Oct 07, 2023

Finding Hope Amidst Burnout in Education: From Burned-Out to Burned-In with Corinne

Have you ever felt that during your teaching career, you've experienced various forms of burnout more than once? Or would you describe your days in the classroom and outside of it as akin to a dumpster fire? If so, this is the episode for you. I'll be interviewing a student at Burned In Teacher University who was so profoundly burned out and clouded by it that she didn't even realize she was pregnant until her second trimester. I can't wait for you to hear about her transformation and what she's doing now to infuse joy and passion into her life while also becoming a happier and more fulfilled teacher. Let's dive into this episode and my interview with Corinne, a student at Burned In Teacher University. Let's get started.

Amber: Hi, Corinne. Thank you so much for joining us on the Burned In Teacher Podcast. I'm incredibly excited for you to share your journey with us today.

Corinne: Hi, Amber. I'm very, very excited too. Oh my goodness.

Amber: Well, I'm so accustomed to seeing your face, as you're also a fellow member of the Burned In Teacher community. We often collaborate and have our monthly chats, so it's like two friends having coffee.

It’s really nice to see you.

Corinne: It’s really nice to see you too. I’m excited for this.

Amber: Tell the listeners of the podcast a little about you. Where do you teach? How long have you been at it? And where are you in the world? 

Corinne:  Okay. I'm currently residing just outside of St. Louis. We made the decision to move from the city to get a bit more land. I'm a mother of three. My oldest, Carl, is now in second grade, and he just started a couple of days ago. Philomena is in first grade, and we also have Adelaide, who is still in pre-K. So, needless to say, we're all quite busy over here. I've been married to my husband for the past nine years. We met during our college years, and interestingly, he's the one who introduced the entire family to arm wrestling, as I've mentioned to you before.

Amber: Oh my gosh, we are going to have to take time to talk about this, because this is a side passion of yours, am I right? 

Corinne: Yeah, and I shared this with my students. Their response was, 'Oh, really?' They asked, 'Have you won?' I replied, 'No, not yet.' It's been quite an interesting journey for us. My husband was already involved, and then the kids started participating in the smaller matchups before the big meets. Since I was already there, I thought, 'Okay, I'll join in.' So, that's just what we do. We're a very active family. It's a personal passion of mine to showcase my strength and abilities in any way I can. 

On the teaching side, I'm entering my 16th year, though to be honest, I'm not entirely sure.

Amber: The years all start to run together, don’t they? I’m in my 15th year of teaching and sometimes I ask myself, ‘How long have I been teaching?’

Corinne: Thank you. After college, I began my teaching journey. I moved overseas to Ireland, leveraging my dual citizenship, and started working in a special needs school. On my very first day there, I found myself in a mixed class of kindergarteners and first-graders. The moment I walked in, a little boy promptly stood up, exclaimed, "Eff-off," and darted out the door, eventually perching himself in a tree in the back courtyard. I was left flabbergasted, unsure of what to do. My teaching career had certainly begun with an unexpected twist, but it turned out to be a year of tremendous learning.

Despite the initial shock, my passion for teaching persisted. I knew I wanted to return to the United States, specifically Chicago, although I had grown up in St. Louis. In Chicago, I taught students with autism for a year. My classroom comprised students aged 15 to 22, making it quite a challenging experience. After enduring three concussions that year, I came to the realization that this setting wasn't the right fit for me. I decided to switch to general education.

Returning home to St. Louis, I took a position as a teacher assistant for a year. It allowed me to gain valuable experience and navigate the process of transferring my teaching license and completing the necessary courses. It became evident that managing my own classroom at that point was overwhelming.

The following year, I played a role in opening a charter school, where I spent five years teaching kindergarten, similar to where you are now. During that time, I formed strong bonds with fellow educators, but it also underscored the need for charter schools to have a union. This realization eventually led me to leave the charter school and join my current school district.

I initially resumed teaching kindergarten but then started having my own children over the course of the next four years. It became clear to me that I needed a break from caring for little ones both at home and at school. As a result, I made the transition to teaching third grade, and I'm now entering my fourth year in this role. It has proven to be a wise decision, and I owe much of it to finding stability in my life, in part thanks to you.

