Dec 17, 2022

First-Year Teacher Burnout: From Burned-Out to Burned-In with Jadah

We are very very close to the middle of the school year and I honestly cannot believe it. This year has been a whirlwind full of highs and lows, and I have learned so much from my kindergarteners and from my colleagues. This is my second year teaching kindergarten and to be quite honest, last school year I really did feel like a brand new teacher even though it was really my 13th year of teaching, and I related to Burned-In Teacher Student Jadah’s story so much, however, we each started our school years a little bit differently. I started off energetic, excited, and pumped to get the school year started, but unfortunately, that's not Jadah’s reality. 

Jadah is a first-year teacher and in this episode, she shares how before she even began her first teaching job she was already beginning to burn out because of the narrative she was hearing from her colleagues and also by the narrative that she was telling herself about what it was going to be, look, feel, and sound like to be a brand new teacher. 

It breaks my heart that we seem to almost set first-year teachers up to believe that their first year is going to be a full-on failure, so I want to ask you a favor. If you have a first-year teacher in your school, reach out, and tell them, “Hi”. Ask them “How it's going?” and ask them to be honest and let them know that you are there for them if they need support. First-year teacher support is powerful and empowering. And of course, let them know about Burned-In Teacher if they've never heard of me before!

Jada and I met while I was speaking at a conference this past summer in Lafayette, Indiana, and it just really touched my heart that even as a first-year teacher she knew that she really needed support to help her to create a sustainable career in this in this incredibly challenging job of teaching. There are many first-year teachers who quit because they are burned out from teaching - in their FIRST year. She's one of the first teachers who has joined the Burned-In Teacher University family as a first-year teacher.  Being able to reach brand new teachers who are at a foundational moment in their careers is ideal because it will save a lot of heartaches. As a first-year teacher, you can feel miserable and overwhelmed. So without further ado, let's jump into my interview with my friend Jadah who is a first-year teacher teaching third grade and who is taking steps to fight first-year teacher burnout. Let's dive in. 

Amber: Hi, Jada, thank you so much for being on the Burne-In Teacher Podcast to tell your story 

Jadah: I am so excited to be here.

Amber: Tell us a little bit about you personally and professionally - share with us where you're from, a little bit about your family, and what it is that you do in education.

Jadah: I am a teacher in Indiana, my family lives on the west side of Indianapolis and I live in Lafayette. I am a third-grade teacher at a Title I school in the city where I live and I love it.

Amber: And this is your first year teaching! I love that you get to share your experience with the Burned-In Teacher University course as a first-year teacher.  I have not had very many first time teachers go through this course, so I'm really excited to hear your perspective and how it's helped you. 

Jadah: It's changed the game for me.

Amber: I cannot wait to hear about it. So Jadah, did you always want to be a teacher? 

Jadah: No. I always joke that I came into teaching, kicking and screaming.  During my senior year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something creative, and I did a little public speaking, and I loved helping people. When I went to tour colleges, nothing felt right and I sent out to the universe: Tell me what you want me to do. Then what happened was I accidentally got added to an Education Camp email for Purdue even though I was never on their email list prior, and on that following Friday I went to a Chinese restaurant and I got a fortune cookie that said, Do what you were called to do and the Chinese word at the bottom was “teach”. 

Then once I started getting into the classroom I fell in love with it and I knew that it was exactly what I needed to do.

Amber: I love that story so much because I never knew what I wanted to do either. When I was in school, I wasn't one of those kids that set up their stuffed animals and pretended to be a teacher.  When I was in high school, not having a clue what I wanted to do, I thought, I've always been in school, so I know what teachers do. I'll just be a teacher.  But it ended up being the best thing. I had my daughter right out of high school, and I just needed to make a choice. I thought I would do nursing, and that didn't work out for me. But the more classes for teaching that I went through, the more that I recognized it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Tell us a little bit about your first year. How has it been going? What are some things you've been experiencing?

