Teaching WellBeing

Live Well - Be Well - Feel Well

Page 2 of 3

Do Caring Teachers BurnOut Faster?

Do they?

They might – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Caring teachers often suffer from compassion fatigue – a deep physical and emotional exhaustion from working hard from a deep level of care.

Read my latest article in Education Canada about preventing compassion fatigue in teaching.



What teachers do and how to say it

WE know what it takes to be a teacher – the hours, the workload, the emotional commitment, the frustration and the benefits.

How is it that the general public out there really has no idea what it is that we do?

Teachers as a whole don’t have great PR.  Because teachers care, we tend to just take on the work and do it to the best of our ability to serve kids.  Given the sometimes vitriolic public response to teacher job action, we need to better communicate what we do.

What if we kept caring, but communicated from a vocabulary of professionalism? Maybe people would start to get a clearer idea of the importance and workload of what we do.

Here’s what I mean:

The caring teacher in us says: I’m coaching the kids’ grade 7 basketball team.

This is what we say because this is what we do. But society at large doesn’t seem to respect or understand what we do. So, being teachers, we need to educate them.

We could say instead: I’m volunteering without pay  5 hours a week on top of my job to coach basketball, that at market value would cost $50/hour for my time $100 per hour for the space rental, and $100 per hour for security detail, and $20 activity supplies fee per child.  I believe sports are an excellent way for students to develop team building skills and lifelong fitness and so I choose to take away the cost from society, and volunteer my time to do this.

Seems like a mouthful.  But it is! That is what we do! Why shouldn’t people know it directly?

Instead of:  I’m just helping some kids with their math afterschool.

We say: I’m working privately with a group of 5 students to assess their understanding of math concepts and structure programming so they can clarify and reinforce their understanding. I’m doing this during the time I normally reserve for preparing the next day’s lesson.  There are commercial tutoring services that charge $40/hour to take your child through generalized math concepts and who do not know your child, but from me you get personalized, specialized service and with a connection to a network of people who can further help your child if need be.

 Instead of:  I’ve just got some marking to finish up at home.

We say: I have 60 papers to assess using this rubric with specialized criteria. It will take me 10 minutes per paper, for a total of 600 minutes, or 10 hours.  This only represents 2 of the 4 classes I teach. I used my preparation time at school to prepare the next lessons and activities. I used my time after school until 5 to run a rehearsal, meet with parents or 2 students in need and participated in a school success committee.  This 10 hours of marking will need to be completed either after 8 p at night when my own kids are put to bed, or during the weekend.

Instead of:  I’m looking forward to summer vacation.

We should say:  I’m looking forward to a well-deserved break. It’s fortunate that my district pays my 10-month salary over 12 months, because I know some districts don’t and you need to be quite mindful with your money if you are trying to save for 2 months of unemployment where you can’t collect EI.  It will also be nice to be able to go to the washroom whenever I want for the next two months.

I’m being facetious there.  But you get the point.

Society in general isn’t going to look seriously at what we do for a living, until we explain it more seriously to them. We should be proud of what we do every day and let people know directly.

Putting students first doesn’t mean putting teachers last


Exactly!  This is a great article.

Read it here.



Why do we do this to ourselves?

It’s mid-term reporting season in many districts.  We all know how much time and effort report cards consume – everyone knows this whether you’re a novice teacher, an experienced teacher, an administrator….so why do we pile on extra work during an already busy time?

Whether or not you are writing report cards this week – I wanted to share a few experiences of the kinds of workloads I’ve seen piled on teachers during this already stressful time – and workloads we pile on ourselves ….and see if we can do it a bit differently…

Why would a Arts Team at a school choose to schedule the school musical (in which the whole school and all teachers take part) so close to the report card due date that dress rehearsals and finalizing reports happens in the same week? Does any teacher really need to be doing two high stress activities in the same week?

Why not schedule the school musical a couple of weeks after reports are finished so teachers can focus on one thing ‘big ticket item’ at a time?

Why would an administrator choose to have the goalsetting and paperwork for a novice teacher mentoring program be due the day before report cards are due?  Isn’t report cards enough of a steep learning curve for a beginning teacher?

Why not let the paperwork be due the week after  – that way some of the learning around a teacher’s first reporting experience can be used in their long term learning plan.

Why would a teacher choose to begin teaching a prep-heavy and marking-heavy section of a unit during the crunch time of report cards? Couldn’t that kind of intensive teaching be saved for another time?

Why not arrange programming so that during reporting crunch time (high teacher work load)  the important pedagogical pieces of group or individual presentations, peer and self-assessment, or independent student research (activities that require less intensive prep and teaching) is covered. Then during times of lower teacher work load (i.e. – outside of the report card crunch) program lessons and classes that have more intensive prep, assessment, and instructional face time. That way you will have time and energy to put the extra effort into the prepping and teaching of these lessons, but won’t have to run yourself ragged by doing in during a time of year when you are already extra-busy.

