Apr 29, 2023

Ask BIT: What To Do When Teaching Becomes Too Much and Tips for Overwhelmed Teachers 

Teaching is not easy…It’s not only physically taxing but mentally as well.  When I work with teachers struggling with burnout, I’m often asked about strategies for when teaching just becomes too much as well as tips for how to manage the overwhelm.  

With that in mind, here’s a quote I’d like you to think about: 

“You can't calm the storm. So stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.”

I share this quote with you because it connects so deeply with today’s podcast episode, which is an AsK BIT episode.   In this episode, I’m going to be answering two very similar questions that both have to do with overwhelm, time management, exhaustion, and the demands of leading little lives in our classrooms who may be dysregulated and academically behind even after you've tried everything to make them successful. 

If you have felt any of these ways, this episode is for you!  


Question #1

The first question comes from Lydia from Chattanooga, Tennessee (hey Lydia!). She said: 

I am never prepared for the next day. When I get the last kid on the bus I sigh, “Thank God the day is over” and go back upstairs to my classroom. I start to think about all the things I need to do to be ready for tomorrow but then I say, “Screw it! I'll come in early and get it done.” Then I grab a bunch of stuff to do that I know I won't even look at while at home. And when I get home, I melt into bed and play on my phone and watch Hulu. How in the world do I burst out of this funk?

 I know that there are listeners that are hearing this question that are feeling the exact same way, especially at this time of year!  The closer we get to the end of the school year, the harder it is to stay motivated.  

I have to answer this question by letting you know that I've answered this question in many forms and fashions since this podcast season started back in August. So, I'm going to lead you to several episodes that are answering similar questions as well as share a quick-and-dirty version of the strategies that I talk about in each episode.  

Here’s what I see happening in regard to this first question. I see that you are stuck and you’ve created negative habits because of the statement, “I always do this…”.  I’m going to be very honest here and explain that you’ve created negative habits around your negative mindset about your ability to be prepared and do the work that needs to be done. Trust me, I get it…I teach kindergarten and it is exhausting, and I, too, find myself falling into nagging negative patterns that are not normal for me, especially at this time of year.  And it’s hard to keep going and to keep pushing through, but I still want to give myself the gift of being prepared because I know that my only other option is to not be prepared, which is just going to make my days worse.

So, here are the podcast episodes I suggest you go back and listen to that will answer this question: 


Episode 153: 5 Work-Life Balance Mistakes You’re Probably Making and 5 Quick Fixes That Will Lead to Long Term Results 

In this episode, I lay out five mistakes that I have found myself making that I can see other teachers making as well.  Here are the mistakes that I talk about in the episode, and I encourage you to think about which one resonates most with you and your situation. Also in this episode, I share with you powerful strategies on how to move beyond these mistakes.  

My top 5 mistakes: 

  1. You believe there is no other way to be a good teacher than to have no work/life balance and you wear your lack of balance as a badge of honor. 
  2. You don’t know where to start making changes, so you change nothing. 
  3. You don’t have any time/energy boundaries, so therefore your time/energy boundaries are constantly being crossed.
  4. You lack discipline and interaction in your day-to-day work as a teacher.
  5. You don’t want it bad enough.

My hope is, by reflecting on the mistakes that I made, you’ll be able to start making the shifts you need to get you planned and prepped days or even a week ahead of time.  My number 1 goal when I leave the classroom on Friday is that I’m prepared for the week ahead.  

If you’re finding it difficult to make these shifts, here are some things I’d like you to do: 

  • Change your beliefs around your mindset.  If you’re telling yourself that you’re unmotivated, tired, and exhausted, these thoughts will start to become your reality. You have to change your beliefs and mindset about your capabilities around doing work during your contract hours so you can get the heck out of there when your contract hours are over. 
  • Brain dump. Take out a piece of paper and finish this sentence: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Wouldn't it be cool if I didn’t take work home with me? Wouldn’t it be cool if I left at the end of my contracted time and I was prepared for the next day? Wouldn't it be cool if when I came into school tomorrow I was completely ready for the day?  
  • Create boundaries around your time and energy. And sometimes for teachers, this means creating boundaries with other people and administrators.  But like in this case, you may need to create boundaries for yourself. You’re going to decide to, instead of scrolling through Instagram or Tik Tok during your planning period, you’re going to focus on planning and preparing for tomorrow’s lesson to give yourself the gift of doing the work now. 
  • Approach each day with discipline and intention.  Start thinking about your days in terms of blocks and batches and what you’ll do during different blocks of the day.  Instead of coasting through or feeling like we're on this hamster wheel of exhaustion, we need to show discipline and intention in our day.  You might feel overwhelmed right now and not know where to start but action breeds action.  If you don’t do anything differently, you're not going to see different results.  Action steps you can take include creating a weekly planning ritual and setting a weekly time allowance.  When you do these things, you’re going to gain more clarity.  You can get access to what I use every week for my planning ritual as well as a guide to help you determine your time allowance by checking out my TpT store. I actually created a Manage Your Overwhelm bundle on TpT full of resources to help you get started managing your feelings of overwhelm!

