In this episode, I share my interview with a Burned-In Teacher student and member, Maggie. She shares how she was struggling with teacher burnout long before she even realized what it was. After starting her teaching career in an elementary classroom, she then taught preschool for 6 years before going back to elementary, but this time she had a two-and-a-half-year-old and newborn which added another layer of exhaustion as she tried to keep up with all the “new” teachers. During this time, she formed bad habits and stifling belief systems that she was able to grow through and overcome her burnout after applying what she learned in Burned-In Teacher University and from being a part of the supportive Mastermind Community.
Amber: Tell us a little bit about yourself as a teacher.
Maggie: I had a little bit of a different start into teaching. In my very first year of teaching, when I was finishing my master's at the time as well, I taught in a little bitty town in Missouri just outside of Kirksville.
After that year, I moved to St. Charles to live with my husband, who was then my boyfriend, but I couldn't find an elementary teaching job, so I worked in a daycare for a while, and I also worked in preschool.
I entered back into an elementary role as an instructional para, and then finally I got what I call my “second first year of teaching” - but mind you, this was 6 years after my first year of teaching. And this time I had a two-and-a- a-half year old and a two-month-old. And boy, was that different!
Amber: So is that when burnout started settling in? Was it time management? Tell us a little bit about that.
Maggie: You know, it's funny - you don't realize something is happening in the process.
I only had one year of teaching experience in an elementary classroom, and then I taught preschool, and then became a mom…I never did establish time management. I didn’t establish effective planning. I didn’t even have any systems! I'd come into the classroom at 7:45 and think, What am I doing at eight o'clock? And sometimes I was planning minute to minute. And during lunchtime, I would be asking myself, What am I doing next? And it was like constantly shaking a soda bottle - just shaking and shaking and shaking...
And when I’d go home and I’d sit down to rock my babies to sleep, I was just constantly tense.
Then, right before COVID happened - after teaching second grade for 5 years (and I loved it) - I found out that the following year I’d be moved to a new grade level. And on top of that, that’s when COVID happened and we shut down. During this time I remember I was in a really bad place.
The year after COVID I started teaching 1st grade, and that is when I realized something was wrong. I could tell that something just wasn’t right.
Amber: Could you tell us what being in that place of burnout looked like, felt like, and sounded like in your life? You described how you were feeling as a soda bottle - for me, I had a very public breakdown like that bottle top popped off in front of everybody. At the time, I had been in a very dark place with a lot of crying and a lot of isolation.
Maggie: It was tough. It was really tough. I've always been very good at putting on “the face” - I faked it very well through that really dark period. But it all came out once I got home - I would completely lose it. Everything came out on my husband and on my kids sometimes over the smallest things. And when you're in it, you don't realize how truly dark it is. I just sort of acclimated to it, and it just sort of became part of my life. I would be happy and cheerful throughout the day, and then I’d go home, and it would all come out and then I’d feel terrible, and I cry, and I apologize, and then I would get back up and do it again the next day.
Throughout that whole time, something just didn't feel right. I felt like there wasn’t a spark anymore. The enjoyment that I used to find in just the everyday things with my students was gone. I just wasn't in it. I was just going through those motions thinking, Eventually, it'll get better…Eventually, it'll get better. But it just didn’t.
Amber: About how long did this go on?
Maggie: I would say throughout August to March of that first year I had been moved to first grade, even though at that point, all the emotions and everything that went with them had been happening for the past five years. But when I started to pull away from the situation I was in and be like, wow, like, realized that this is not who I am as a person.
Then, in March of that school year, I started to go to a workout studio where a friend of mine - a kindergarten teacher that I worked with - was an instructor, and I started creating this amazing community of women outside of my profession. That was when I truly started to realize who I've been for the past several years is not who I truly am as a person, everything that was happening and the way I was feeling was because of a lack of systems and stress. I had to come to the realization that I was even having problems and that I was burnt out before I could figure out how to fix it.
