Beat the Burn Out: 3 Secrets To Becoming A Master Teacher

“You’re a superhero. I don’t know how you do it all!”

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It’s true. I have a coffee mug, a painting, and a tote with my name and superhero status printed on it. Almost all the teachers I know do as well. 

The thing is, many teachers don’t want that superhero label anymore. We don’t want to have to make the impossible happen to be successful at our jobs. We want to be human like everyone else. 

Teachers! I have three secrets that have brought me some peace from all the pressures of being a “superhero” and gotten me some of my life back outside of my classroom. These three secrets are not simple things you’ll just be able to start and be successful at immediately. They take intentional effort and a whole lot of trial and error. With some elbow grease and perseverance, you can do it!

Secret #1: Create Serious Boundaries

Without boundaries, you are at the mercy of others. Immediate needs of students, parents, colleagues, and administrators will bulldoze your own needs. Others will slowly begin to drain all the time and energy you have, leaving nothing left for you and the ones you love at home. 

  • If you’re losing your entire prep period to a co-worker that wants to chat, you may need to set a boundary. 
  • If a parent is asking for a daily, in-depth update on how their child did at school, you may need to set a boundary. 
  • If you’re spending your morning organizing something, and you’re not getting your lesson plans done, you may need to set a boundary with yourself.

To be clear, a boundary is put in place for a reason. It’s not something you lean on when you don’t like someone’s request. Boundaries are an opportunity to be skillful with your time and energy. Here are a few examples of boundaries you might use based on the previous examples. 

Colleague: I can’t chat during my prep period anymore, but I can have lunch with you on Tuesdays. 

Parent: I can’t send you a long email about everything that happened during the day, but I can create a check-in/check-out sheet for your child and email you a photo of that sheet every day. 

Self: I can’t start my morning with an organizing task, but I can finish my lesson plans and organize if I finish early!

Boundaries need to be clear and kind. If you’re not used to setting boundaries it’s uncomfortable at first. Start by creating boundaries with people you trust and build from there. Remember, a boundary isn’t a boundary unless it’s clearly stated to that person. 

Secret #2: Systematize Everything

I mentioned that teachers are often considered superheroes because they are accomplishing so much in a day. To be able to create, teach, love, challenge, and the list goes on – you need some serious systems. 

Systems allow you to go on auto-pilot for the things that just have to get done. This will save you more time and energy for the parts of teaching that truly light you up. Why did you go into teaching to begin with? Make space for that passion. Systems also ensure all the checkboxes in a given day get checked.

It takes time to develop and refine a system. Don’t overthink your system and try to make it perfect right out of the gate. Definitely skip the laminating until you’re sure that system is bullet-proof. I haven’t created a single system that didn’t need tweaking or revamping altogether.

I probably systematize 95% of my day. Even connecting with students is systematized. Then I can be sure I’m connecting with each and every one of them. It may seem a little robotic, but it’s my saving grace. It also gives me confidence that I’m doing everything to the best of my ability.

Secret #3: Manage Your Mindset

This is by far the most challenging secret. I’m constantly recalibrating my mindset and challenging my own thoughts. Depending on the situation I come back to my own thoughts and beliefs monthly. Other situations I revisit hourly. The key is to always be aware of what you’re thinking and feeling. You can’t make any adjustments without awareness. 

Two processes I come back to again and again are Byron Katie’s The Workand Molly Shea’s 3 New Ways To View The Stories You Tell Yourself. Both of these strategies challenge “the story I’m making up.” 

Byron Katie’s strategy takes a little more practice and is extremely powerful if you can work through it with someone you trust. There are so many great resources on her website to guide you through the process. Molly Shea’s strategy is incredible for tackling challenging thoughts after you’ve “messed up.” To apply this technique you’ll look at a thought from a reverse, long, or wide lens.

Managing mindset is a challenge for everyone. However, as educators, it’s especially vital because we impact so many other individuals. We need to operate from a clear headspace as much as possible, and we need to check our own beliefs and biases that aren’t serving ourselves and the people we interact with. We hold a lot of power. Carry that power with grace. 

Putting It Together

These three secrets are difficult and will take time to fully put into practice. They are worth the effort, but tackle one thing at a time. Personally, I would focus on boundaries starting with something super small and doable. Think of one person you need a boundary with. Script out what you’ll say to that person and then take action. 

If you would like support in all this, check-out “The Marigold Force.” I learned these secrets the hard way. In 2013 I was completely burnt out and hopeless after putting in everything I had to be a good teacher. No matter how hard I tried I kept falling short, and I felt horrible about myself. I wanted out of the education field  altogether, but I gave one last valiant effort. 

I’m so grateful I did because I learned a series of priceless lessons that reignited my passion for teaching. These lessons aren’t taught in teacher-prep courses or by instructional coaches in school districts. I wanted all teachers to have access to what I learned, so I started “The Marigold Force” with my colleague, Joel Carlovsky. He taught me these secrets, and now we’re sharing them with the world. 

Thank you for all the incredible work you do each and every day. Educators are the thought leaders and revolutionists on the front lines truly making the world a better place. On the darkest days, and even when you don’t realize it, you are a light for someone.

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