Amber: Yeah, there’s something to be said for not teaching the same age group as your kids, especially the littles.

Corinne: It seems like they're constantly draining your energy, and at a certain point, you just can't give any more. I started feeling terrible when I came home, and I didn't even have the desire to hug my kids anymore. This is not right, you know? So I realized that something had to change. There were other aspects of my life that needed to change as well.

Amber: I can relate to that so much. When I first began my teaching career, I started with first grade students since my own daughter was in first grade at the time. It was quite challenging at times, and I believe the only reason I didn't experience burnout with that age group was that our daughter, who was in first grade as well, acted more maturely, similar to a third or fourth-grader. This meant she didn't require the level of attention and support that many kindergarteners and first graders typically do.

I found myself naturally advancing to higher grade levels as she progressed through school, and that seemed to work out well for me. However, I cannot even imagine teaching kindergarten when my girls were very young, like when they were babies or toddlers. That would have been extremely demanding for me.

One reason I now enjoy teaching kindergarten so much is that my daughters are older. Our oldest is 22, and our youngest is 15. They're not as dependent anymore. It's almost as if I get to switch roles. While I am still very structured and wear my teacher hat at school, I also get to be the cool, fun teacher during the day. The kids love me, and I become their favorite person when I'm at school. Teaching young children makes you feel like a celebrity. When you're out and about, they'll spot you and exclaim, 'Oh, Mrs. Harper from school!' It's a lot of fun, and I get to experience those heartwarming cuddles and affection.

Then, when I come home, I engage in more adult conversations with my own children. It provides a great balance for me. I completely respect your decision to focus on a different age group. I think it's an important lesson for anyone struggling with burnout or feeling depleted to evaluate if any specific triggers or warning signs are contributing to those feelings. Spending all day with the same age group can indeed be draining.

Corinne: Yeah, absolutely.

Amber: Well, good for you for noticing that and for making the change. I have a question about your experience with burnout. You've mentioned it to me a few times, and I'm curious if you could describe what it looked and felt like, as well as what you believe caused it. Then, let's transition into discussing what led you to become a burnout teacher. But first, let's start with the challenging moments when you were struggling the most.

Corinne: So, as I mentioned earlier, I've taken the quiz, and when you were describing your experiences with burnout, I felt like I've been through all of them during my career. In the beginning, I was enthusiastic, fresh, and young. I had a burning desire to prove myself, maybe even become Teacher of the Year. I worked hard, starting at five in the morning and leaving at six in the evening. However, I wasn't sure what I was really accomplishing because I would often take work home. There was no work-life balance. At that point, it was acceptable because I didn't have children yet. But I was taking on too much, volunteering for everything. Within my first three years at the charter school, I became a mentor and took on leadership roles. I even became a High School swim coach. I was juggling so many responsibilities, and it wasn't sustainable.

Then, when I left the charter school, it became evident why I worked such long hours. We were expected to do even more during the school day, with only three planned periods a week. It justified my early mornings and late nights because there simply wasn't enough time to get everything done during the day.

Next, I moved to a new district, and it felt like I was trying to keep up with everyone. I was determined to prove myself, but I was also pregnant with my first child. It was overwhelming, and I felt the pressure to make my classroom look like a Pinterest masterpiece. Classroom setup was my biggest challenge, and trying to create Pinterest-worthy crafts was equally daunting. I lost sight of what I was teaching because I was more concerned with appearing like I had everything under control.

With my second child, Filomeno, I didn't even realize I was pregnant until the second trimester. I had lost touch with my own body due to the chaos. People couldn't believe I didn't know I was pregnant, but I couldn't explain it either.

Then, I had my third child right as COVID was spreading. We sent the students off for spring break, and suddenly, we were doing online learning. Kindergarten during COVID was an unexpected change, but it turned out to be a cherished time for my family. My husband was home more, and we made many special memories.

The following school year, I moved to third grade, and our district made some positive changes. I felt more at peace and thought I had made the right choice. But then, the next year came, and everything went wrong. I was crying every day, and my family didn't recognize me anymore. I didn't recognize myself. My husband tried to support me, but it was clear that I had to leave the profession.

