Dear Sad, Lonely, and Depressed Teachers...
... there is hope.
Here are 5 ways I (and others) have pulled out of the sadness, loneliness, and depression.
I remember very vividly too many mornings that I sat in my car, wiping my tears, and making sure that I my mascara wasn't smeared all over my eyes before walking into school. I didn't want anyone to know that their employee, their teacher-friend, their teacher was fighting depression and a feeling of complete and total isolation and sadness.
Some mornings, I felt like I had a reason to be sad and others I really didn't know why the tears flowed.
But, either way, they did.
It wasn't until I had a very public emotional breakdown, in my grade level hallway, in front of all of my friends, that I realized that I had a real problem and that I had to take some action.
Here's what I did (and others are doing) to either pull themselves out of the depths of depression or keep themselves from going back.
1. We talked about it and sought out the WHY.
For the several times that I went through depression and burnout, the real solution started with conversations about my feelings and really trying to figure out the WHY. This was different than complaining, blaming, and bitching to people who didn't know what it was like to be a teacher.
Finding other educators who understood where my frustrations were, what I could do about it, and where I could find more support was a huge help in me fighting the depression and the loneliness.
Several teachers in The Burned-In Teacher Facebook Group have mentioned seeking out other Facebook Groups that are specific to their grade level, subject, or title. Finding a place where 'your people' hang out has been really helpful, they have said.
2. We got physical or got lost in a good book.
Another way me and others from the Burned-In Teacher Facebook Group have taken action is to simply get physically active. Running, paddle boarding, going for a walk with a teacher friend, doing aerobics, or yoga are only a few of the ways that we have gotten active and have seen results of higher spirits, healthier relationships, and less isolation.
Other teachers feel freedom and release from the stress of teaching by reading and finding others who enjoy reading in their building. They start a 'book sharing club' of sorts, and find solace in sharing their love of good literature to combat depression and isolation.
Whatever your hobby is, make sure you do it and do it often.
My advice to you? Find something that you enjoy doing (whether it's diving into a good book or a pool) and make it a priority. No excuses. Especially no grading papers in your classroom over taking a nice bike ride with your significant other.
3. We took action.
If you've read my story here on burnedinteacher.com or have heard me mention it during Burned-In Teacher LIVE, you know that there were several points in my teaching career where I had to take significant action. Some of my big action steps seemingly failed in the moment, but in the end all lead up to me getting to a place that was right for me.
Taking action can be very scary and even seem impossible in some settings. But taking action for your specific situation, personality, goals, and aspirations looks different for everyone and they are certainly all important.
Where I have seen the most burnout in my short career as a Teacher Coach and EdTech Consultant is when teachers have found themselves stuck in the same routines for years with no goals and no plans to set them. Even if you've been teaching for thirty years, you have to know that it's ok to have desire change and that it's never too late to take action towards it.
4. We stopped letting people have power over us.
As teachers, we are in the constant role of "peace keeper" and that's great. But some teachers (including myself, at one point) believe that being a peace keeper means not advocating for themselves. When we allow our principal, a bully teacher, or our students to have power over our emotions, we will lose every time.
This is not permission to be combative, argumentative, or aggressive. This is permission to be a problem solver and feedback seeker.
You can stop letting people have power over you by doing a few things:
- Have a conversation about and set expectations for being respectful to one another and to you with your students. This doesn't have to be a rule-setting session, but more of a setting of expectations that you are all a team and that it doesn't have to you against them or vice-versa. Letting them know that you are all in this together can make a huge difference in how your students treat each other and you. (This will not be an immediate change. It will take many reminders, conversations, and modeling for it to become a full expectation.)
- Make it known how you feel and let it also be known that you will not stand for it anymore. In my first years of teaching, I allowed myself to be bullied by not only my fellow grade level teachers, but even my mentor teacher and principal. I don't even know if they necessarily knew they were doing it, but it was happening none-the-less. If I would have had the courage to stand up for myself and say, "This is what I feel is happening, this is how I feel about it, and I need to know what we can do as professionals to make it stop." I would have set myself up for a lot more success, respect, and less sadness.
- Believe that YOU ARE IMPORTANT and so are your feelings. Several teachers who I've talked to have mentioned many times that they feel that no one even cares about them. And my question to them is, "How do you know that this is how they feel?" A lot of times it is speculation and assumption. Believe that you are worth taking the time to have conversations, take action, and build those relationships with kindness and empathy, before you assume that everyone hates you.
5. We made a much needed change.
This one is pretty subjective based on the reason for our depression, sadness, or discontent. For me, I needed a change in the definition of my career as a teacher. I needed to be the master of my own time and serve students through serving their teachers through the BIT website, coaching, and edtech consulting (edtech being another love of mine).
For you, it could be the same thing or simply a change in grade level or school building.
Here's where I'm going to get a little real with you...
Sometimes the much needed change is us and our attitude. I'm embarrassed, but not ashamed to tell you that some of the challenges that I found in my career were caused by me. Whether it was my attitude, my delivery, or what I believed to be true, I had some changes to make in myself before I could change anything else about my unhappiness.
So, if you believe that your principal is putting too much on your plate and you hate him for it, think about it. Is that really what he means for you to do? If you're unsure, simply ask him.
If your colleague isn't wanting to collaborate with you, is it because you always bowl her over with your opinions about how things should be taught, your negativity about how education is going down the toilet and it doesn't matter what you do, or maybe it's because you simply aren't nice.
This is not to say that you are the root of your depression, anxiety, loneliness, or sadness. There are certainly many factors that can be happening around us that can make teaching life very hard and unpleasant.
But there are also many things that we can do both internally and externally to pull ourselves out of this cycle of depression and burnout.
If you want or need support, the Burned-In Teacher Facebook Group is ready and willing to give you that support. We're here for you. No matter what.
Here are a couple more great articles on teaching with depression:
Take a deep breath. Be your own hero. BURN ON.