So I started to kind of seek support, but I still remained in that very low place with work until January of last school year. That’s when I happened on Burned-In Teacher through an interview you did on another podcast.
Amber: Isn't it interesting how those tiny, little “yes’s” or those tiny little “no’s” can cause such a ripple that causes another ripple, and then another. Tell us about some things that you remember that resonated with you that helped you to take your next step out of burnout.
Maggie: After I listened to your interview, I went right to your website and I enrolled in your free masterclass presentation, and I still have the notes that I took from January 2020! That’s amazing, right? During that presentation, I just soaked in all these things that you were saying and everything you said. I was nodding my head at the computer thinking: I feel this so hard. And as I was listening, there were so many things that resonated with me. For example, there was an analogy that you made about when a bird keeps flying into a window, the window isn’t just going to move, so the bird has to figure out a way to get around it. So, when you're in that dark place, you are the only person that can do something about it. You can seek support, and you can talk to people, but if ultimately you aren't willing to make the change and do the hard work, then you're not going to see the change, and nothing's going to happen. I just started realizing that who I saw or who I used to be was a different person than who I am now. I am a mom now. And I am a wife now. You evolve and you change, and that's okay.
And after your master class presentation and after I started to not only see but feel changes start to happen, I was like, This is great, and I need more! So I bought your book, Hacking Teacher Burnout, and I read the entire book in two days. And you know, it's not like there's a lot of extra time, but I knew I needed this. Your book and the things that you said became a part of my everyday dialogue. I realized I had to change my thoughts and do the hard work in order to make the changes I needed and wanted. Everything just really resonated with me on a very deep level.
Amber: Listening to how everything - the book and the free Masterclass - resonated with you reminds me of when I was at my darkest, lowest point and I wanted, I needed support but I just couldn’t find it. And that was the reason I created all of this - so other teachers didn’t have to go through burnout alone as I did. It means everything to me to hear that what I created has supported you in making what may seem like the smallest of changes, but they have led to big results in the long term.
I'm also so proud of you for doing what so many people, not just teachers, but so many people out there don't do, which is to take responsibility for their burnout. There's no blame here. There's no shame. But there is responsibility. And what you did was huge. You took responsibility and said, I am the only one who can make the changes.
So I'm curious, what were some of the changes that you made? It sounds like you made some really important mindset shifts, so what did that lead to? What were some things that changed after that?
Maggie: Between finding this new release in my exercise and all your resources, it opened up this whole storm! At about the same time I was also reading Atomic Habits by James Clear - which was mind-blowing. Then on top of that, I was reading The Joy of Missing Out by Tanya Dalton. And I felt with everything I read and found, I just wanted more. I felt opened up and released and I knew that I was going to make it through this.
Now thinking back, I couldn't tell you all the changes at this point because they were so minuscule at the time that I'm just now seeing and recognizing the results of those changes.
But one part of the process that really resonated with me was “Understanding Your Teacher Brand” because I have always felt like I wasn't as good as other teachers. I'm not a type A teacher - I don't have the color-coded binders and labeled drawers, I just don't have that. And I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me and would question myself on whether or not I was a “good” teacher.
So, one of the things I started doing was changing the narrative I told myself. I’d tell myself: You know, what, forget about what the other people are doing. And I really started to focus my attention on the things I was good at and the things that I enjoyed doing. And I started just thinking about how what made me me was an asset to my career not hindering it.
I also stopped worrying so much about pleasing other people, because I'm a people pleaser, to a tee. And I just started thinking about myself more, and what I needed every day. And I started blocking out what other people said they were doing and reminding myself that, even though that's a great idea, it doesn't mean I have to do it.
And there was a lot of internal work that I had to do, not just as a teacher, but as a person in general. For example, I had never been somebody who worked out, I didn’t see myself as that type of person, but then I started to ask myself, why not? Why can’t I be that person? I’m also a very anxious person, but that doesn't mean that's my identity. I started thinking about it in a different way. I’d tell myself, Yes I’m experiencing anxiety right now, because, and I can control it by doing this.
