Hey Burned-In Teachers! Welcome to Episode 151 - and the brand new season - of The Burned-In Teacher Podcast.
In this episode, I talk with Burned-In Teacher student and member Chelsea. She is currently going into her fifth year of teaching and has recently had some big life transitions. Chelsea is going to share with you what brought her to Burned-In Teacher and the specific challenges she’s encountered in her four years of teaching and how the Burned-In Teacher University Course and community have helped her move forward, rather than stay stuck, in her burnout.
I’m so excited for you to hear her story. Let’s dive in!
Amber: Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. I'm so excited to hear you tell your story to the audience.
Chelsea: Thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited about being on the podcast.
Amber: So tell us a little bit about you as a teacher and your life outside of teaching to get help us to get to know you a little bit better.
Chelsea: I'm about to go into year five of teaching and I’m in my second school and second school district, all in the same state though. In the past, I've taught fourth grade, and fifth grade and now I am an ESL teacher - and I'm the only one in that role in my school - and I work with students from kindergarten through fifth grade. That was my new adventure last school year, and I’ve been thinking bout why I don’t feel nervous about this upcoming school year, but then I realized that this is the first time that I’m not taking on something new. I’m now finally doing the same thing for a second time.
Amber: And you got married! You’ve had a lot of personal changes as well.
Professionally, I'm feeling really good going into this year; I love teaching EL students. It was a good transition out of the classroom for me. I’ve always been passionate about those kids and being able to focus on strategies for them, so I’m really glad to be doing that again.
Amber: I’m glad for you too. That's a really good feeling.
Chelsea: Yeah. I always knew I wanted to be an ESL teacher. When I got my teaching license, I knew I wanted to start as a Gen. Ed. teacher, which I think was good because it helped me understand where the general education teachers are coming from.
Last school year I changed schools and I didn’t realize what a big transition that was going to be. It was kind of like being a first-year teacher again!
Amber: I’m so glad for you.
You know, it’s so interesting to me how most of the conversations I’ve had recently have centered around all the new things happening this year - switching grade levels, new roles, or new responsibilities. There always seems to be something new happening for teachers - the only thing that seems to be constant for teachers is the constant changes in education and in our roles, so I’m really glad to hear from you that you’ve got something consistent going on this year!
So tell us a little bit about your burnout, you know, before you found Burned-In Teacher and went through the course. Tell us what your burnout looked like for you and what it felt like in your daily life.
Chelsea: The first time I started to feel burnout from teaching was during the 2020-2021 school year. This was after our schools had shut down and we were forced into this completely new way of teaching. Then all summer long was the constant wondering about how/when schools were going to re-open and people who didn’t necessarily know much about our situation were providing input on it. As teachers, we were just wondering what was actually going to happen and we felt like so much was out of our hands. I felt very overwhelmed going into that year. That year, I was assigned as a virtual teacher to a new grade level. I was so overwhelmed. Previously I had a great team and I felt very comfortable with those people, and then suddenly I was on a new team. And, in order to accommodate the in-person students (which was most of the school) I got booted out of my classroom and sent to a trailer that had been used for storage with another virtual teacher. The two of us were in this trailer full of junk that had built up over the years.
I just started the year feeling very overwhelmed. We were using Canvas for the first time in our district, which was overwhelming. I probably blocked myself from - in a way - being a little more open to understanding Canvas at first because I told myself that it wasn’t suitable for elementary and that it wasn’t realistic. I probably could have been a little more open to it. Over time, I got comfortable with it, and we did what we could with what we had, and the kids used it to the best of their ability. But I can remember Canvas being a huge hurdle.
Amber: That is hard to learn those tech tools for sure, especially when - as you said - you had blocked the whole idea because you didn't like it and you didn't think that it was appropriate for your kids. I totally understand that. And that is a lot of new! Even listening to it I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. You had to learn how to teach virtually, you went to a new grade level, you had a new LMS…you had all of these new things, that had to be so so hard.
Chelsea: Yes. And around this time - this sounds really silly - I got air pods. It was partially for like my own enjoyment and I thought I could probably use them for virtual teaching.
Once I got them, I started listening to podcasts when I would walk my dog. I would listen to education podcasts and other personal development things. And I walk my dog a lot - multiple times a day - so that’s a lot of time to listen to podcasts! I first came across Cult of Pedagogy and Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers. And then one evening, I was on Instagram and came across one of your posts. I wish I could remember which one it was…but it was interesting enough for me to click on it, and that was how I came across your account and I started listening to your podcast soon after. It was exactly what I needed in my ears in the morning to psych myself up for coming into work and then exactly what I needed in my ears in the afternoon to take it off my shoulders and just continue with the rest of the day and try to not let what had happened that day manage my entire evening.
Amber: I never heard that story. I'm so glad that you shared that with me, that just makes my day.