Leaving teaching became my goal. I began listening to the Teacher Career Podcast and, interestingly enough, heard you on it. I was initially resistant to your message because I wanted to leave and not hear about fixing things. I was in the blame-everyone-else stage and wasn't ready to accept my burnout.

I eventually hired a coach to help me find a new job and improve my interviewing skills. Through this process, I realized that I was actually good at teaching and could showcase my strengths. I started listening to your podcast during the summer leading up to the last school year. Things slowly began to improve, and I continued applying for jobs. When I received a job offer to become a trainer for new employees, I hesitated. My biggest concern was leaving the profession on bad terms, with my admin having a poor opinion of me. I had been called a "dumpster fire" by my principal, and it hurt deeply.

Your podcast gave me valuable tips, and I kept taking notes. Finally, I decided to take your course because I felt I needed more support. You offered a free half-hour training session that gave me a glimpse of what the course would be like, and I knew it was what I needed. The transformation has been incredible, and people can't believe the positive change in me. I'm very thankful for your guidance, so thank you.

Amber: You're welcome, and thank you for sharing your story. I totally relate to what you're describing. There were times when I was so emotional that I knew what it felt like to try to maintain a facade, to pretend like everything was fine while feeling like I was falling apart inside. You end up screaming on the inside, thinking you're doing a good job of hiding it, but it becomes apparent that you're not.

I'm not sure how your administration figured out that things were going south for you, but I love the term "dumpster fire" too. For me, it reached a breaking point with a very public breakdown, not just the one involving my dog, but that was the most significant one. I realized that this couldn't continue to be my normal, and it sounds like you went through a similar experience.

Corinne: Yeah, I mean, during the first week as teachers, we find ourselves making jokes about how tough it can be. You know, we sometimes joke about switching professions because the initial week is always challenging due to the numerous transitions. You can't underestimate how demanding it is. My dear colleague next door, who is also a teacher, often asks me, 'Please tell me it will get better.' I reassure her that it will. We just need to manage our time effectively and keep pushing through. It's okay, and it's crucial to finally be okay with not accomplishing everything in a single day. I think the biggest challenge for us is that we hold ourselves to such high standards, but that's just how teachers are in general.

Amber: Yeah.

Corinne: And it’s to a fault almost, and I've been telling myself and everyone around me that you have to grant yourself grace; you simply must, or else you'll crumble.

Amber: I really appreciated when you shared that part of your story, where you were engaged in various Pinterest-style activities and crafts, attempting to transform your classroom into a Pinterest-worthy space. It resonated with me deeply because that's not who I am either. Personally, I'm not a fan of crafts and have never enjoyed doing them, not even with my own biological children (my husband took on that role). Instead, I prefer to be on the floor playing with them or going somewhere to engage in different activities. Crafts just don't bring me joy.

Even though I teach kindergarten, I still don't have a strong passion for crafts. In my classroom, we focus more on movement and collaborative activities, reserving crafts for art class. I believe in keeping the kids active and engaged together. When you mentioned how you weren't enjoying those Pinterest-style activities, it struck a chord with me. You were telling yourself that this is what you had to do to prove you were a good teacher, but it seemed like your values were getting lost in the shuffle. 

During our course discussions, we emphasized the importance of aligning your actions with your true self, rather than succumbing to societal expectations. I completely understand how it feels when you're trying to be everything to everyone and doing what you think you should be doing, instead of embracing who you are and what makes you a wonderful teacher.

Corinne: I had no idea who I was as a teacher initially. I found myself emulating different teaching styles, intrigued by what others were doing, and genuinely impressed by their approaches. I thought, "Wow!" However, I eventually realized that I needed to discover my unique style and be comfortable with it. I understood that my teaching style wouldn't resemble something from Pinterest; I'm more of a minimalist, and my way of getting the job done might not be as aesthetically pleasing. Nonetheless, I accepted it. I may not have the most visually appealing lessons, but I know my students are having fun, and we're actively engaging in the learning process.

Amber: Exactly. Now, I can relate to that as well. When I first started my job as a kindergarten teacher, I had a very explicit conversation with my teaching partner, Tracy. I told her that I'm no longer all about the new and shiny like I used to be. In the past, I would see something online and think, 'Oh, I have to try this!' or discover a new app and think, 'I must use this with my kids.' But the problem was, I was always focused on teaching the tool rather than teaching content. It wasn't aligned with who I am.