I’m not sure if teaching can ever be totally stress free, but we can make it more stress-less.

Work is for the sake of life

I was listening to a Keynote address at a holistic educators’ conference by Dr. Gregory Cajete. He was talking about the Tewa Nation’s, which is his heritage, view of life and work and education and spirituality. It is a whole philosophy where everything done is done for the sake of life. There is not artificial division between work, leisure, spirituality, functionality, art, etc. All is one, all is life – all is done for the sake of life.

What would it look like, within your own life, to approach your work as something done for the sake of life?

I ask this because our relationship to work is often so negative. How many of us, brainwashed by the predominating western world view, see work for the sake of life? With high levels of burnout in many profession is seems we are working to destroy our spirits and lifestyles and not to support our life.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t work hard or put strong effort into what we do. I’ve had people accuse me of promoting laziness. How is encouraging people to work in a way that prevents burnout equated with promoting laziness?

Working hard, the satisfaction of a job well done, putting in energy and seeing the rewards of our efforts, seeing the positive effects of our work in the lives of others are all positive benefits of work. That is work for the sake of life.

But doing the business of ‘work’ in a way that leaves us exhausted and grumpy, unfulfilled, drained, feeling that ‘work’ has eaten away at other aspects of our lives and relationships is hardly work for the sake of life – it is work that is sucking the life out of us.

If, as a society, we truly valued life, we would value work and organize it in such a way that it fed our spirit and nurtured and worked in harmony with the other spheres of our life.

I can’t tell you what that would look like for you. I can only ask you to ask yourself: if I worked for the sake of all life – what would my work look like for me? What would it feel like? What priorities would I set? What attitudes would I adjust or adopt? What outcomes would be important to me and all who my work affects?

These are good questions for developing a healthy relationship with our work, our lives and ourselves.


What you put into it is what you get out of it? Really?!

When it comes to job satisfaction people throw around the phrase “what you put into it, is what you get out of it”.

If that’s true, then why do I hear so many teachers tell me: “All I’ve been doing is putting my heart, soul and effort into this job   – and getting back nothing but stress and irritation. How can I be feeling this bad about something that I thought I was putting such a positive effort into?”

Sound familiar?  Sure it does – who hasn’t been there?

It’s that that we shouldn’t put heart, soul and effort into our jobs – its’ that we have to look at the outcome of what we want and see if what we’re “putting into it” is congruent.

In a year, or 2 or 5 – what do you want out of your teaching life and non-teaching life? How do you want to feel emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally?

If, for example, you want to have energy to enjoy with your family, time to do a hobby, feel fulfilled, busy but not frazzled, excited not worn out….then you can’t be running 4 extra-curricular activities a week, working through every lunch, taking home marking and prep for 3 hours a night, and planning 5 field trips, 2 fundraisers and tutoring – and that’s before you get to your own personal life.  It doesn’t match up.

You might do it all with passion – but what you are putting in is work without boundaries, limitations or an understanding of what your body and spirit needs for recuperation – so what you’ll get out of it is passion running on empty –otherwise known as burnout.

Think of the outcome, and plan what you do in the day-to-day to meet that outcome. And check in with yourself – is your plan working? Are there times you can give more – or less – or differently? Truly commit to putting into it what you want to get out of it!

Too Much Responsibility?

Teachers are never just teachers.

At different times throughout our teaching day we are mother or father, counselor, social worker, first aid attendant, driver, motivational speaker, law enforcer, healer, guide, activist, advocate, political player, lunch provider, snack provider, provider of jackets and shoes, shoe tying assistant, nurse, parent advisor, mediator, crisis manager, health advisor, fitness coach, life-coach, mentor, role-model, researcher, instructional leader, school-success visionary, curriculum expert, pedagogy specialist, fundraiser, event organizer, clean-up crew – and then we also plan, prep, teach, deliver and grade curriculum expectations to a classroom of students.

There’s an African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. True. But in our schools it seems that the responsibility of the villages rests with the teacher. Is this fair or realistic?

It’s not that teachers resent these roles, it’s that how do you maintain any sanity when so many roles are downloaded onto one person responsible for a minimum of 30 kids?

We just do it. We do it because we feel we must. We are responsible.

But are we responsible for everything? Or is this just what we tell ourselves?

Responsibility in the dictionary looks like this: blame, liability, accountability, job, duty, task, dependability, conscientiousness.

None of that sounds very inspiring or empowering.

Deepak Chopra, among others, has defined responsibility as the ability to respond.   Now that’s something. What are we responsible for? Not shouldering blame or guilt, but the power to use our ability to respond to situations that require our skills in ways that don’t wear us down. How can we use our power of response to make healthy choices for ourselves and our students? We could say:

“I choose to have this job and staff meetings are a part of the job description, therefore I choose to show up in a pleasant mood and to bring food to make it enjoyable.”