Jadah: Oh my goodness - a lot. I relate so heavily to your burnout story.  On the first day of school at the end of the school day, I was hyperventilating and crying on the floor of my classroom. There were other teachers who were there telling me, “You got this”. I had support, which is great, but, there were still a lot of tears and a lot of feelings of overwhelm. I have kids who have some really big behaviors and are dealing with a lot of trauma and poverty. 

Another thing was, I had had placements in classrooms, pre-pandemic that caused me to make assumptions about my students.  I had prepped all my stuff for the first few weeks of school, and then I realized I had a lot of illiteracy in my classroom - I had so many kids who couldn’t read at all. When I found this out, I was like, What on earth am I going to do?  Everything - all the materials I had - was created for the third grader that I interacted with in 2018, not the third grader that I was experiencing in 2022 - post-pandemic.  I didn't realize how far behind some of these kids were and I quickly had to readjust everything that I had intended on doing which created feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. I was pouring so much into my classroom, I was staying up until like 10 or 11 pm every night just trying to stay caught up on everything. And on top of all that, classroom management was a huge battle. 

I was taking so much of what was going on to heart, and I had no boundaries. I was just doing everybody what everyone said: Oh, you're a first-year teacher? You're going to be exhausted and tired. You're going to cry a lot. Your first year is your roughest year. That was the dialogue I was hearing all the time, and I hit this breaking point where I just broke. This episode of Sunday-scaries was intense, and through my sobbing, I realized I had to do something about this. There is no reason why I should just have to accept the fact that first-year teachers need to be miserable just because it's their first year. I don't think that's fair. I wanted to reclaim my time and reclaim my love for teaching. I had just I had fallen out of love with it because so much of what I was doing was dealing with behaviors and fights, and my little teacher's heart broke.

I slowly was able to put the pieces back together, and as soon as you open up the course I was all in! I had been stalking your podcast forever, but finally being able to work with you through the course has been amazing. I have noticed a considerable change in myself and I think others in my life have noticed that I'm slowly getting to a point where my job is more sustainable and it's not taking everything out of me anymore.

Amber:  That just tears my heart out to hear how the narrative that you had had in your head about what being a first-year teacher was like dictated your life. I know exactly what you're talking about.  When I was in my first year of teaching, I was not blessed with a supportive, friendly, fun team and that also added extra stress. I didn't have the support that I felt like I needed; do you feel like you do? Are your teaching partners supportive? Were they trying to help you or were they just adding to that narrative that says, This is just the way it is as a first-year teacher? 

Jadah: There are four of us on my grade-level team, but three of us are new to the school, and I am the youngest teacher on my team. We were all in the same struggle boat together.  It wasn't what I was expecting when I was having my sweet little teacher dreams in college, but I do feel like I had like a great support system there. 

I'm also a perfectionist and I'm such a “tryhard” so I wanted to do everything to help everybody else - human giver syndrome if you will. I’d be like Please let me help you do this or Let me do that, but meanwhile, it was time for the first progress report and I hadn’t graded a single thing for my own class. I quickly had to learn I can't help everybody else without also helping myself. 

But school culture-wise, it was very common to hear, Oh, your first year is the hardest because a lot of them did have rough first years.  I guess I've just made the executive decision that I don't want to have to suffer.

Amber: Yeah, nobody should. It doesn't matter how long you've been teaching, nobody should feel like they're suffering or struggling through their career. I refuse to subscribe to that teacher narrative, even in my own teaching life. Unfortunately, it's just become commonplace, and I think there are a lot of people out there that are helping to change this narrative, but I think it's going to be a slow shift to help teachers realize you don't have to sacrifice themselves to be a good teacher.

You said the people have noticed some changes in you and you are slowly creating a sustainable career. Can you tell us a little bit about what that looks like?

