Facing a return to school... when you still feel burnt out

For many teachers, this week is the calm before the storm. For those working in environments where the intensity required to function on the average day usually veers on superhuman, the oncoming term is coming too soon, even after a large chunk of summer holiday.


I recall around 5 years ago, when I felt more burnt out than I ever had before or have since, the summer holiday was little more than a sticking plaster. It didn’t heal my mind. A holiday in Europe didn’t ease my racing brain. Spending time with family was a distraction from the main focus, which was that first week back. I felt a deep-set dread that can only be described as wondering how a bus that is only seconds away from hitting you is going to feel as it ploughs into your body. The results days signalled the count down. This year, teachers might be saved (thank god) from the kind of unjust introspection and comparison politics of the post results day meetings that could go on well into the new academic year. For some, even a pandemic won't save them from analysing why one piece of data dropped by half a percentage point in the last year.


Anyway, at the time, when I turned on the TV and saw brown envelopes being opened accompanied by yelps of joy, my sky was darkening. I knew the countdown was on. The days were drawing in.


Of course, this feeling was far from the experience I had in every school I have worked. For example, when working in Spain, the end of the summer break felt like little more than the closing of a season and the beginning of another. There was nothing to fear really, only the change of pace and routine, which was inevitable and nothing to shy away from. I looked forward to seeing students and staff. I found the thought of my classroom nothing but welcoming. I could give multiple examples of other schools where I have felt like this.


However, there are teachers out there now who will think of the mere fabric of their school, the mere scent of it, and it will send them into a dark anxiety fuelled depression. When I was in this mindset, I’d spend the last week of the holiday frantically searching for what I could do instead of teaching. Could I quit now? How sad – it’s something I’d previously loved doing.


A few years ago, I returned from international teaching after a particularly bad experience. I joined an amazing school in Leicester. Was I right in my head at that time? No. Did I feel “ok” about working in the school? Yes. I was still burnt out from my previous experience but the fact I was welcomed into a nice working environment meant I could deal with it. It was a springboard to further recovery. I guess what I’m saying is, if you think you are still burnt out moving towards the end of the summer holiday, a good school environment can actually help rather than hinder a healing process.


It’s worth considering – am I burnt out or is the thought of working in my school making me feel burnt out. I found being honest with myself and others at this time of peak burn out impossible. I wasn’t confident enough to turn around to myself and others and say “it’s not me, it’s this”. I saw that as a sign of failure, maybe even unprofessional – I look back and wonder why, but it’s very easy to slip into that bubble and lose confidence to look further.


So what do you do if this is you?


Well, the first thing to say, and sorry for the cliché, but life really is short.


One of my best friends took his own life last Summer. We’d been to uni together and talked most days. This has made me think about my own age more. I’m 36, hardly “old”, but this brought into focus again how to value time. It’s led to me becoming a bit more of a workaholic and worrying even more about my own productivity, but its also brought me more clarity on how time goes in a flash. I think I have made my bravest and best decisions when this thought has been at the forefront of my mind. I wasted a few years feeling glum, anxious and depressed because of work. I’ll never let that happen again. I’ll quit if I have to. I’ll work in a bar. I’ll do whatever I need to do to not feel like that.


Second, what’s the worst that could happen if you do less than what you think you should?


To be honest, in my experience - not much. Test the boundaries. Do less. The expectations that have been both imposed and adopted are increasingly insane.


Chat with other Teachers on twitter – preferably ones who you know work in “good” schools. And I don’t mean OFSTED good, I mean good for teachers to actually work in.


Chat to them, ask them how they are feeling, and believe what they say back. Feel inspired to realise that there is life beyond how “stuck” you feel right now. Oh, I also sought out my friends who lived bohemian lives and fantasised about running away somewhere. That was also helpful escapism and reminded me that I wasn't in prison - I have the freedom to do anything!


Play football manager or some other addictive game. I wish instead of ruminating over how bad everything was going to be, I had logged into football manager and got utterly immersed in a career managing a team in the lower reaches of the Scottish leagues.


Anyway, I feel like the above is **** advice. It’s kind of just a bunch of “stuff” but biggest thing of all to remember – You aren’t what you feel!

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