Chelsea: By the time I enrolled in the course - I’m definitely I'm a binge listener - I had listened to all of your episodes by January.
Amber: Wow. That's impressive.
I appreciate how dedicated you were to listening and learning and applying these strategies to your life. Good for you. And I love that you have a routine for when you walk your dog, that is time for you to learn for yourself. That's fantastic.
And I'm so honored to be classified an in a category with people like Jennifer Gonzalez and Angela Watson because those are two people that I have looked up to so much over the years as a teacher. They have a lot of really valuable information to share with teachers.
When you joined Burned-In Teacher Unversity, did you read the book first? Or did you just enroll?
Chelsea: I have not read your book yet, shockingly. I just listened to enough episodes where you were where you talked about your course and the process, where I was like, Okay, I'm in.
The network and the support system that I had in my professional life at the time were pretty limited. I'd only been in one grade level in one school, and I was teaching in my hometown so I was teaching with people I went to school with and parents of people I went to school with. It was very familiar and it felt safe to start out my career. But with all those changes in 2020, I realized I needed to expand my support system and that meant looking outside of my small circle at the time.
Amber: I'm smiling ear to ear because that's what this is all about. It's about expanding your belief in yourself, challenging those beliefs, and getting out of your comfort zone - which is something that's so hard to do especially if you're struggling. I'm so proud of you. I'm so so glad that you took that chance on yourself and Burned-In Teacher.
So is there something specific - was there a light bulb moment - where you realized how much you had grown? Or was it that really gradual change for you?
Chelsea: it was a little bit of both.
The way you structured the questions at the end of the modules and during our coaching calls caused me to reflect on certain things and realize things that I was doing as well as see what other people were using. Those were the little lightbulb moments here and there, but then - as I was finishing up the course - I was like, Wow! Look how far I’ve come!
Amber: Everybody goes through this process differently. It's such an important personal journey and it's so deeply personal.
I've been asked if I could come and present the Burned-In Process for a full-day PD, and my response is, Absolutely not. This is hard work and you have to take the time to really think about what is meaningful to you, where and how you want to grow, what your goals are, and what your challenges have been. It's a very deeply personal process. It’s a marathon for sure, it's not a sprint.
Was there a step that resonated with you the most in the process?
Chelsea: Understand Your Teacher Brand. That one was really important for my process because I was still somewhat of a new teacher (even though I was in my third year) when I went through your process and my brand was still developing. Your process made me really think about the kind of teacher I was, what my core values were, and the kind of person my students needed me to be in the classroom. That one was really important to me.
Amber: That is one of my favorite modules. I feel like I say that about all of them, but Understand Your Teacher Brand was so transformational for me when I was struggling with burnout. As you know, I created this process for myself first because I knew that I had so many changes to make and I had a lot to work on for myself.
When I look back at patterns in my life of how many times I changed my environment and the same problems seem to show up in whatever workplace I was in, that showed me that I had a lot of inner self-awareness to gain. That module is very personal to me as well.
What changes have you made that have had the biggest impact?
Chelsea: It has definitely helped me when responding to difficult situations. I stop and think about what are my values and what I believe is most important.
This past school year, we had a lot of newcomers to our country in our area, and we are a very small district. I mean, a lot of school districts across the country are seeing an increase in newcomers to the country, but I was brand new to my role. There wasn’t anyone in my building in my role the previous year, so when there was some type of communicative or behavioral concerns with one of my students, they would bring it to me, and sometimes I felt like that particular issue was not necessarily in my job description. But, they felt like, because the student was a newcomer and because the student was learning the language, it was automatically the ESL teacher’s role, so I would definitely have to spend some time with myself thinking about how I would respond to the situation. I would ask myself, What are they asking and what can I actually do? Who can I suggest they reach out to? We have a really incredible family liaison in our district, which was kind of a new role, but she was really helpful to me this past year with some of our families. I had to help the teachers and school administrators realize that this is the person taht you can contact about these types of things.
But across the board, there seemed to be a misunderstanding of what the role of an ESL teacher was.. I did PD with teachers in my state, and a lot of us have similar stories about even-out administrators and our colleagues not really understanding that our role is to teach. I do see myself advocating for my students and families, and it feels like I try to get in contact with or network with my families more than I did as a classroom teacher in some ways, but my job is to teach them and to provide them with the supports they need to do well in their gen. ed. classroom.
Amber: I hear so many things out of the course that you have applied to your life. Number one is knowing your job description and knowing the role of other people in your position. Number two, your ability to think through, prioritize, eliminate and delegate which are all steps that I teach inside of the course that I don't go through in the book. And three, proactively advocate for yourself in a positive way, like you said, I see that you have asked me to do this, I think this would be a great question for her over here or him in this role. You're not being combative, you're not being you're not angry about it, but you are saying, I think people are confused. You're showing positive intent, which is something that we talk about in the course. I never did those things when I was really struggling the most with burnout, and I'm just I'm really proud to hear that those things have become really natural in your day-to-day interactions.
