For most teachers, another school year is in the books. If you’ve been off for a couple of weeks, you have probably already started to forget the suffocating exhaustion you felt over the past ten months. If you’ve just begun your break, then you’re probably still catching up on sleep, relaxation, and your favorite Netflix shows. But one thing is for sure: if nothing changes, you’ll be just as tired next year as you were this past year.
If this is you, then you really only have five options.
1. You can persist.
My suspicion is that most teachers choose this option. They put their heads down and keep going. They accept that they’re going to spend much of the school year stressed out, beaten down, and just plain physically whipped. Some may have made peace with it, while others grudgingly accept it as part of the job; after all, they know plenty of teachers in the same boat. These teachers will return in the fall, and the fall after that, and the one after that, and they’ll keep on keeping on, plugging away and doing their best, all the while wishing things could be different but not taking any steps to make them different.
2. You can neglect.
Those who don’t persist may neglect their responsibilities. These are the teachers who hang on to their jobs but have allowed the spark they once felt for it to flicker and die. They’re the ones that give the rest of us a bad name and offer critics of teachers’ unions just enough fuel to keep their criticisms burning. Unfortunately, we’ve all known a teacher like this, either as a colleague or from our days as students. These teachers have been tired for so many years that they’ve given up hope of things ever changing and they’re counting the years to retirement. They do as little as possible and hope to be left alone. Don’t be this teacher.
3. You can quit.
Many teachers walk away, either from their district in the hopes that the grass is greener at a different school, or they leave education altogether. There’s no shame in quitting, especially if you’ve decided that your heart just isn’t in it anymore and you have something else you want to do with your life. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting out of a profession that’s harming your mental and/or physical health or in taking your talents where they might be more appreciated. My friend Dan quit a few years back and has never regretted it, as you can read here.
4. You can fight.
If the causes of your exhaustion were mostly external and you’re thinking of quitting because of them, then next year might be the one you decide to fight back. There are a lot of things that exhaust teachers — I wrote about four hidden contributors in my book Exhausted — and many of those things are the result of demands placed on you by others. Time is always in short supply for teachers, so when you’ve got unsympathetic administrators who require lessons plan while regularly gutting planning time, it’s understandable when teachers let their frustrations be known. If you’re on the verge of quitting, then you might as well see if you can’t first change your situation by bringing your concerns to administration. Nothing changes on its own, and if you’re about the quit anyway, then you have nothing to lose by knocking over a few metaphorical chairs on your way out the door.
5. You can change.
If you’ve been exhausted every year you’ve taught, then it’s time to consider why and what you can do about it, since you know it’s untenable over a long career. Knowing that the only other choices you have are acceptance and suffering, submission and resignation, quitting, or pitching a fit (however diplomatic it may be), you might decide to look inwardly and control the only thing you can: yourself.
Chances are there is a mixture of external and internal factors contributing to your fatigue. There are ways you can satisfy the requirements of your job without pouring all your energy into it. How you do that is essentially the purpose of this blog and the subject of the books I’ve written. If this is the choice you will make — if you decide to try changing your mindset and practices — then I ask you to start by checking out my books Exhausted, Leave School at School and The Teacher’s Guide to Saying No. They’re quick reads that can put you on a more sustainable path.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!