t get me wrong, that definitely happens. But as a whole, if we talk about something being Gatsby-esque, I would say that it’s more that first description. But as a culture, we reinforce that second idea, that glitz, that glamour, that hedonism.

The First Lie of Teacher Burnout: We Always Have to Be On

So that’s in our media, it’s on our other cultural displays. Like if we’re going to have a Gatsby party, a prom theme, that’s what we’re drawing on. So in my opinion, we’re just as a culture getting Gatsby wrong, which is so frustrating as an English teacher because we all have read it, or not all of us, but a lot of us have read it, right? So we should have a different kind of understanding of what’s there. Okay, so I see this as happening also, as English teachers, we’ve done something similar in that we have created this existence that’s built on three lies. At least I think it’s actually built on a lot of lies, but I’m going to start with three. So the first lie that I think has happened is that we’ve been told, and we keep telling each other that, quote, good teachers are always actively engaged with their students. If you are a good teacher, you are on. You are one of those teachers that we see in movies that inspires their kids. They stand on desks. That’s the kind of teacher that is a good teacher.

The Second Lie of Teacher Burnout: Don’t Plan Too Far Ahead

The second lie, I think that we’ve been told is that we should not plan too far ahead. So if you are a teacher that plans too far ahead, that means that you are not planning for your students that are in the classroom. And it’s usually associated with teachers that are older, that are stale and stuck in their ways. And I think that’s a lie that we’ve told each other. And that means that we are making it more difficult for ourselves. We’re making it a place that makes it hard for us to stay and stay energized.

The Third Lie of Teacher Burnout: Our Discipline Demands More Time

The third lie, I think, is that we tell ourselves because we are English teachers, we must work twice as long as other teachers. Okay, so I’ve laid out these three, and I think that there is some truth to all of these. But also there is a lot that makes it so that we feel more burnt out than other disciplines. You’re not going to see a math teacher say, I need to work an additional 40 hours a week in order to get my job done. Okay? So I’m going to go back through these different lies that we’ve told each other so that first one, good teachers are always actively engaged with their students. Okay? So as I said, this is what the media has shown to us. A lot of our teacher books, our professional development, that is the story that we’re told that to really be on, to really be excellent, you should be one of those teachers that is always inspiring their kids every single minute, every single second, you are doing something that is inspiring for them. This is impossible.

I think it’s impossible. Maybe there are teachers that can do this. I cannot. But I think that this means a couple of things. If we say that this is what good teachers are, for one, that is tiring. It is a tiring existence to always be on. It means that we do not have time, we don’t have the energy for our families. We come home, we’re depleted, and then we are resentful because we aren’t able to give the attention that we need to our children or to our spouses or even just to not even if we don’t have a family, even if we’re just wanting to not veg out on the couch

Opportunities and Ideas to Address Teacher Burnout

We want to work out. We don’t have the energy to do that. And I think also this means that we do not give ourselves the time that we need to do those tasks that are uniquely given to English teachers. I do agree that English teachers do have a different load. So that means that we need to address our classrooms differently, which means that maybe, and I’m going to say actually, definitely during some times when we might structure class in a way to make it so that we can get some grading done, so that we can enter some grades, so that we can respond to some revisions, that we might be able to have a conference, so that we can take care of an email, so that we can do some things while students are working. They shouldn’t need us every minute of the class now, okay, you may be thinking what I just thought to myself as well, that we may say things over and over to a student and they just don’t get it. So they need to hear it from us lots of times. So in that way, they do continue to need us, but we need to set up structures so that they don’t necessarily have to go to us in person all the time.

We of course, want to be there for our students, but maybe what we send them to is a video, or maybe what we send them to is a handout. So we have opened up some space for ourselves so that we can take care of some other things because we’ve already attended to the students in different ways. We’re still available if they have questions and we’ll check in with them. But we have to have time also during class since we have those other tasks as English teachers to attend to those specific English teacher tasks. Okay, so that’s one thing. The idea that good teachers are always actively engaged with their students during class, always, I think that’s a lie. The second thing that I think is a lie, and this might actually be the biggest lie, so this lie is we should not plan too far ahead. And as a young teacher, I was told, and I think a lot of us are told because I’ve checked in with many of my colleagues on this, that if we plan too far in advance, that makes us a bad teacher.

And I did a little bit of googling as well to see what the advice was for how far in advance you should plan. And the advice is don’t plan too far ahead. And I think this has good intentions. The intentions are from a good place because I think what you want to avoid as you’re planning is getting to a place where you feel so locked into an idea that if something goes wrong or if students are in a place, in a different place than what you thought, you’re able to adjust. And what goes wrong is if you are rigid in your plans and you say, well, I’ve already planned this. I’ve already spent all this time on this. This is where we’re going, and you’re not paying attention to the students in the room. I personally would prefer to have a plan and then need to deviate from it than to not have a plan.

The Consequences of Teacher Burnout

And I think what goes wrong here is by thinking I need to know my students well before I can make a plan that gets us into some territory that’s really dangerous. Because by not having a plan, that means that we have to make decisions all the time. We have to make decisions about content, we need to make decisions about skill, we need to make decisions about differentiation. And because of all those decisions, that’s tiring. That’s a tiring place to be. So I think what we need to think about is maybe that’s a lie. I think definitely it’s a lie, and I’ll get more into this as we go on. But I think it’s actually important that we have a pretty strong plan of where we’re going and maybe even a pretty detailed plan of where we’re going.