A lot of the changes that I experienced were due to a lot of internal shifts and digging really deep into what is the problem instead of just slapping a bandaid on it and moving on.
Amber: You hit on so many important points, some of which might be a little hard for some people to hear. Lord knows there are tons of challenges no matter where you teach; and sometimes when we are struggling, we want to hear about or have someone else fix or change things for us, but we can’t keep waiting. I'm done waiting. You were done waiting.
And I agree, the first four steps of the Burned-In Process are really internal work - you’re working on your mind, your heart, and your energy. It’s in the last four steps that are really about starting to take visible actions to create systems and habits to grow through your burnout.
I'm really proud of you and the work that you’ve done - you seem so confident. And I love what you said about the comparison game and what you said makes me think of the modules “Understand Your Teacher Brand” and “Nurture Your Strengths” - which are my favorite modules by the way! Both of them are so enlightening. It’s in those two modules where you’ll have a lot of those aha moments and a lot of those opportunities to get to know yourself better and to be proud of who you are.
Maggie: All this work I’ve done also helps me to understand what I need from other people too. Even though there are personality tests and I know that everyone is different with different experiences, I found that I was still expecting people to respond in the way I thought they should. Sometimes we forget that everyone is so different.
This work also helped me realize that even though there are people around you who are willing to help you out, they need to know how. I’m the only advocate for myself, no one else is in my brain and I’m the only one that can ask for what I need.
And also I started just finally realizing that people aren't just walking by you trying to be mean, they're just dealing with their own things. I had to get hard with myself and remind myself that sometimes when people are speaking a certain way, or doing things, it's not all about you. I had to work really hard on practicing positive intent, which was a big eye opener for me because I am just naturally empathetic, I'm a helper by nature and I want so badly to be needed; I just want to be supportive and help. But other people aren't like that and that's good because if everyone were the same, things would just get crazy! We need all different kinds of people to balance things out.
Also, just knowing what’s within my control - I can choose not to switch my bulletin board because that may not be important at that time. The things that are in my teaching contract, I will do, but all those other things that I was trying to do, those are extra and if I get to them - awesome - but if I don’t I know that I’m still doing my job.
Amber: Yes, 100% on point!
So tell us about where you are now on your Burned-In Journey. What plans do you have for yourself moving forward?
Maggie: I remember when I first took the Stage Tracker quiz, I was at “Build Your Spark” - there was something here, but it was really small. And then I took it again six months later and it was “Build Your Fire” and that was exactly how I felt - I felt like I was on fire. I started capitalizing on the fact that I love to reach out to others and I started a Facebook group as a safe place for other teachers and educators that I know to share words of encouragement and get the support that they need.
I also realized that I love being a mentor - I love helping new teachers. We had two long-term subs in my grade level last year and I just like took them under my wing - that's what helps me thrive! That's where my passion is.
And so now I’m kicking around ideas on how I can bring that into my daily life, not necessarily just at school.
Amber: And everything you're describing, those are the qualities of a Burned-In Teacher. You want to share your journey, you want to share what has happened in your own life so you can help to inspire change in other people's lives in a way that's appropriate for them. But that is the epitome of what a Burned-In Teacher is - it's not always having it all together. It's not always knowing all the answers. But it's about walking side by side with somebody and saying, We're in this together without judgment. We're going to struggle together, and we're going to thrive together. We're going to have ups and downs, but we have a way, we have a path that we can go through together.
Maggie: We really are better together. We don't have to live in a constant state of negativity, we can work together to find those positive things and to find that joy again in our lives.