Chelsea: Yes, they definitely have.
Amber: I’m proud of you. This is so exciting.
So where are you now in your Burned-In journey? What’s your burnout stage and what are your plans for moving forward?
Chelsea: I actually did the Stage Tracker Quiz a few weeks back when I knew that we were going to be chatting because I am just curious.
Amber: Just to explain what Chelsea's talking about, one of the bonuses of enrolling in the course is that you get access to the Burned-In Teacher Stage Tracker Quiz. If you've been a listener of the podcast, you’ve heard me talk about the spectrum of burnout - from burned-out to Burned-In! Those different stages are stages zero through five and within the course, you have access to a tracker that will tell you what stage of burnout you are in and what modules would be the best for you to revisit if you've gone through the course already.
Chelsea: For this upcoming year, my focus is going to be focusing on what I need to do and define my role for myself and other people so they understand it.
I’d also like to refine the stuff that I’m doing with my groups because I had so many different groups every day having six grade levels to support. Within the different grade levels, my students don’t have the same homerooms and I’m trying to juggle three sometimes four homerooms per grade level and just seeing them basically whenever. I want to focus on what’s the best bang for my buck for the 30 minutes I get.
Amber: I see a lot of systemizing in your future.
Chelsea: I definitely wasn't really able to do that.
Amber: And that's okay. You were just figuring it out and trying things and now you can move on from there. You're definitely further this year with the same role, so you're able to really apply what you learned last year through trial and error and start to build some systems inside of your role. That's really exciting.
Chelsea: Something that was that I was working on this past school year was a handbook of sorts because our district didn’t have a handbook for all teachers. A colleague of mine had a really great outline of one she had started for myself and other new teachers, but after a PD I was in with other ESL teachers in my stage, some of them shared handbooks that their districts had put together for ESL teachers. I was like we need this! I used some of the templates that some of them shared and I was working on one for us because we have some new teammates coming in this year.
Amber: That's so exciting. I'm so excited for you. For me, planning and setting up systems is like igniting and is something I get really excited about it. Is that kind of how you're feeling about this?
Amber: The definition of survival is going day by day, so I'm really excited that you have a vision for yourself. The first step is visualizing what you want your ideal days to look - like what you want an ideal 30-minute group to look like - and then plan backward from there. And then you need to be intentional and disciplined about how it is that you use that time and try some things and figure it out.
I have goosebumps, I'm so excited for you. You are clearly applying everything that you've learned. So thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey and how you're implementing these steps. It's, it's it means a lot to me that you've been willing to do that.
Chelsea: Of course! It's the first time I've really comprehensively talked about it. It feels good.
Amber: Thank you so much, Chelsea, I appreciate your time, and you just brought so much energy to our talk today. So is there anything else that you'd like to share before we take off today?
Chelsea: The one thing that I was thinking of, and this has come up in our group before too, was, What is one thing that you would tell someone who feels stuck? Or what is one thing that you would tell your first-year teacher self?
My answer is: This is not forever. And for any first-year teachers listening to this, It’s not you. There are so many other factors in our profession that impact our day-to-day and our job and how well we can do it, so don't blame all of your struggles on yourself. It's not all you but if you want to make a change, then become a Burned-In teacher. There is going to be some work that you have to do, but don't get don't stay stuck and blaming yourself.
Amber: I love that. That's what I say all the time: your burnout is not your fault but it is your responsibility. This doesn't have to be your forever reality, you can take a step forward, you can take leaps forward and you may have to take some setback steps back, in the process, but you're moving forward, you're getting out of burnout. You're pulling out of that parking space of misery that you're in and that's hard to do.
Chelsea: Like the thing that you say: You can visit there, but you can't live there.
Amber: Yeah. it's okay to visit that place. We're human beings and it's okay for us to feel sad or frustrated, that's just a natural part of being alive. It's natural to visit those places, But where I really lacked whenever I was in burnout is I stayed there, I became the victim and blamed everybody else. I didn't have the tools necessary to actually move out of that place. You're not a bad person or a bad teacher if you visit those places. There is hope for you.
You are a model student of the process. I love it. Thank you
I think a lot of people will resonate with your story.
Chelsea: I wouldn't be able to say all this if I didn't have you in my ears for those first few months, guiding me through your steps. I really don't realize how much I use it every day and not just in teaching. Like anything in life you can apply the steps to,
Amber: Yes! Because that was the purpose of it. I didn't want the process to just be teaching, I want teachers to thrive in life because it's cyclical. If you're a happy, fulfilled person outside of the classroom, that permeates into your classroom and you’ll be a happier, more fulfilled teacher. And that only helps you to build relationships and have the energy to deal with the hard stuff and to really process challenges.
Thank you so much, Chelsea. I appreciate you so much.
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