You are not alone. After a year of pandemic pedagogy, I find myself longing even more than usual for a small hut in Ireland with no students, no internet, and plenty of books. This article in Forbes indicates that many educators find themselves on the edge of (or fully in) burnout. This is no surprise to anyone who is teaching right now. The question is what we can do about it.
There are two things that have helped me the most when I’m feeling burnout as a teacher. The first and most important is that I buckle down on my boundary-setting practices. I habitually do things like not checking email in the morning, but these days I make doubly sure I don’t do that. Even though I’m never in my office at the college, I still treat the work day like that–I work only during set times of the day, and never on weekends. Every time I share just these two boundary-setting practices with other faculty members, there are always several who look at me in utter astonishment. “You mean you don’t work all of the time? And you are a mother? And you publish? And you aren’t obsessed with email? What???” Yes, because I’ve made a decision that this career is not my life. I’m a recovering perfectionist who has learned that giving myself grace is more important than the flawless lesson plan (which doesn’t exist anyway), perfectly assessed papers, and especially being at the beck and call of a student or administrator who demands an immediate reply to an email. Eventually folks figure out that you aren’t going to answer right away, and they may not like it, but who cares? Mornings are my high energy time and I want to use them to do focused work so that I don’t have to work in the evenings.
The second thing that has helped me the most during this crazy time is opening my teaching up with creativity even more than I usually do. The jig is up on Zoom and hybrid classes now: the students are tired of it and are getting lazy. We all need an infusion of energy, and unfortunately, that’s on us. Throw out your usual lesson plan and do something totally different. Do you teach in the sciences? Get out a GoPro and “take” the students outside with you for a change. English? Light a candle, train your webcam on it, and read aloud to the students. History? Use the breakout rooms and let them work through a question or a passage on their own. Do whatever it takes to change it up and the students will reward you by coming out of their Zoombieness at least a little bit. We all need it.
If you want more of my tips for survival, including a whole section on handling email, my spring retreat for educators is still up and running. Email me for a discount code. And, as always, Keep Calm and Teach On!