Working Through the Shame Behind Teacher Burnout

Apr 12, 2022

Welcome back to the Sustainable Teacher Podcast, or welcome for the first time if this is the first episode of the show that you’re listening to.  Either way, I’m so happy to have you listening in.  And I’m going to start off by saying that this episode will be a healthy dose of tough love.

I have all the love for my people - and my people are teachers.  They are educators through and through, and I love them.  But I also have tough love for you today. And I’ll say that a dose of tough love might not be exactly what you want today. Heck, it might not be what you need, because you really need an open ear to vent to.  And that’s healthy as well, but unfortunately, on this platform I can’t be that listening ear, so I encourage you to go and find it.  We have our Sustainable Teacher Podcast private community on Facebook that you are welcome to join and find a safe place to vent and express your concerns.  Be sure to find that link in the description below where you’re listening.

Ok, are you ready for the tough love that’s wrapped in a hug and a strong look in the eye?… There is no shame in feeling burned out as a teacher.  None at all.  But it’s time to do something about it and decide if you’re in this or not.

Ok, there it was.  Tough love is not easy, because it’s tough.  But it’s still love and it’s necessary.  Now, I’m not saying this to say get the heck out, NOW!  I’m also not saying that you will be ready to decide to do something about it right now.  But for some listeners, maybe you, this is the perfect time because you NEED to do something about your burn out.  You need to take a moment or a day or a few days to focus on what it is that’s burning you out, and not live in it anymore.  Stop letting your day’s worth be determined by what’s burning you out, and instead do something about it.

After listening to this episode you will be relieved of your shame within being burned out as a teacher, as well as have a clear path BACK to the career you love IF that is the path you wish to choose.

Because here’s the truth - teaching is so incredibly hard right now.  Teaching is always hard through major historical events, and those events are not going away anytime soon.  So how do we find our constant amongst all the unpredictable in a way that allows us to love what we do?  This is the larger question that I hope this podcast helps you answer, but this episode is meant to help you decide if you can bounce back from your burn out.  Because screw the shame.  It’s time to take a few steps that I’ll outline in this episode for whenever you’re ready to take them that will lead you back to the career you love.  Or not - because it is your choice.  No shame involved.

So buckle your seat belts for an episode of tough love and guidance - I’m not just going to lecture the whole episode - but hope to impart some inspiration to act.

Here we go.

Full Focus Planner

Today’s episode is brought to you by the Full Focus Planner.  If you’re like me, you totally geek out about planners.  Especially the super colorful and organized teacher planners with the stickers and the tabs.  Seriously - so cute.  But as I searched and tested multiple planners, they only became more work to maintain and didn’t necessarily serve the work I was doing in my classroom.

Then I found the Full Focus Planner.  

Teachers know the power in backwards planning, right?  We start with where we want students to be, then we plan our lessons backwards from there.  It’s just good practice.  So why don’t we do the same with our goals, whether professional or personal?

Well, the Full Focus Planner allows us to do that.  It also does NOT tell you absolutely everything you need to do or accomplish.  Yes, you heard me right.  It doesn’t put everything in your face to where you’re bogged down by the weight of it all.  Instead it allows you to prioritize your tasks so that you are focusing on what’s most important right now.

To learn more about how I use my Full Focus Planner and how it can help you get a hold of your unsustainable to-do list, head over to Teachonamission.com/planner.

I was a freshman in high school, in my 9th grade ELA class with Mrs. Daily, and on this day we were working in the media center.  And I vividly remember Mrs. Daily and other teachers watching a tv in the back room of the media center sobbing.

This day was September 11, 2001.

Fast forward to my own classroom as a teacher.  I’m in my third year of teaching and for the first time I have my own classroom - I had a cart my first two years.  I get a news alert on my phone and a text from my husband about a man taking a gun into Sandy Hook Elementary and killing 26 elementary students and staff members.

This day was December 14, 2012

My teachers had to walk me and classmates through 9/11.  They had to discuss what terrorism was, who the Taliban and Al-Queda were, they had to walk along side us in that situation as we navigated, pioneered really, new territory in our lives.

Likewise, I had to walk my students through the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.  I had to discuss acts of violence, the rise of mass shootings, and topics like gun control.  I had to come alongside them for the complex conversations that arose because of this event.

You have events like this in your own school and teaching career.  Moments that were historically so hard, and yet you were glad to be together so that you could impart impartial knowledge to prepare and equip your students for what would not be the last major historical event of their lives.

But then a historical event unlike any other in recent history happened with all the shut downs prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was a major historical event, of course. But with this one, you couldn’t be with your students to walk them through it, to have the hard conversations, to walk alongside them.