Amber: You know, when I'm at school and maybe someone says something a little on the negative side - but they are just being real about the suck - and it’s okay to talk about the things that suck, right? But then they see me and they’ll go, But it’s fine, it’s fine… when it’s not “fine”. It’s okay that things aren’t “fine”, this isn’t about toxic positivity, this is about talking about things that are really bothering you and deciding whether or not they're in your control and, even if there's a little piece of it that you can change - even if it's just the changing your perspective or changing the way that you're talking or thinking about it - make the change.
But what kind of gets us into that cycle of burnout - or what keeps us there - is that we're saying we're fine when things are not fine, and we're not doing anything differently
Maggie: We tell our students, no feeling is wrong, right? You're allowed to feel “not fine”, it’s what you do later that matters. Are you ready to move on and try again? Or are you just going to allow yourself to get stuck in that cycle of burnout?
Amber: Exactly. And sometimes we get stuck in that cycle of negativity because that's the easier option because then you don't have to do the work. You don't have to seek support. You don't have to learn new things and do things differently. It’s hard work and sometimes the work is scary. But gosh, wouldn’t you want to take the chance for yourself?
So, the last question. What would you say to a teacher who is struggling with burnout and they've heard of Burned-In Teacher University and they're on the fence about joining and they're wondering if it's for them? What would you say to them?
Maggie: The first thing I would say is to stop overthinking it. If you think you need it, get it. You are your only advocate, you are the only one that's going to make that choice. Ultimately, like if you feel in your heart that you need support, then find it somewhere.
And I relied on the resources that I had from your free masterclass and your book, but I decided to join the Mastermind so I had the resources and support that I needed for when burnout starts to creep back in.
Just like you had mentioned in your book: you have to just do something - stop stewing in it and thinking about it. You have to just do it.
Amber: Thank you so much for mentioning how important the community inside of the membership is!
When it comes to dealing with burnout, there are two ends of the spectrum. At one end there’s the same isolation that you feel when you’re struggling with burnout. But on the other end of the spectrum is where you’ve gone through the process and you’ve started to make changes and you’re doing and thinking about things differently but you feel like you can’t talk about how good things are going because the people around you are still struggling.
The Burned-In Teacher Membership is a place where teachers can come together and speak that Burned-In language. Again, it's not always sunshine and rainbows. When we do our group coaching calls there are other teachers coming on with real challenges or they are posting about their challenges in the Facebook community. But we always come together to support one another with ideas, resources, suggestions, or just by being that listening ear.
Maggie: It's really powerful to hear that lots of members have said, they've worked through their process two or three times- and I think that's important to remember.
When I took these notes on this packet back in January of 2022, I was in a very different place than I am now. And it's important to know that this isn't going to be just a fix-all, you're going to have to keep doing the work. I'm going to have to keep on myself with the mindset and with the positive self-talk and I'm going to have to keep nurturing those strengths and habits.
The process doesn’t end when you get to Stage 5. I know that I can’t let myself fall back into that dark place. And there have been times when I come home and I feel defeated - as we all do - but instead of just sitting in misery, I listen to an educational podcast or find an inspirational quote or something that’s just going to be that thing for me.
Your book still sits on my nightstand. I haven't picked it up for a while, because I’ve read the whole thing, but it's there so if I ever need a pick me up, I look at these notes and remind myself of how far I’ve come and I remind myself that this one bad day isn't going to just throw me off track. Your book is like having a friend waiting there for me to drink my coffee with and tell her all of my woes.
Amber: I love that so much. Thank you so much, Maggie for sharing the dark stuff, but then also all of that light - all of the good things that have come your way because you did the work. I'm so grateful that you took the time to share your story with the listeners today.
Maggie: I'm very grateful for you, Amber. So thank you so much for sharing your story with everyone. It gives everyone else the strength to know that someone else has gone through this and come out a stronger, happier version of themselves.
We're all in this together.
Sign up for Burned-In Teacher University
Get a copy of my book Hacking Teacher Burnout
Find out about your Burnout Stage in my Stages of Burnout eBook
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Joy of Missing Out by Tanya Dalton