This first episode is a great one to help you get started on your mindset because we have to change that first if we want to see changes anywhere else. 


Episode #164: Ask BIT: My Top 3 Systems for Managing My Overwhelm Before and During Each School Year

 This episode was actually an Ask BIT episode as well, and in it, I share my top three systems for managing my overwhelm both before and during the school year.  I love this episode so much because I share with you the questions I continue to ask myself throughout the school year to make sure I’m staying on track.

My first system is staying true to my core values and that I know the reason why it’s important to me that I do my work at school, which is because I want to go home and work and Burned-In Teacher and I want to go home and go for a run, and I want to spend time with Jeff and Avery.  And if I’m not focusing on what I should be doing to run my classroom successfully, then I’m not honoring my core values and that’s going to burn me out.  

My second system is to prioritize.  If you’re really overwhelmed and you consistently don’t know what the kids are doing when they come in from recess, then you need to start thinking about that particular moment in the day and plan for that, and maybe plan that out for the next day.  Start small and focus on one subject area at a time and get yourself a couple of days ahead.  And then do that for another subject.  Next, think about what you can do first thing every day so that you can easily prepare yourself for the next five days.  The more you prioritize and the more you focus on what’s in your control, the more excited you will get because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And you will see that these routines and procedures that you are establishing to make your day predictable aren’t only for you, they are for your students as well.  Prioritizing and creating intention is going to create that calm - which I mentioned at the beginning of this episode.  You know, we can’t control the storm and we can’t control all the things that sometimes we are being asked to do, but we can control ourselves and this is one way to do that.

My third system is to set my future self up for success.  Right now you might be thinking about your day minute by minute or hour by hour, but I want you to slowly start shifting your mindset to thinking about setting yourself up for success.  This is essential.  If you’re not setting the future you up for success, you’re setting the future you up for failure.  And failure looks like feeling completely exhausted, unmotivated, and overwhelmed.  

Reflecting on your core values, shifting your thinking by establishing your reason for leaving work, and reflecting on your priorities are some of the systems that I lean into, and I go way more in-depth about these in Episode 164, so check that episode out for more information.  


Episode 169: Ask BIT: What Advice Do You Have for Teachers Who Give so Much to Work They Have Nothing Left for Life Outside of It?

 The next podcast episode that I suggest that you listen to is Episode 169. This is another Ask BIT episode, and this shows that many teachers from around the world are feeling the same way.  The question that I answered in this episode was: What advice do you have for teachers who give so much of themselves to work that they have nothing left for life outside of it? When you listen to this episode, you’re going to see some of the things that I’ve already said repeatedly.  

My advice for this Ask BIT question was: 

  1. Set healthy boundaries.
  2. Make time for self-care and relaxation. 

I can already hear you asking: But how do you do that? You do this by getting what you need to do done by prioritizing and creating a very predictable schedule for your day. You’ve got to keep it simple, and this might mean eliminating things for a while. This will keep things simple and smooth for not only you but for your students as well.  

You can also do this by building in short breaks throughout the day.  When you start to feel overwhelmed, walk a lap in the hallway, or find a quiet space to take some deep breaths.  And once you’ve done that, you can go back to your space and focus on what’s going to set you up for success.  What’s one small thing that you can do to prepare yourself for tomorrow, and the next day? Start small, just focus on one tiny step you can take forward, and that’s when you start to see progress.  And when you start to see progress, it’s easier to stay motivated towards reaching your goals.  

 Also, consider asking for help.  Perhaps there is a teacher down the hall that is always organized and prepared.  Ask them what their strategies are.  And you can always reach out to me via email or send me a DM on Instagram or post your question to the podcast Facebook community

Another thing that I want you to consider is taking a day off.  Take the day and commit part of it to sleep in and get some rest, and devote the other half of it to planning and really diving into the resources in the Managing Your Overwhelm bundle so you can create an action plan so you can start feeling more in control of your day.  