And now, at the time this episode is being recorded, we are no doubt in the midst of the largest European war since 1945 with Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.  My teacher-heart is at the least thankful that most classrooms are back to being in-person, and that means that more than parents are able to be present for kids working through this major historical event, and they don’t have to do it alone.

My point in all of this is that major historical events causing huge shifts in our daily lives are not going away.  And there are things that have changed so much since coming back from the shutdowns of 2020, that many teachers, maybe even you are wondering if this profession is really what they want to be doing.

I am here to say that this question of if the profession is really what you want to be doing could be rooted in burn out, but not all burn out comes from this question.  

You could absolutely LOVE teaching, but be burned out. 

I love to workout, read, walk the dog, go boating at my parents’, play board games with my kids, or have the same rotation of dinner recipes I or my husband know how to cook, and yet, I get burned out in all of these at some point.

But that is different from questioning if it’s for me.

No More Shame

In either scenario - being burned out or questioning the education profession - there’s no need to feel shame.  


Our society will tell you otherwise, or maybe your internal voice is giving you the guilt trip, but screw all that.

If you are burned out as a teacher, I would remind you of how (if you’re anything like me) you ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch everyday as a 5th grader, and eventually got burned out.  Or how you went all in on a workout program for 12 weeks, and then got burned out.  Burn out is a part of how our brains and habitual tendencies function.

Don’t get me wrong - I know there are systemic issues in the education realm that are burning teachers out AND that are out of a teachers’ control, leaving them feeling helpless.

Those absolutely must be addressed.

But they are also larger than any one of us - larger than me recording this podcast, and larger than you listening to it.

So in keeping with aspects of our burnout we can control, let’s drop the shame and decide together to do something about it.

I’ve got three steps for you to take that I’ll outline in this episode, and if you are listening now and are feeling burned out, make the commitment to take these three steps before the end of the month or within a month, depending on when you’re listening. It is mid April, 2022, at the time this episode will be released, and if that’s when you’re listening, commit to going through these three steps before the end of April.  You’ve got 18 days.  You can do it. 

Dedicate some time on a weekend or on your commute home, instead of listening to another podcast, talk to yourself OUT-LOUD (yeah, you heard me, out loud) as you work through these three steps that are designed to help you do the following with your burn out:

  1. Identify it.
  2. Mourn it.
  3. Decide and act.

Identify What’s Burning You Out

In step one, take time to truly identify what is burning you out.  The potential causes here are so wide and vast, but they are unique to you.

Take a moment to close your eyes (not if you’re driving though) and visualize the average day of your teaching-life.  Visualize yourself going through your average day in your building, classroom, working with your students and colleagues. Visualize yourself working at your desk, preparing the back end of things.  When or where are you triggered?

It might take you visualizing your entire week, or maybe thinking back on the last month or so.  Either way, get specific.  When are you triggered as a teacher?  That will lead you to your burn out.

In my own experience, which I’ll share so as to give you an example for your own visualization, when I get stressed in my daily teaching life to the point that I feel helpless, I get angry.  I then express that anger most often to my husband.  And what I’m feeling angry about in that moment, which is oftentimes an expectation I can not fulfill, is where my burn out lies.

More specifically, grading.  Whenever I couldn’t get a particular project or test graded in the amount of time I deemed appropriate to return to my students, I got angry.  Simple as that.

And it was all because of my own expectation that I needed to have grading done within a certain amount of time.  Which, that is not a bad expectation to have.  Authentic feedback on student work happens immediately or just barely longer than immediately.  Which is only sustainable to a certain extent for the teacher, so why in the world was I assigning so much dag-gone work that needed my immediate feedback on?

Grading was burning me out.

Other things it could be for you, which you should make the ultimate discovery of, but I hope this list may spark your thinking and visualizing, is any one of combination of these things:

  • Student apathy
  • Student behavior or classroom management
  • Keeping up with absences
  • Managing students taking your class from here, there, and everywhere
  • Parent apathy, neglect, or negative feedback
  • Class sizes too big
  • Too many preps
  • Too many extracurricular commitments
  • And the list goes on.

Once you identify it, get honest with what exactly about it is making you angry, like in my case, or that is burning you out.  For instance, I felt I couldn’t give students valuable grading because of all that I had to grade.  

Maybe yours is that your class sizes are too big, which means that you can’t teach the same way you’re used to or have been because it’s not manageable or sustainable for you to do so with that many kids.

