Apr 08, 2023

The Effects of Burnout on Students with Hannah Harper

The effects of burnout on students and on those closest to us play a role in our relationships.  We talk a lot about the effect that burnout has on us - the exhaustion and overwhelm…but what about others? What effects does burnout have on our students and other people in our lives? 

In this episode, I’m interviewing my oldest daughter, Hannah, about the effects of burnout on students. This conversation stemmed from a conversation that she and I were having a while back. She and I were having one of those conversations where we wished it was being recorded because it was so darn good!  

One day, she and I were FaceTiming and talking about some of her professors that she really loves and I was like, Oh my gosh, Hannah, would you come onto the podcast and talk about your perspective of being a student and having parents that are teachers?  And she was game on! 

So, without further ado, let's jump into Hannah's perspective on teaching from being a student to being the daughter of two educators who are not afraid to talk about the challenges around the dinner table.  She’ll also talk about the things that she's learned about not just teaching, but what it's like to have a job, and a life outside of it. Let's dive in.

Amber: Hey,  Hannah! Thanks so much for joining us on The Burned-In Teacher Podcast today. Will you please tell my listeners all about you?

Hannah: Hello. My name is Hannah Harper. I'm Amber's oldest and favorite daughter. I'm 21 years old, and I go to school at Indiana University where I'm getting my Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs with a concentration in Environmental Management. 

I'm excited to be here.

Amber: I’m so excited to have you too. So for all of you listeners that are maybe new to the podcast or new to Burned-In Teacher, Jeff, my husband, and I had Hannah right after I graduated from high school. It was two months to the day after I graduated high school that Hannah was born, so Hannah has sort of been through college twice!  

Hannah has been through a lot with us, and I'm so glad you're here today to talk about your experience with teachers who you've had throughout your education career, and who have maybe been experiencing burnout. I believe that today's episode will help people to be reflective on how they're handling their burnout (especially externally) because it really does affect more people than just you.

So let's start by talking about some professors that you really love. How do you know that they love what they do? And then who were some maybe professors or teachers who you've had who you could tell were really struggling?

Hannah:  During my college experience, I found that there are three different types of professors (the same goes for teachers as well). The first is the tenured teacher who is just there to collect their pension, once they retire in three years. These teachers/professors don’t really seem to care about the students individually.  They come in, they do their work, and they go home - which is totally fine. Everyone has to make a living somehow. 

The second kind of professor that I've had, that I really enjoy, are the ones that come across as very professional. These teachers are very to the point, and they care about their students, but not on an individual level. They care about giving you the information and helping you succeed, but they're also just doing their job.  And it's a good dynamic that sort of teaches students to help themselves learn along the way. But it's just kind of impersonal, but they are still a “good” teacher.  

The last one is my favorite kind of professor. These are the teachers that are there because they love what they do. They're there because they want to teach the next generation. I had a professor last semester who worked for the EPA and all of these other different environmental quality departments. Even though he was retired, he choose to teach one class purely because he loved it. He comes into work, and he just talks and I learned the most from him than I have from any other professor in college. It was less of a lecture and more of a conversation, and he really pounded into us the things that we needed to know. But he did it in a way that showed that he genuinely cared and he wasn't just there to make money. He was there because he wanted to teach us and he wanted to inspire us to actually do the work and care about it. 

I think that a lot of times, you can recognize burnout in professors (or teachers) when you can tell that they are just there. They're there physically, but they're not really there mentally. They don't really show that they care about their students and they're just there to do their job.

I had teachers in high school, that I could tell genuinely cared about us and genuinely loved their job, and then there were some that you could tell were just tired and worn out.  I think it's especially hard in high school because when you think about it, they're teaching the same lesson seven times a day. 

Amber: That has to be so incredibly hard. I cannot imagine teaching like that. 

Hannah: You could tell that your first-period teachers were ready to go and they were geared up for the day, but your seventh-period teachers would just be like, Alright, here's the information. Now you can do homework for the rest of the period if you want

Amber:  As your mom, I know you’ve always loved school. You have always been one of those engaged students that really does go to school to learn. And I of course, I'm very, very proud of you, and how much you have enjoyed school, and how many amazing connections you've made with teachers, elementary all the way through college. And I think that this is something that we should chat about for a moment because a lot of times, whenever I'm talking to teachers about things that they're struggling with, they tell me they are struggling with disengagement and apathy or extreme behaviors from their students - whether it be elementary, middle school, high school, right. So sometimes, students who are like you and are not the problem, get lost in the shadows of what's happening in the classroom. I would really appreciate your perspective on this because I know the same thing happens in my class. 

Do you have any situations that come to mind where you felt left behind, or like an afterthought because your teacher was really struggling with something specific?