My classroom is quite minimalistic. It's still fun, inviting, bright, and cheery, but it's intentionally simple. I also made it clear to Tracy that if she wanted to do crafts, she should go ahead, but I probably wouldn't join in. I wasn't unkind about it; I simply wanted to express that this is who I am. If I don't adopt something someone else does, it's not because I disrespect them or think it's a bad idea; it's just not me.

I've learned over the years that it's crucial to be explicit and upfront about who you are," I continued. "Some teachers might get their feelings hurt if they share something, and you don't use it. Personally, I've never felt bad about it. If I say, 'This is really cool; I loved using it with my kids, and they enjoyed it too,' and someone doesn't use it, I never take it personally. However, I understand that some people do.

Knowing who you are is such an essential aspect of being a truly effective teacher.

Corinne: Yes, absolutely.  And then you’re able to do so much more because you feel like a better teacher, better wife, mom, and human in general. 

Amber: It seemed like you had overcommitted yourself and were deeply involved in many activities. You had various ideas about what makes a good teacher and what your ideal classroom should be like. On top of that, you had numerous other responsibilities that required you to step out of the classroom. It appears that you were struggling to balance your commitments and the narratives you had created in your mind.

Corinne: Yeah.  I was saying ‘yes’ to a lot of things and ‘no’ to a lot of things that would have been good for me.

Amber: That’s the opportunity cost we talked about in the course.  You were so fogged over with all of your obligations and you were basically running yourself ragged to the point that you didn’t even know you were pregnant.  

Corinne: It was like I no longer knew myself. 

Amber: What I found really interesting is when you mentioned that you listen to the Teacher Career Podcast, specifically Daphne's podcast, which is amazing. She is assisting thousands of teachers who have decided it's time to transition. Her course and podcast have truly helped teachers believe they are capable of something more. Some teachers feel so demoralized by the profession, and I genuinely appreciate what she does.

It's intriguing to me, though, that you were initially upset with me when you first listened to the podcast. I actually receive that reaction quite often. Many people have found me annoying when they first hear me, and I've come to terms with it. 

Corinne: You're not portraying rainbows and butterflies. It's quite amusing because I initially thought, "I don't want to hear it. Why haven't you figured it out yet?" It's as if I'm drowning and withering away. Yeah, I understand. This misery, however, is a choice. You can choose to come to terms with it. I was starting to feel burnt out, even though I wasn't a bad teacher. I simply lost my sense of direction. I needed to come to terms with that. It's no one's fault, and I needed to acknowledge it. I needed to ask myself, "What can I do to fix this?" You know, where can I find the tools I need? And it was surprisingly easy to access them. It was like a breath of fresh air.

Amber: Thank you. It's so nice to hear that because I don't always get to hear how things are going for people. 

I'm curious, do you remember, when you first started to listen to the podcast, what was it that helped you to shift your mindset a little bit?

Corinne: A lot of it started with your discussions on time management and goal setting. I don't know the exact episode numbers.

Amber: That’s okay. I was just curious about what the message was that really started to resonate with you.

Corinne: Yeah, it was just a matter of figuring things out. It was easy and applicable, so I just laid it out like, 'This is what I do in my classroom.' And I thought, 'Oh, I could do that.' So, I did. I started implementing it the next day. It seemed straightforward, and I just started sharing it. I realized, 'I can do this.' It involved simple things, and I began to talk about it. I thought to myself, 'I listen to this now,' and when someone tells me how to become a better teacher, I feel like I have it somewhat together, just like they do.

Amber: I love that. I love it when other people notice the changes in you, you know? Like the way you carry yourself, the way you care for your classroom, the way you speak, the words that come out of your mouth, your demeanor changes. I experienced that myself when I started my research back in 2016. Well, actually, it began in late 2014 and continued into 2015, but it really took off in 2016 when I returned to the classroom for the first time since I left. I remember even my principal mentioned it. He said, "You've changed. You've been working on yourself." I replied, "Yes, I have. Thank you for noticing." It's such a great feeling when people start to take notice, don't you think?