Notice what I did there?  You can’t change class sizes.  Try as you might, kids need to be taught, and although you may change the amount by a few, you’re not changing the numbers in the systemic way that’s necessary for true change.  But notice what I did there - I took what is ultimately an helpless situation for a teacher, class sizes too big, and changed the issue to the fact that your teaching then needs to change too.

Does that suck because it requires more work from you, sure it does.  But just as you won’t teach the same exact way to different groups of kids, you won’t teach the same exact way to a different amount of kids.

So when I say that the first step to take it is to identify what’s burning you out, I don’t mean just name it - name it, and then truly identify what it is that’s burning you out.

Mourn What’s Burning You Out

Burn out isn’t fun in any area of your life, particularly teacher-burnout.  And in the name of not just breezing by what you’re feeling and getting straight to the solution, after you’ve truly identified the source of your burn out, take a moment to mourn it.

This tip reminds me of a frequent conversation my husband and I have, which is not unique to my marriage based on conversations with some girlfriends’ of mine.  He and I start talking about something, and before I’m finished reminiscing about the issue and really hashing it out, he’s moved on to finding and implementing the solution.

Let’s just call this a difference of strengths.  Love you babe :).

In many of these conversations with my husband it’s nothing short of frustrating to not take a moment to hash out the issue and feel those feelings before being ready to come to the solution.

And you may be someone who has hashed out and identified your burn out already, and so you’ve been living in this stage of mourning… this stage of feeling your feelings before being ready to move on to the solution.

It’s necessary to take time here.  So do it.

The amount of time you take is unique to you, but if you’ve been living there for some time, which I’m betting a lot of teachers have been, it might be time to now shift to the solution.

So when you’re ready to complete the phase of feeling your feelings around what it is that’s burning you out - and that could be sadness or anger or frustration or apathy or helplessness or all of the above - whatever it is.  But now you’re ready to move on, let’s jump in to step three.


The last step, the one after identifying and mourning what’s burning you out, is to decide.

Decide if this is burnout that you can do something about to get back to the career that you love, or if it’s knowing deep down that this isn’t for you.  And in coming to that conclusion I want to remind you of the major historical events I listed out and that we’re very much living through right now.  What were you feeling when I was saying all of that?  Was it a desire to be with students or to guide young people through those life changing experiences?  If it was, then I think you’ve got your answer, that you can work through this burn out.

If it wasn’t, meaning you are coming to the conclusion that this profession isn’t for you, then you too need to decide.

In both of these scenarios of feeling burned out or needing to move on from this profession, it’s time to decide.

It’s time to decide because neither of the scenarios are ones that are serving your students or allowing you to live the life you want.

So it’s time to decide if you can work through the burn out, which I’m here to help you do, or if it’s time to move on.

And if working through the burn out is something you’re on board for, know that it won’t happen overnight. It may not happen this school year, but it can happen bit by bit by following the three steps I’ve outlined in this episode.  In each area that’s burning you out, because there are probably quite a few, take control and ask - what is it?  How do I feel about it?  And what can I do about it - decide to act.

Likewise, if working through the burn out is something you’re on board for, I hope to provide you support in that area.  First, go through the steps I've outlined in this episode.  Seriously, don’t take them lightly.  

Second, I want to invite you to our free 7-day Sustainable Teacher Challenge.  It’s not meant to challenge your calendar by filling up your to-do list, instead it’s meant to challenge your thinking around your daily teaching life in ways that help you build out more sustainability, helping you stay in the classroom for the right reasons, longer.  Get registered for that 7-Day challenge here.

Lastly, I want to invite you to grab a mini-workbook I’ve created for teachers in considering what about their classrooms they can streamline in order to remain effective for their students, but become more sustainable for themselves, allowing you to be more present at home and for your personal life.

Go grab the Ultimate Flipped Classroom Starter Kit go here.

Alrighty teacher-friend, there you have it - the three steps to work through your teacher burn out, with the prerequisite that you forget the shame - ain’t nobody got time for that, nor is it necessary because we are human.  We burn out on the smallest of things, so of course we sometimes burn out on what we do and where we go 5+ days a week, 185 days per year (or more).

Now that you’ve listened to this episode, you have hopefully been relieved of your shame within being burned out as a teacher, as well as have a clear path, those three steps that I outlined and in the free resources you’ll want to get your hands on, BACK to the career you love IF that is the path you wish to choose.

And if it is the path you wish to choose, be sure to grab those free resources available above.

Here’s to you teacher-friend, in forgetting the shame, and then identifying, mourning, and deciding on your path forward.

I’ll see you right here, same time, next week. 

Bye for now.


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