Jadah: First the Time Budgeter…I filled that out and I was like, Oh my gosh, I was no wonder this does not feel sustainable! And I've decided that I am a Saturday morning girly; I am one who will spend two or three hours in my classroom on a Saturday with a coffee when it's a calm environment and I’m the only one in the building. But I have been leaving at contract time every single day, and that's made a difference.  

I've started going to the gym, so I'm helping my nervous system and I'm taking better care of myself. Early on, I wasn't eating lunch and I wouldn't have time to eat because I was working nonstop. That was a huge shift for me. 

Also, just realizing that I am not able to control everyone's narrative around education. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do not think very highly of education or educators. I had to realize that I can not fix all of the world's problems, but what I can do is I can make my classroom a better environment for my students. By prioritizing myself, I can be a better teacher for them because I wasn't being as effective. When I wasn't taking care of myself, I felt bad, and I looked bad. I was just falling apart.

Amber: I hear so many pieces of the lessons in what you're saying! I love how you described how helpful the Time Budgeter was for you... A huge piece of that is realizing your “why”, but it's a reverse “why”. It’s not Why are you teaching?, instead it’s Why do you want to stop working all the time? What is your WHY to leave? What do you need to do for yourself? Or what do you want to do for yourself? Ultimately, those are the things that make you a better teacher because you are filling your own cup. I love that so much. 

I love that you are talking about taking care of yourself, that goes into those Keystone Habits that we talk about.  These are the habits that have that ripple effect. Doing things for you can take your mind off of things. I’m so proud of you to hear you say all of this.  

What steps resonated with you the most in the Burned-In Process? Was it Begin Where You Are? Understand Your Teacher Brand? Reflect on Your Challenges? Nurture Your Strengths and Habits? Was there one module, or one thing that really spoke to you?

Jadah: Nurturing Your Strengths and Habits was a really good one because that's where you realize, Oh, I am not using this skill that I'm really good at, why not? and it really got me to redirect my energy to make sure that I'm building systems that are sustainable.  

Begin Where You Are was really good too because it took away the shame. Instead, it was like let's self-assess; let's sit and take a look at why you falling apart and crying every day in your car. Let's figure this out. Is it time? Are you doing things that aren't necessary? Why am I wasting my time with X, Y, or Z that are not benefiting my students, me, or increasing parent communication? For example, none of my student's parents utilize email, so why am I making an email newsletter? Pointless! None of them read it, and none of them see it. So instead I'm going to send them a message that is quicker and more effective. Instead of doing all the “right things” or the “Pinterest teacher things”, you can choose to focus on what’s right for YOUR kids and YOUR families.  You need to be able to recognize what’s serving you and what isn’t. 

Amber: I love that. What you defined is what’s called “quiet quitting”.  It has sort of a negative connotation because it has the word “quitting” in it, and I don't care what you call it, but what you’re asking yourself is Why do I keep doing this, even though it doesn't make any sense for my kids or for me as their teacher? That's not a negative statement. That's an epiphany. You're taking back your power by saying I don't have to do that thing that I was telling myself I had to or that Pinterest made me think that I had to do. 

Where do you feel like you are now on your Burned-In Journey?

Jadah:  I am still working through my modules. With everyone I complete, I feel like I'm learning so much more about myself and also about how I can make my job more effective and more sustainable for ME.

 There are a lot of veteran teachers who are just like, This is terrible, Everything's awful, I have to leave, but a lot of new teachers are quitting. We’re graduating all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed jumping into our professions, but we're watching a bunch of teachers who may have already been burnout and sort of given up on the career that they're in. Were joining the career during this mass exodus of teachers.  It's a rough time to get into education, but the truth of the matter is that kids need quality education, and if you can show up for yourself and you can say, You know what, I'm not going to care if anybody's going to think less of me for I'm leaving at contract time because that's how I can be the best teacher I can be, you’ll make this career more sustainable. I don't want to become another one of the teachers who gets into the profession, doesn't have the support,t and gives up on themselves and gives up on their kids before they should.

