The few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break bring a certain energy into many classrooms which, frankly speaking, don’t always remind us of “...people singing songs of good cheer, Christmas is here”.1 In previous school years, these few weeks could be some of the most stress-filled for students and teachers alike. Normally, these weeks were filled with end-of-the-term exams, project deadlines, and the mental and physical exhaustion that accompanied the closing of term grade books.
However, school has not been normal for 4 1/2 years. Data collected over this period and reported in ABC’s video, The Burnout Equation: America’s Teacher Shortage Crisis (Part 1) | To The Point, suggested that there are other layers of stress that have stretched the teaching profession to its limits.
The teacher shortage is real. The attrition rate has more than doubled, and there is a decline in education graduates by a similar number. The subsequent difficulties from the constricted numbers of teachers results in larger class sizes, increased expected paperwork (including IEPs and 504s) and timeframes, politicized curriculum, and increased parent contact expectations. The workload per teacher is overwhelming for many.
The aftereffects of the pandemic are real. We see students and teachers struggling in a variety of ways. Some students are learning at a lower grade level. Teachers are tasked with the need to make room in their advanced courses to teach or reteach the basics. There are behavior concerns linked to social/education skills that were stunted by the pandemic's synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid learning setting. Students have an increased apathy toward school. Teachers are confronted by their lack of support for appropriate discipline weekly, if not daily.
There is also evidence that teachers are not receiving sufficient support for student services, ongoing training for curricular programs, and compensation for additional responsibilities teachers have had to shoulder.
CNN reporter, Gabe Cohen, in his September 11, 2023 piece, Doubling up on classrooms, using online teachers and turning to support staff: How schools are dealing with the ongoing teacher shortage,2 highlighted a teacher shortage situation in which the school’s cafeteria became the classroom for 50 ninth graders who received a lecture from the single certified teacher available. The challenges facing school districts with how to shore up classrooms in light of the teacher shortage reality have led to difficult decisions–like qualified teachers serving many schools by lecturing online and then traveling once a week to have face-to-face time with students. In other cases, underqualified staff “teach” basic courses to secure certified faculty to teach the advanced classes. Imagine how students might feel. Whether students work with burnt-out teachers, long-term substitutes, underqualified staff, or oversized classes that share a teacher and only meet once a week, students are being dismissed, and they know it. Students are experiencing “academic burnout”-another very real consequence of the current state of schools in some locations.
The symptoms of both teacher and academic burnout are similar. Australia’s ReachOut3 program for better wellness and mental well-being (for young people and adults that serve them) offers these as signs of teacher burnout:
losing the passion or motivation to be a teacher
being easily emotionally dysregulated (irritability, anger, sadness)
withdrawing emotionally from co-workers, students, friends and family
finding it harder to perform regular or basic tasks (e.g. preparing a lesson plan)
flatness or a lack of emotions
performance issues (lack of productivity related to feelings of apathy, lack of self-worth, low self-confidence, hopelessness)
Rochester Institute of Technology4 presents these as signs of academic burnout:
physically tired - sleepy or exhausted
You tend to zone out more and can’t stay focused
You feel like you can’t absorb any more information or you’re not really learning
You have negative emotions towards learning
You can see how complicated and heavy it would be to have either or both teacher and academic burnout operating in the same classroom. Success in the classroom is dependent on relationship building. Burnout is not conducive to building trust, respect, a sense of value, and belonging.
Thankfully, self-care can mitigate burnout. There are many websites that offer a range of self-care practices for differing personality types. Because both teachers and students can benefit from self-care, I looked for methods that could translate into the classroom.
The 3 R’s for Teacher Self-Care: Reflect. Release.… | PBS Education5 describes a 3-part self-care practice (Reflection, Release, Recharge) that can easily be rewritten to accommodate students in a class setting. For example, the reflection aspect is a journaling practice that asks for reflection upon prompts like:
What has been a challenge for you today?
What is one win or a joyful moment that you had today?
Think about one person that helped you out today and send them a thank you email or text expressing your gratitude.”6
There are other prompts that can be used as well. However, using these same three questions on a regular basis can promote deeper, meditative thinking.”
“Releasing regrets” exercises are a key second component. This may prove to be the most cathartic (and fun) part of the experience for students. Here’s PBS’s example:
“Releasing Regrets Exercise:
Take 5-10 minutes to reflect and think about the year. Consider how you have been feeling, thinking, and living and then identify emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that you want to release.
