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Balance Beats Burnout

Burnt out candle.jpgIt might be a stretch to say I was sick more than I wasn't as a first-year teacher, but it sure seemed that way at the time. Colds. Flu. Bronchitis. If there was a bug going around, I was sure to catch it. And between those physical ailments and the mental and emotional tolls of first-year teaching, I was running on fumes from September to June.

Insult to injury, as a Teachers for Chicago (TFC) intern, I had all the responsibilities of a certified teacher, but received only a fraction of the salary and few of the benefits. And one of the benefits I didn't get was sick days. That's why no matter how sick I was--fever, swollen glands, laryngitis--I never took a day off the whole year. I'm not proud of this, since it's wrong to be around kids and colleagues when you're contagious. But what choice do you have when you're making $83 a day ($16,133 a year)?

One choice I had--and thought about on the ride home one draining day after another--was to go back to the less stressful, higher paying business world I had come from. But I set those thoughts aside, and made it to summer with my commitment to TFC still intact. This meant another year as an intern while earning my credentials at night, followed by two years as a certified teacher at full salary--and full benefits. At the same time, I knew the average career of an urban teacher was less than four years, and unless something changed, I would risk burning out and quitting like many new teachers do.

The question was, what would have to change? And the answer was me. In particular, my out-of-balance approach toward work that was compromising my health and personal life, and hurting my performance in the classroom. I thus resolved that there would be no more late nights putting together the "perfect" lesson (especially since it usually bombed anyway), and no more attending every extra-curricular school event at the expense of my physical fitness or social life.

And the difference from year 1 to year 2 was dramatic. Better health, better attitude, and most of all, better results--not only in the classroom, but outside of it too. In fact, it was at a party that second year--a party I'd have blown off the previous year--where I met my wife!

I'm not saying subsequent years were better than my first year just because I was more balanced. But I am saying they wouldn't have been better had I not been more balanced. Teaching is a profession of passion, so there needs to be a fire burning inside of you to excel at it. But without balance, that fire is going to flicker as it did for me throughout my first year, and eventually burn out as it does for thousands of teachers every year.

So whether you're a zealous new teacher or a veteran who ran on fumes this past year, take steps now to ensure balance both in and out of school this coming year. And if you need help doing this, Mike Anderson's book, The Well Balanced Teacher, includes lots of practical ideas for meeting four fundamental teacher needs: belonging, significance, positive engagement, and yes, balance. (Anderson also supports the book with a facebook page by the same name.)

Image by Hkratky, provided by Dreamstime license

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