Hannah:  In high school, that happened to me a lot. Specifically, because I was an AP student - I took a lot of honors classes, and I was in a lot of honors programs in high school. 

And the classes that I was in that were not challenging and engaging, I could tell that those were the teachers that would be teaching the same thing every day. Specifically, there was one teacher who had just given birth, and once she came back after being off for several months, you could tell she was really struggling. This was her first kid, and you could tell that she just wanted to go home and see her kid, which obviously anyone would recognize that that's a normal thing to want to do. But her struggles were very obvious.

There were also teachers that you can tell were fed up with their schools. They were tired of their schools telling them what to do and what not to do. They just want to come in and teach and do what they know is right and teach the way that they know students are going to enjoy and like and engage with, even though their school doesn’t allow them to teach that way, or even say certain things. In government classes or history classes, there are some things that are really sensitive topics, which obviously are hard to talk about, but they're part of the curriculum. I took an AP government class in high school and these things were on the exam, so we had to talk about them in class. You could tell the teacher wanted to say specific things, and the way that he would do it is he would have us just talk about them. He would have us engage and have discussions and debates in the classroom just to be engaged with the topics. You could tell he was skirting his way around, trying to teach and do the right thing, but also making sure that he was not liable for anything happening.

Amber: Did you ever have a teacher outrightly voice their frustration with the system or with how they were feeling?  

Hannah: That's actually a funny story. So, a professor that I had last semester - he's retired - spoke up against the school multiple times about different things that they were doing and things that he didn't like, and who they were taking money from and like all these different things. So that was really interesting, and we would all just sit there and listen because we didn't know these things were going on. I thought it was actually really cool to hear, but I think that it’s also different because we're college students - we're paying the school to teach us these things.

But that day in class, he told us, I’m going to speak my mind. I've retired anyway, they can kick me out if they want. I've never heard, any teacher say that before.  Other than that instance, the teachers in middle and high school maybe would make some like side comment, but you didn't really understand it, especially in elementary and middle school, because at that age you don't really understand. But I think that was like the only time that I've really heard someone outrightly speak out against the school that they're working in.

Amber: Let's back up to when you lived at home when you were in elementary, middle, and high school.  You lived with two teachers, right now Dad is obviously a principal, but you would hear us talking shop at dinner, or in the car, or whatever. So you've heard our perspective and you've heard a lot of frustrating things over the years that your dad and I have talked about. So, listeners, you may or may not know this, but I actually had Hannah and my second-grade class. 

What was that experience like for you?  

Hannah: I loved it. Honestly. It was really fun, I will say. when I moved to third grade, I had a male teacher - Mr. Ott - and I called him “mom” a couple of times for the first few weeks just because I was just used to that. But was a really cool experience. 

And another thing is like, yes, I had my mom as my teacher, but my friends had my parents as their teachers. That was really interesting because when I was in fourth grade, my dad was still teaching and my friends had him as a teacher.  It was a very cool dynamic because it was like I owned that school. We would walk in at 6:00 AM and I just go running around in the hallways. It was awesome. 

I also think that it was a really good experience because now you hear different things about educational standards and what's happening in schools. You see it on TV, you read about it, and you talk about it - but I have that perspective of growing up with teachers. I grew up hearing these things, not just on the news, but like at the kitchen table. And I was really excited when I was older and I would be able to engage in conversations with you guys. So not only hearing about it but talking about it and learning about your struggles and how teachers are struggling was a really cool dynamic.

Amber: So let's dive into that now because one thing I wanted to talk with you about today is the effect my burnout had on you.  I was so young when I had you, and you were in the same school building with your dad an I when I got my first teaching job back in 2007, I was pregnant with your sister. 

You were a first grader when I started teaching first grade in that building. And I and I've been very open and honest about the fact that I started struggling with burnout my very first year teaching all the way through the eighth year that I worked in that building and beyond. And you were old enough to at least maybe be aware of my of what I was going through. 

I'm just curious to hear what you remember because I don't think that I outrightly said anything because, obviously, I wouldn’t have these conversations with my first grader. Did you ever see anything, or do you remember anything about when I was struggling with burnout?

Hannah: There there are definitely a couple of moments that I remember you struggling really hard with the profession and finding and maintaining that love that you had for it.

I think one moment that always sticks out to me in my mind, was right before you started doing Burned-In Teacher. I would have been 13 and I remember sitting at Grandma Janet's kitchen table and you are working on your computer, and you were going on and on about this really cool business idea and how you thought about starting a blog and talking about these things that you were struggling with. I just remember, for the first time in a couple of months, seeing you have that passion. I was like, All right, she's doing better. She's doing good.

That whole year before I remember you coming home and just being exhausted because you were losing that passion.  And it wasn’t because of anything you were or weren’t doing, it was just because it was really draining for you. But once you started Burned-In Teacher, I saw that spark.  