Amber: I love that you have had the opportunity to make that realization now because the fact is those negative thoughts do become habitual.  Those compounding thoughts of negativity and that defeatist mentality, that victim mentality, weigh on you. It affects how you spend your time and who you spend your time with and that affects everything. 

I'm so honored to be part of your first year teaching and to give you that gift of empowerment.

Jadah: Honestly, even before I stepped into the classroom, I took the Burned-In Teacher Quiz and I was Burned and Unbalanced.  I was like How? I haven't started! But I realized that it was because of everything I was seeing and all the teachers that I would interact with when I would be in different placements. This dialogue was so heavy, and it burned me before I got here. And I was like, nope!

Amber: Wow, I that is that is huge. That's so powerful for you to for you to know that you were Burned and Unbalanced before you even literally started the career of teaching. You had been hired yet and even then had your own classroom. That's so sad. It's so sad that we go into this career feeling that way and feeling that that's normal. I'm really glad that I got to speak at that conference and that you and I met through that. How long have you been listening to the podcast? Since the Ignite Conference?

Jadah: It was so amazing, and you honestly - hands down -  were the most impactful speaker that I saw the entire time I was there, and there were a lot of PD points to be heard! But seriously, what you said really stuck with me and it has changed the game for me since, so thank you for helping me in my baby teacher journey. 

Amber: No, girl, listen. Everything that you have said today is the reason that I started Burned-In Teacher back in 2016 in the first place.  I was you and I had no path or mentors that could guide me through this. I rather had mentors that were keeping me stuck in burnout or making me go even deeper into it. There were no resources when I was struggling with burnout and I was so miserable. I just thought my only option was to quit, and I mean honestly I've quit twice that come back twice! It's just it's so refreshing to hear that you understand that there is hope, there is hope for our profession. We just have to be the ones to do that inner work so that we can change things on the outside for our well-being. 

I have one more question for you. If you had a teacher in your life who was struggling and they asked for your help, what would you tell them?

 Jadah: I would tell them that there is no reason to struggle alone. If you're falling apart, you don't have to struggle alone. It's really hard to admit, as a first-year teacher, that you are getting burned out over your profession as it's beginning, especially when you are in a school full of educators who have been there a while. It's okay to admit that you might be struggling and falling apart. You do not have to accept those feelings, you can get the support you need and Burned-In Teacher is a wonderful place to start!

Amber: Jadah, thank you so much. That almost makes me emotional. It's so hard to watch teachers struggle. I've had my own hardships this year, personally and professionally, and I'm so grateful that I have done the research and done the work and you will be too. As I've told you inside the course, and I've told all the listeners out there, being a Burned-In Teacher doesn't mean that things are easy, it means that you're ready to process them in a healthy way so that you can take your next best step so you don't remain stuck in that hardship.

 I'm just so excited for you. I'm excited about your career, and I'm so grateful that you invested in yourself. You've invested the time and the money in you creating a sustainable career for yourself because that's what it's all about. 

Is there anything else that you'd like to tell the Burned-In Teacher audience and any advice for first-year teachers before we sign off?

Jadah: If you're a TikTok algorithm is making you sad. Delete TikTok!

Amber: Yes! It’s the same with Instagram and Twitter.

Jadah: am like social media averse now. I pretty much only consume YouTube because I get to be really picky and choosey and the algorithm doesn't determine what things I see.

Amber: I love it. You're extending your own reach and possibilities just by unfollowing people and choosing where you spend your time and energy. That's magic! 

Well, Jada. Thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I'm so grateful to know you and I'm so grateful that you were willing to share your story with our audience. 

Jadah: Thank you. I'm grateful to be here. It was wonderful.

 

CALL TO ACTION: THINGS YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

  1. Create a time budget.  Determine how much time you’ll “budget” for work, and create a plan to stick with it. 
  2. Do something that lights you up.  It’s important to care of yourself and fulfill your needs outside of the classroom. 
  3. Seek support.  It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling.  Reach out and find the support that you need. 

 

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

 

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