Create a release list by writing down all the words or phrases that capture your regrets and grief. Alternatively, you can draw images that capture your emotions or record them on an audio or video device.
Engage in a ritual to release your regrets. You can tear up the paper, crush it into a ball, or shred the paper. If you created a recording, you can delete it. Whatever you do, the goal is to leave these regrets behind so that you do not take them into the next day, year, or vacation. You can listen to a favorite song or a guided meditation as you engage in your release ritual.
Notice how it feels to release regrets. People often share a sense of relief and a lightness as if they have let go of a weight they were carrying.”7
Although PBS has written these exercises from the teacher’s point of view, I believe this can be an excellent way forward with students, too. Each of the bulleted points could be a stand-alone self-care practice that is rotated through the self-care routine you establish in the classroom.
“Prioritizing You: Many teachers often feel guilty focusing on themselves as they are so used to putting their students’ needs ahead of their own (school cultures also support this). We go hard at our work and center the students' needs, forgetting that we perform best and that our students benefit, when we are emotionally well. Teachers and school leaders, you deserve to feel rested and you deserve to have peace of mind. Here is to prioritizing you:
What do you want to invite into your life?
What is an activity that brings you joy or makes you laugh out loud?
Finish this statement: I deserve____________ or I am worthy of___________.”8
It would be a real treat if an activity a student lists could be realized in the class! The PBS recharging activities continue with:
“Bite-sized Self-care: Often when we think of self-care, people assume that they have to engage in the activity for hours in order to obtain some meaningful benefit or results. However, what we have found is that engaging in activities for small periods of time, helps to build a consistent practice or habit, which helps to promote long-standing change. Here are a few tips to changing habits:
Choose one habit that you want to change
How have you practiced this habit in the past? What helped you to stay consistent with this habit?
What would it look like to engage in this activity every day for 5 minutes?
Who would you do it with?
Where would you do it?
When would you practice this habit?”9
A follow-up recharge moment for students could be journaling about how the practice of this habit for a week in the way they envision it makes them feel. PBS further suggests:
“Create Visual Cues: Visual cues serve as great reminders to help you reach your daily goals. As James Clear suggests in Atomic Habits, having visual cues around us, increases our likelihood of engaging in a particular activity. The more we engage in the activity, the more satisfied we feel. For example, if you want to stretch for 5 minutes every morning: set an alarm, set out your yoga mat next to your bed, pick out your workout clothes the night before, and choose the video and cue it up on your device ahead of time.
Think about the habit you want to change and identify and implement 5 visual cues that you can use to support the habit.
For your summer recharge list, you can write down 10 activities (or create a collage with images of the activities) that you want to do. Put this list or collage in a place where you will see it every day. For example, your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the screensaver on your phone or computer.”10
Visual cues are actually powerful mental support systems. They help us manifest success. Students may enjoy developing a ‘mood or vision board’ regarding winter break or how meeting their deadlines will make them feel!
United Yearbook stands with its advisers and their staff. Self-care is important to us. We are here not only to celebrate the joys in the yearbook classroom, but to share the difficulties. We are ready and willing to be of service to you and your yearbook staff in any way we can. If there is any way we can uplift and recharge your class, we are happy to assist you. Please contact us.
Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.
Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.
Co-Editor: Jessica Carrera, Marketing Manager for United Yearbook and Associate Editor at TSE Worldwide Press, holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Biola University. She aspires to touch the lives of others through her words.
1Wilhousky, Peter J. “Carol of the Bells.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Dec. 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnEUC4eZjjA.
2Cohen, Gabe. “Doubling up on Classrooms, Using Online Teachers and Turning to Support Staff: How Schools Are Dealing with the Ongoing Teacher Shortage.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 Sept. 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/09/11/us/ongoing-teacher-shortage-creative-solutions/index.html#:~:text=An%20analysis%20of%20education%20data,turnover%20is%20on%20the%20rise.
3“How to Recognise and Manage Teacher Burnout.” ReachOut Schools, schools.au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-recognise-and-manage-teacher-burnout#:~:text=finding%20it%20harder%20to%20perform,self%2Dconfidence%2C%20hopelessness). Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.
4“12 Tips to Avoid Academic Burnout.” RIT, www.rit.edu/admissions/blog/12-tips-avoid-academic-burnout. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.
5“The 3 R’s for Teacher Self-Care: Reflect. Release. Recharge.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 14 Aug. 2023, www.pbs.org/education/blog/the-3-rs-for-teacher-self-care-reflect-release-recharge.