It’s cool to look back and know I was a 13/14-year-old kid and I was recognizing the struggles that you were going through, and that's when I first understood that teaching isn't just all fun and games and going and hanging out with kids all day, it is a job. Realizing that people can struggle with their jobs was something I had never really seen before.

Hannah: You've never shared that with me! I remember that too because we had just sold our house and we were living at Grandma Janet's house in between because she had just moved out and was in the process of selling hers as well. That was the very beginning of Burned-In Teacher, so that would have been the spring/summer of 2016. 

So gosh, so even previous to that, did you ever notice anything about my mood or my energy?

Hannah:  I don't remember a ton because little 14-year-old me didn't really care. But I definitely I could tell. You and I were having conversations in our house in Ligonier, and I remember one day we were driving and I was like We should just move. And you were like, Yeah, we should move. And then we put a for sale sign in our yard a week later. 

That was a time when both you and I were struggling to find our place because there wasn’t our place. Neither of us was able to find our people. We didn't really have a lot of support - you in your job and me at school. We were both just ready for something new and ready for something that would make us feel like we belong somewhere. 

I think that was really cool, because, again, that is something that is so vivid in my memory from when I was 14 years old. And if you have a vivid memory from that young, you know that’s something big. At taht time, you and I were just going through it together but in different ways.

Amber: I remember that conversation. I haven't thought about that for years, and I remember the conversation that I had and your dad in the kitchen one night. You girls probably weren't around, but I was crying again and he was like, What do you want? Tell me what you want. I'll do it. I don't want to see you miserable and crying anymore. I said I don't want to live here anymore. This must have been that same day that you and I had that conversation, and I remember his face went white. And then I was like, No, I want to live with you. I just don't want to live here anymore. This is not the place for us. There has to be a better place where we feel like we belong and a city that supports our core values where we can do the things that we enjoy and not have to leave our town all the time to do them

That conversation was at the end of January, and our home was sold in two weeks. And I've talked about how it was an important part of my burnout recovery and moving through it because part of what was burning me out wasn't just where I was teaching, but it was where we were living. It was all-consuming how miserable we were. And not just me, but you too. It just wasn't the right place for us.

Hannah: It wasn't. And I think that I don't think I would go back and change it though because, as miserable as I was, as hard as it was to go through those things, I think it made us both realize what we needed. And once we found it, we didn't take it for granted.

Amber: We still talk about when we moved to Fort Wayne. Your dad, and I will still be on walks and we’ll be like, We're so glad we moved. We do not take it for granted for a second, even though the decision that we made was hard. It was easy and hard at the same time because we were leaving our family.  My mom and my dad lived a little further away, but both my sisters now live in that town, and leaving them was really hard for me.

But I think it is a true testament to how, when you're trying to change your life like you have to think outside of the box to determine what else you can do that's good for you at that moment and that season. We never looked back. I mean, we sold our house in three days on Facebook! 

Hannah: It was so crazy because I remember I was in a musical during the time we sold the house and when we were trying to decide where to go. I remember, a week or so after closing when we officially sold the house and I was able to tell my friends they were like What? You're, you're moving? Like, when did this happen? I was like, We just did it. We just sold our house and it's done

I truly do value how much it changed us and where we were at because we had a way better experience. And I mean, you guys are still having that really awesome experience.

Amber: So what would you say as a student to a teacher who is not just having a bad day but is consistently struggling? You've heard me talk about burnout, that day-in and day-out frustration exhaustion, that comes along with burnout and doing the same thing every day and not seeing any different results. What would you say to them as a student?

Hannah:  Going back to the very beginning when I was talking about the three different types of professors, you can tell those teachers that are just there and that don't engage with the students. That non-engagement is the biggest thing that we realize.  You know, not having any conversations with us but just talking to us. 

Just try to have a conversation with us, especially if you're in a middle or high school and you're teaching different classes all day. Start out with a conversation. It doesn't have to be the whole time but just interact with us.  It doesn’t have to be every second of whatever you're teaching, but you can ask How are you guys doing? Tell me about what did you guys do over the weekend? Something like that I think honestly can make all the difference. Teachers would interact with us versus teachers that would go straight into teaching and not learn anything about us that would affect us.  The mood in the class was completely different.

Amber: I love that so much. It’s about humanizing even though it’s sort of become a depersonalized profession. I love that. 

Well, Hannah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast with me!


Call to Action: Things You Can Do Tomorrow 

  1. Get honest about your burnout.  Recognize your feelings and honor them for what they are, then take my Burnout Quiz to learn more about your burnout type and your next action steps.  
  2. Seek solutions.  Once you know your burnout type, you can determine your triggers and start taking action.  Try thinking outside the box of possibilities!
  3. Engage with your students - get to know them on a human level.





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