Episode 171: Transform Your To-Do List with this One, Simple Shift 

This episode is about transforming your to-do list with one simple shift. When thinking about your to-do list, it’s all about giving yourself a gift, it’s all about setting you up for success.  That’s what I want you to focus on.  I don’t want you to focus on how overwhelmed, unmotivated, and exhausted you are right now. I want you to think about how your future self will feel.  Future you deserve to feel prepared. They deserve to feel rested. I'm not going to lie, it's going to take you shifting your mindset and it's going to take you doing something different to start seeing results. 

My hope is this has lit a fire in you because that's the purpose of this podcast. I've often said when you work with any coach in any capacity, they're going to push you. They're going to make you do things you don't want to do. They're going to say things that you don't want to hear. But this is to challenge you to do things you never thought you could.  


Question #2

Let’s dive into the next question.  This question is from Maggie and she asked: 

I'm really struggling with balancing all the demands of teaching along with the extreme social emotional needs of my students. I am very open to finding resources to incorporate to help my students with their needs. And I'm also a very flexible teacher. But how do I protect my own sanity while also meeting all of the lagging skills and teaching them academics? How do you handle these demands? 

It all starts with your mindset. What it sounds like is that you are beating yourself up about things that are out of your control. You can be the best classroom manager, the best behavior manager, or the best teacher, but the fact is, there are some things about our students that we cannot change. One school year - 180 days with us - is not enough time to help them to heal from the trauma, or make up for their lack of academic skills that they have had from years previous. It's not enough time. And quite frankly, I don't believe that that's on us as teachers to feel like we have to bear the weight of how far behind some of our students might be. 

Instead of focusing on the deficits, focus on how much your students have grown. I had a student that moved into my classroom at the end of November. He is a full four months behind the rest of the students, if not a little bit more, but he shows the potential of knowing so much. I have to quit telling myself: Gosh, if he would have just been here, at the beginning of the year, he would be so much further… 

 Am I going to hold him back? No, absolutely not. It's not his fault that he showed up four months late, and it's not my fault either. I have worked with him so hard within my own capacity, and other teachers have helped him so much within their capacity. And what we have done is good enough. I can't save him. We can't save all of the students with all of the needs that they come into our classrooms with, but what we can do is do the best that we can with the time that we have. 

I faced a lot of hardships this year. I don't know about you all, but  I have faced some extreme behaviors that I've never seen before in my entire teaching life - I've never even seen these behaviors when I was a student. I had no idea that this was going to be the year for that, but what I have chosen to do is truly let go of that narrative that I should have fixed them by now, or their parents should have done this.   All that talk is going to do is drag me down and it will not make any difference in their outcomes. All I can do is the best that I can do each day with them, and then it's time for them to move on, and that's okay. Now, this doesn't mean that we have to agree with the system that we're working in, but when we show the radical acceptance that this is the way it is and I'm doing the best that I can to manage this within my control, then you are going to take so much pressure off of yourself.  We do not have to carry the weight of all that's put in front of us. 

The final part of this question was about how to handle the demands. The truth is, in some cases - I don’t. I just remind myself that I’m just going to do the best that I can, and if right now the best that I can do is to take a deep breath and ask my assistant to watch the class so I can go take a break in the bathroom for a second, then that’s okay.  I know that I am going to keep doing the best that I can with those students when they're in my care and to help them to know that I love them and that I care about their academics,  and I care about their social emotional needs. Then I have to move on and I do that without any blame. I don't blame the students. I'm not blaming the parents. That's useless. All it does is drag me down deeper and I choose to move forward with grace with radical acceptance. 

And to know that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to do better. And some days I do better at that than others, but I'm going to send these kids to first grade knowing that I truly did my best with them.  I'm going to look at how far they came and celebrate that.

It's time to take a deep breath and let some of that pressure go. Dare I even say care less? Now, that doesn't mean you're careless, I don’t mean that you need to be cold or heartless, what I do mean is that you can only do the best you can with what you have today and you need to know in your heart that that is enough. And you are enough. 

Call to Action: Things You Can Do Tomorrow 

  1. Create healthy boundaries around your time and energy.  Get my Manage Your Teacher Overwhelm bundle to help you in this process
  2. Be intentional with how you use your time.  Get the planning ritual that I use weekly to approach my time with discipline and intention
  3. Show yourself some grace! Approach situations to the best of your abilities and be okay with knowing that was the best you could do. 


Resources Mentioned in This Episode 





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