Have You Hit Your Teaching ‘Rock Bottom’? Here Are Some Tips:

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Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
— J.K. Rowling

Have you ever felt that you were standing on the corner of Rock Bottom Street and Wake Me Up in June Avenue? As teachers, we’ve all had a time in our career where we felt like things couldn’t possibly get worse, so why even try? Can I get an ‘Amen’?

I know, in my experience, there were times where I would stand outside of my classroom door, ready to start my day and I’d say to myself, “What in the actual (bleep) am I even doing here?” And typing that out and reading it makes me really sad for not me, but the students who would walk in that door to spend their 180 days with me.

My problem was, though, that I didn’t seek help. I didn’t ask for support. All I asked for was trouble by the way that I handled (or didn’t handle) my emotions in those times that I felt the most alone, the most isolated, and the most misunderstood. Those are also my trigger for tears. And they flowed a lot. Sometimes in front of coworkers and administrators, but especially when I was alone or in the safety of my own home. I am so sad for that person. She needed to get vulnerable and ask for help.

Here are some tips on how you can pull yourself out of burnout if no one is coming to your rescue.

  1. Do your research.

    Not for other jobs or careers (yet), but for solutions to your specific problem. Challenges in education are so vast, that I can’t begin to make a bullet point list of all of the things you could as for help with, but simply going to good ‘ole Google or YouTube and typing in, “How do teachers leave their classrooms by 4:00?” could yield you so many results that you actually don’t know which one to use first. Others, not so much. You may also find that a teacher has posted a blog or video sharing their experiences with the same thing. Give it a try and you may be surprised by the results you get.

  2. stay right where you are.

    Katie said it best in her interview, “When you hit' ‘rock bottom’ there’s no place to go but up.” So at that point you have a decision to make. My friends, I hope you’re sitting down, because I’m going to throw a truth bomb into your lap and it’s heavy. Your first option is to stay right there. Rock bottom. Until you retire. (Warning: truth bomb being tossed…)

    You may be that teacher right now. The grump who never smiles, except for when you make a joke about how crappy the profession of teaching is. The “Negative Nancy” who, when people see you enter the room, they automatically have a call to take or copies to make. You. Are. Burned. Out. And happy to stay right where you are, basking in the shadows of how things used to or should be. And some of you haven’t even been teaching that long!

  3. Change your perspective.

    The next option is to change your attitude. This is something I could have done several times when I was frustrated and even angry at my administrators. I only looked at things through my perspective and I made things personal that should not have been. I could have benefitted from seeing things through my principals’ eyes or by not feeling like it was a personal attack, when it wasn’t.

    A lot of times (and as I’ve learned from being married to one) principals are just the messengers and even as hard as they try, they can’t keep all the water from running down the pipe. They’re coming to work for money just like you, because we all need it. Showing some empathy when your principal emails a new initiative and emailing him to see if you can ask questions to truly understand will serve your soul a lot more than flying off the handle at your coworkers (or said principal), shouting, “Here we go again!” and slamming your classroom door to have a good cry and a king size Snickers bar.

    “It’s not what happens to us, but how we react to it that matters.” - Epictetus

    (I had this quote hanging in my classroom when I was losing my mind daily over my terrible relationship with my principal and assistant principal, but do you think I internalized it? I’ll let you answer that for yourself.)

  4. start over.

    I can tell you, BITs, it’s damn hard. It really is. Especially when you make a move that you feel is going to help you soar, only to crash, face-first into an open arena of spectators (and there are headlines to prove that it happened). It happened to me.

    Do I believe that that’s the norm? No way. Do you know why? Because when that happened, it lead me to another place to start over. And that is where I found the beginning of the path to my true calling: serving YOU.

    Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy makes all those mistakes at the beginning of the movie, gets to Munchkin Land and she starts her journey to Oz on the tiny point of the ‘Yellow Brick Road’? That’s what it was like to start over for me. Lot’s of twists and turns and I still feel a little lost sometimes, but starting over for me began when the organization I was the Executive Director of closed six months after I started there. That was my rock bottom.

    My challenge to you is this:

    Start by asking for help.

    I don’t care if it’s your spouse, best friend, coworker, or principal. I don’t care if it’s a stranger because they just caught you crying in the middle of the isle at Wal-Mart because you can’t find Freeze Pops and you swore you’d buy enough for the entire school, it’s 7 am, and school starts in 20 minutes.

    Here are some sentence starters:

    • I’ve been trying really hard to get better at __________, but ____________. Can you help point me in the right direction?

    • Can you please help me understand ______________? Because I heard/understood it as _____________.

    • Would you mind if I asked you some questions about __________________? I need help understanding.

    • Could you tell me who is really good at ___________? I need help with _____________.

    • I feel that I’ve tried my hardest to learn how to use _____________. Do you have any advice for me? Could you show me?

Here’s a cold, hard possibility:

The help may never arrive. That’s when you go to other places to find the support you need. The free and private Burned-In Teacher Facebook Group could be one of those places, if you want it to be. Feel free to reach out to us and we’ll point you in the right direction the best we can. But, we aren’t the only group out there. There are Facebook groups about using technology with littles, Preschool groups, groups for teachers who teach to a certain curriculum. If you can’t find one, do what I did: START YOUR OWN.

Take a deep breath. You are your own hero. BURN ON!

Amber HarperComment