Corinne: It’s like like, I've been working hard, so thank you for noticing. It’s like when you’re working out and someone notices your muscles. 

Amber: Yeah, that's a good feeling.

And you know, this is a really good transition. Let's talk about let's talk about your transition. How are you feeling now? What is what is life like now for Corinne?

Corinne: So, I've really taken to your priority planner. Every Sunday, I lay out my week, and I create a clear outline and I know what to expect. I'm even planning my meals for the week, so nothing completely catches me by surprise. And if it does, I'm prepared to handle it because I've allocated the mental capacity for it. But since starting the Burned-In Teacher program, I feel so good. 

The most significant change that occurred, altering my outlook on what I was going to do, was related to goal setting. To rewind to last year when I was trying to figure things out, I found myself thinking, "Okay, I'm leaving the classroom. What can I do?" So, I decided to pursue certification as a personal trainer because I've always had a passion for fitness, something that has consistently brought me joy. Knowing that if I couldn't figure things out, I could always turn to working out. It was also a key factor in my recent burnout, as we were moving and I didn't have access to a gym, making me feel horrible about myself.

Now, I've managed to piece things together, establishing a morning routine that includes working out. I either follow a home workout routine or create one, or I head to the barn gym to lift weights. There was a brief interruption due to some major storms and fallen trees blocking the barn entrance, but that didn't deter me because I had already built a habit of working out regularly. In the past, I might have given up on such a routine, but this time, I persevered.

I've been emphasizing the importance of adopting sustainable habits. That's one of my key focuses this year: sustainability. I continually ask myself, "Will this habit last, or will it fizzle out?" I've been sharing this journey on social media, particularly on my Instagram, and I've even started a YouTube channel.

Amber: Your commitment to Burned-In Teacher has been amazing, and I'm incredibly proud of you. You started as a student in the course, and now you're a valuable member of the Burnin Teacher community. Your journey has been an inspiration to all of us, and the other members are cheering you on enthusiastically.

Corrine, I'm genuinely thrilled for you because I've personally experienced the satisfaction that Burned-In Teacher provides, alongside my full-time teaching job. It's a fantastic creative outlet that allows you to switch off your teacher mode and engage a different part of your mind. It provides something to look forward to beyond your daily teaching routine. Yes, indeed, it's a refreshing change from teaching every day.

Corinne: Yes. And I didn't know what I was going to do outside the four walls. For me. I didn't expect to teach for the next 30 years until I retired, but I also didn't want to be a principal because that sounded terrible. Still sounds terrible!

 Amber: My husband is one and I never want to do that!

Corinne: No. Then I considered becoming an instructional coach, especially because I enjoy coaching, but honestly, I'm not good at handling curriculum or data. It doesn't bring me any joy. I love engaging in conversations with teachers and other adults. So, I wondered, what else could I do? That's when the idea of working with curriculum came to mind. I thought, 'Why not show people simple habits they can easily adopt?' Additionally, I realized I have a background in personal training, so I decided to create some workout routines. These workouts can be done at home or during breaks at school, making it convenient for you. I just want to help you stay active without having to think about what workout to do. I'm not sure where this will lead, but I'm having fun with it. It's a passion project, something I'm doing for myself. Now, I feel like I've found a new sense of purpose in life.

It's hard to admit experiencing burnout because then people assume, 'Oh, you must hate children.' I completely understand that sentiment. You don't want to give off that impression. But now, I've found a renewed passion. I get to do two different things while still being a dedicated mom. 

My own kids are quite amusing. They often ask, 'Are you recording a workout today?' They've even tried to join in on it, and I love it so much.

Amber: I love that you're doing this for so many reasons, and we'll definitely include a link to your YouTube channel in the show notes so that people can check it out.

I used to work out after school many years ago with some friends in our classrooms. I remember moving desks aside and projecting workout videos onto the screen from one of our computers. We would have pretty intense workouts on some days, and it was really enjoyable. It brought us, as teachers, closer together and helped us focus on our physical well-being, which was a nice aspect of it.

Are you recording some of your videos in your classroom?

Corinne: Yes, I've just started, and I've completed two videos so far. Editing is quite challenging, but fortunately, my husband is more skilled at it, so he's been a tremendous help. We're in the learning process, and I'm grateful to anyone who's on this journey with me right now. It can feel a bit awkward at first when I'm talking on camera.