Not that we won’t make adjustments, because we can and we will. We’ll have to. We’ll have that pep rally that just came up and we didn’t know about. So we have 30 minutes instead of the hour and a half that we thought we would. We have a historic snowstorm and we’re out of school for two weeks. All of those things happen and we need to adjust for them. But I think having a plan and then knowing that we can adjust it to our students and to the things that happen in life, that’s important. If we thought about this from a business perspective, if a business said, okay, instead of making a business plan for the next year, I think we should just plan for the next week and see how that goes.

You can’t do that. You can’t do that in business. And we have, I don’t know, 150, maybe 175 students that we are trying to get on our train. We can’t just make it up on the fly. And even if we’re making it in four week increments and eight week increments, we need to know where we’re going so that we can have something be cohesive and also so that we can save ourselves. As I said before, that mental stress of having to piece everything together as we go. If we have a plan for how everything goes together, that’s going to lead to so much more mental clarity as we move and also lead to so much more opportunities for connections, for stability, for all kinds of things if we just know more clearly where we’re going. The third lie is, and this one’s hard right because we teach English, we must work twice as long as other teachers.

Maybe for you it’s not twice as long, but I do know teachers that have been teaching for 20, 25, 30 years that still work 80 hours, weeks because they feel like they need to put all the comments on the papers. They need to plan in certain ways, they need to make copies, they need to do all those tasks that go along with English teaching. And we feel like if we do that because we have a bit of a martyr personality as a discipline, as a department, so we end up spending so much of our lives in work and we talk about work life balance, right? We’ve been talking about that a lot for the last few years. But we also think as English teachers that in some ways that doesn’t apply to us, that we can’t make that work life balance work in the same way as other disciplines can. And I do agree to an extent, but I think that we need to reframe the discussion here, because what if what if what if we said that instead of spending 40 hours outside of work, we say we’re going to spend 20, or instead of 20, we’re going to spend ten. Instead of ten, we’re going to spend five. Or maybe we’re not going to spend time outside of work. What would need to happen in our lives for that to be able to happen? How would we need to plan our year? What changes would we have to make in order to make that happen? And I think those are the discussions that we need to have, really, because it isn’t if we’re going to keep people in the profession, if we’re going to keep these great English teachers teaching, we need to do things differently.

What Needs to Happen To Decrease Teacher Burnout

Because as much yoga as we do, as many teacher appreciation treats as we get, it doesn’t really make that much of a dent in the fact that if we are spending a significant amount of time outside of school, on school, it will lead to those feelings of resentment of why am I spending my time this way? I could have another job where this didn’t happen. So if this is going to work, we need to think about our lives differently. So we need to think about what could we change if this were to happen? So just think it through, what would need to happen? And try not to think about this sarcastically. Think about what’s within your control if you were to have all of your work done within school hours, what would need to happen? So we can’t change what we can’t change, right? We can’t change the amount of meetings that we’re called into. We can make suggestions, right? We can appeal to the higher ups, but let’s just take that off the table. But what we can change is how we structure our classes so that we can say, okay, if I’m going to have an essay due on March 31, I need to give myself in the lead up to March 31. And also the two weeks after March 31. Things that do not have a strong cognitive load on my teaching, like I can’t be on when I’m teaching, because then I won’t have the brain space to grade a lot of essays.

Maybe that’s a change that we make. Or maybe we say, what I’m going to do is follow up an intense literature unit with a media analysis unit that I will find fun and my students will find fun, and I won’t have to do so much work to keep them engaged. Because then, maybe, as they’re working, I can spend some time doing some grading. Or in the other way, I will not feel so depleted at the end of the day so I’ll be able to spend a half hour after school gets out grading and I’ll be more productive. So I think these are things that we need to think about. What do we have on our control and what lies have we been told that we need to, as a community need to figure out how to reverse? Because we tell each other these stories. And even maybe now you’re listening to me and you’re like, she’s not a good teacher, because these things that she’s saying means that she’s not a good teacher. I hope not, but I think that we need to really think about this because the alternative is that we get burned out and we leave.

And like I said at the top of the podcast, we can’t have that because education needs us. So what do you think about the ideas I’ve laid out? I’d love to talk about this more. I plan to get more into this as we get into future episodes. But between now and then, send me a message on Instagram at English Classroom Architect. I’d love to continue the conversation in and thanks for listening.

Click here to listen!

Image of Chains to depict the need to break the narrative to address teacher burnout

Let’s challenge the lies we’ve been told about the sacrifices we must make as English teachers. By redefining our understanding of success and embracing healthier practices, we can create a more sustainable and fulfilling teaching profession. Let’s turn around the narrative and reduce teacher burnout.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Send me a message on Instagram @englishclassroomarchitect and let me know what you think about the lies we tell one another.

More About Anti-Burnout for English Teachers

Are you wanting a classroom strategy that keeps you energized and joyful but want tools and resources to make teaching high school English more manageable? It’s possible, and I’ll share what I’ve learned through my years of trial and error. Let’s build a better classroom!

1. The Ugly Truth About Teacher Burnout

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