“I choose to use a ready-made activity, rather than create one so I can save 1 hour of time and use it to spend time with family.”

“I choose to drop one extra-curricular activity a week so I can have that time to do another important task on my long to-do list.”

“I choose not to become emotionally entangled in the problematic aspects of my students’ lives beyond that of my professional and ethical obligations, and refer them to competent counselors in trust.”

When we take back our ability to choose, responsibility is feels freeing, not burdensome. …and that is a step towards wellbeing.

Stressed and Silent

Everyone’s doing it but no one wants to talk about it…

It amazes me how many times in private conversations teachers will tell me about their extreme anxiety in dealing with situations that the most well-adjusted person would have difficulty coping with. I suggested to one such person that they take some time off to recover and get their health back. She said “I can’t do that. If I take leave for mental health, I’ll ruin my career within the district.”  I didn’t think that was true, but that belief felt very real for her – and it is very real to many teachers.

This stigma makes many teachers suffer in silence.

Everyone who teaches knows how stressful it can be – so why the stigma?  Why are we, as a profession, reluctant to name the issue and heal it in our selves and in the schools?

It is seen as a weakness to not be willing to deal with very real stress and dysfuction and affirm one’s own wellbeing, but a strength to endure in silence in situations that lack any sense of wellness or health?  A strength to go along with all that is wrong, a weakness to stand up for what is right?

Why do we accept stress as normal? Why do we resist finding a less stressful way to live?

This nonsense just makes it all the harder to deal with stress. It makes you feel isolated to begin with, feeling stigmatized prevents you from seeking help or connecting to people who also think the stress is ridiculous.

And do you know how many people that would be if we were to be honest? I’d guess that a lot of the very people who stigmatize those who suffer stress are the most stressed of all. Maybe there is a bit of the ” I had to deal with this same stress and no one helped me, so suck it up and deal with it” syndrome…

I always try to encourage people to not give into the stigma and stay silent. But to surround themselves with supportive people, make a case for their wellbeing and pursue their right to heal from stress.

Job stress takes up a big part of life – how do you want to be living your life?

Self Acceptance and stress

Self-acceptance is not complacency.Wanting better for ourselves, aspiring to move from stress to well-being and accepting our imperfections are not mutually exclusive states of mind. Of course, strong, educated, confident people find a way to live amongst societal pressures and uphold their own self-worth. Empowered, conscious living requires us to actively create the life we aspire to. Most of what is presented to us as the ‘ideal’ way to live requires us to uphold images and behaviours that are dysfunctional.

These images need to be interrogated so we are clear as to what we are aspiring to. It is important to evaluate our shortcomings, but within a larger picture of what we are trying to accomplish. Life is not only about achieving our aspirations and getting “a bit better everyday”. It is navigating the highs and lows of the road of aspiration. There are times on the path to go forward, and there are times to stop and rest. Wisdom and self-reflection allow you to discern that for yourself. Our quest to “do a bit better everyday” can’t be done in the same paradigm that drives workaholicism, overwhelm and stress.

Admitting to having days where everything falls apart and we don’t reach the summit we were aiming for is not begrudging those who can handle adversity better than us or who are better off. It is pointless to compare ourselves to others because the only one who is going to live your life is you. Finding within ourselves some humility and gentleness to accept that not everyday is going to be heroic, is not wallowing in self-pity — it’s accepting the moment for what it is in that space of time. If we can’t admit to having an “off” day without being told we might be wallowing in self-pity or begrudging others their wellbeing, we are setting up for ourselves an impossible standard of living and wellbeing to aspire to.

Gladwell off the mark with class size

A few weeks ago Outliers and the Tipping Point author, Malcolm Gladwell, gave the keynote address at the Imagining Ontario’s Future Conference. He’s a brilliant writer and thinker – but if he wants to speak on K-12 education he should spend some time in a classroom. Preferably a class of 35 Grade 7s in a portable resourced and designed for 25, in the unaircondiditoned heat of a sweltering Ontario June day.

He caused a bit of a stir in education circles. He said that reducing class size was pursing a dead end – what mattered most was improving the quality of teachers.

Now I agree that quality teachers are key to having a good educational experience, but what kind of quality education can an individual deliver in an over-filled, under-resourced classroom?

Not surprisingly, the Toronto Star’s Saturday’s paper on May 16 included many letters from incensed teachers.

I was one of them. Here’s what I wrote:

Advice to Mr. Gladwell: stick to what you know. Teaching K-12 is not like speaking to a university lecture hall full of grown-ups. Teachers negotiate diverse levels of academic ability, facility in English, behavioural tendencies, and home-environment influences in classes of children from ages 4-18. In his book, Outliers, Mr. Gladwell states it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in any field. I have my 10,000 hours in teaching K-12; he has about 10,000 to go.

« Older posts Newer posts »