Amber: Yeah, especially when your friends see your content. I have friends who still give me a hard time and tease me a bit because they know me better than anyone. However, you just have to keep moving forward. You're doing it for yourself, not for them. You're doing what you know is best for you, and you've got to keep pushing past any doubts.

Corinne: Yeah, at least I’m getting a workout out of it! 

Amber: That's wonderful. To conclude this interview, Corinne, what advice would you offer to a teacher who is listening or even to one you're speaking with in person, someone who is struggling, and perhaps has heard of Burned Teacher University but is unsure if it's the right fit for them? What words of wisdom would you share?

Corinne: You have to be ready, obviously, but the tools provided by Burned-In Teacher University are applicable in various aspects of your life. What's important to realize is that if you're feeling burnt out at school, you might also be experiencing burnout in your personal life. As I started working through the modules, I began to see how these strategies could have been helpful in previous seasons of my life. It's like having a toolkit I can refer to and remind myself of what works.

Additionally, being part of this community is invaluable. The weekly collaborations are fantastic. Every Wednesday, there's a chance to ask questions and learn from other teachers. The lessons you provide each week with check-ins are great too. You're there to answer our questions, and it's a lifeline if you ever feel alone. If you have a teacher friend, consider doing this together. Support each other and draw energy from one another because as you go through this process, you'll notice changes. You'll want to commit to it and, most importantly, commit to yourself again. That's truly amazing.

Amber: Thank you for your kind words, and I appreciate the sentiment. I must admit, there were times when I felt like I was talking to my past self, the one who might have been skeptical. But let me assure you, I'm not crazy, and I genuinely appreciate your support.

Corinne, I have to say that I really admire you a lot. You're such a go-getter, and you remind me so much of myself. You've taken full advantage of every opportunity the course offers to bring about positive changes, make shifts, and introduce new elements into your life. You've truly blossomed into the person you are today and are sharing your passions beyond teaching.

I wanted to mention earlier that it's okay to both love teaching and feel a bit frustrated with it from time to time. We go about our daily duties because it's a job, it pays the bills. What you're doing with curriculum right now might not be a primary source of income, but it's for you. We often say we teach for the kids, and that's true, but we also teach because it's our livelihood. However, I want to encourage anyone listening, especially those who dedicate every minute, whether paid or unpaid, to schoolwork, committees, grading, and preparation, that you owe it to yourself to do something simply because you love it, not because you feel obligated to. We all deserve that

Corinne:  Yeah, bring that joy back to yourself, because we've all had it in the beginning. 

Amber: You know, I see it in both you and others. Just look at that smile on your face. You exude joy every time we join a group coaching call. Corinne, your willingness to offer feedback and advice to fellow group members during our weekly collaboration posts is truly appreciated. You're always there, ready to share your insights, resources, or even tidbits from the course, like when you mentioned something you heard Amber say. Your eagerness to step in and help others is the embodiment of a Burned-In Teacher — someone who's ready to assist those going through difficulties.

It can be frustrating when you reach out for advice, and someone just redirects the conversation to their own troubles. Your willingness to provide genuine help stands out. So, thank you for being such an active and valuable member of our community. We truly appreciate it. And thank you for joining us on the Burned-In Teacher Podcast. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners and viewers today?

Corinne: No, I thank you for having me. I've enjoyed this. 

Amber: We are so grateful. Thank you for your time. I know it's a lot to ask you to come on this interview after a full day of teaching.

I'm just so grateful for you and your time Corinne.  Thank you.


Call to Action: Things You Can Do Tomorrow 

  1.  Take time for self-reflection. Take time to sit in your feelings and trace them back to their origin so you are equipped to seek help and make the changes needed to address your burnout. 
  2. Seek out inspiration and support.  Connect with colleagues, mentors, or support groups to share your experiences and learn from others who have faced similar challenges. 
  3. Set goals for personal growth. Identify specific steps you can take to reignite your passion for teaching and life.  Whether it's trying new teaching techniques, pursuing professional development, or making lifestyle changes, setting goals can provide a sense of purpose and direction.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode 



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