Teacher Burnout: A Sad Story Why Teachers Quit by Joel Wagner - June 26, 2009June 30, 20107 About a month ago, I received this email in my Inbox: After 17 years of teaching, I was diagnosed with ‘burnout’ and needed to take some time off. I fought it, but when the lab results showed body systems shutting down, I complied… for awhile. Part-time only made it worse. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I LOVED my job, my students, my teaching. I dreaded the politics, the nay-sayers, the whiners. Still, how could I be burned out? I thought that only happened to folks who hated what they were doing or had been there too long. It seems remaining a teacher at the top of your game requires more than 3 hours of sleep per night, a general acceptance of less than perfection, and a realization that no matter what you do, there will be some people whom you just cannot make happy. I’m not there yet. I’ve been on disability since March. I actually left the classroom over a year ago, but I had a year of sick days saved up. (Ironic, isn’t it? I couldn’t possibly take a sick day and leave my classroom in somebody else’s hands!) My advice to others is use your sick days. Take time to just relax if you need it. Have trusted friends who will let you know when you are crossing over that fine line between a strong work ethic laced with heavy perfectionism and true obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or generalized anxiety disorder behaviors. Today, I was told that if I can return in the fall, I can go back into my highly coveted Title One reading position. (This is causing quite an uproar. Many people do not believe I should be given the chance to take it back.) There were two of us, but due to a consolidation, and a reduction in funds, one position was eliminated. (I had lower seniority.) I had been chosen in the interview, began the program in my building, and then helped implement and support it in all 5 district elementary buildings. Now, due to retirement, the position is open, and I’ve been asked to return, if my doctors release me. I know that I am not ready today. I was supposed to enter a residential program this summer, but don’t know what to do now. Administration wants to know by July. I’m scared to death! If I go back, I’d love my position again, but I just want to get well. I don’t want to walk into a position where everybody is already mad that it’s my job and not theirs. Another year, and I think I would have been much more ready. To add to the anxiety… our district is offering a resignation incentive this year. If I resign by 5:00 on 5/26 (4 hours from now), I get paid 25% of my base salary on July 1st, 2009, and 25% on July 1st, 2010. (Total 50% of my base annual salary in exchange for walking away from my job.) My disability insurance payments and medical premiums would still continue until March 2011, if I continued to be disabled. The monthly payments (60% of my monthly salary) would continue until retirement, but I’d lose medical coverage March 1st, 2011, if I continued to be disabled after that. I feel like I’ve wasted this past year worrying about what to do about my job. “If this… then what?” I’m tired of thinking about making the ‘right’ decision. If I were single, I’d sign now, and never look back. I’m married, with one child beginning college this year, and another starting next year. I hate to give up a decent job at a time like this. Should I just let the position go for now and take a self-contained classroom when I’m ready to go back? Do I take the buyout, pay off my mortgage, and see what God puts in my path in the future? I could return to a consulting job I dabbled in before my breakdown, or substitute teach, (I loved subbing… all the plusses of teaching without all the extra paperwork and responsibilities… but that was 20 years ago!) My head tells me that walking away from my relationship with this district when I am “not in my right mind” seems an impulsive, unintelligent, weak, quitter choice. I just wonder what other teachers would do. Whether you have any advice or not, it helped to write it out. Thanks for your site! Words escape me to respond to this, but I think sometimes writing things out is the best thing we can do. A follow-up email came in: As I said, just writing it was helpful, so you can decide what to do with it. Thank you for listening and responding! I listened to my head and didn’t take the buyout. I just felt like I wasn’t capable of making a decision of that magnitude at that time. I’m not at peace with my decision, but I probably wouldn’t be at peace with taking the buyout, either. It’s why they call OCD the “doubting disease.” If you decide to post it, I would be curious to hear what others might have done in this situation, or from others who have been “burned out” and made it back to tell about it. The field rep for our medical insurance told me to “be patient” so I don’t have “be A patient.” That probably makes sense to everybody except teachers who have nine months in which to make a difference in each child’s life. Patience with kids, I have. Patience with myself, that shouldn’t be necessary. As a reading specialist, I’m accustomed to identifying the problem; implementing an intervention; monitoring for progress; changing/altering/intensifying/continuing the intervention; assessing growth and sending students on their way once the problem is fixed. Patience is not an option. Action is the option of choice. Perhaps the problem lies in my trying to apply that philosophy to every aspect of my life. Hmmm… I’ve seen your blogs about quitting and staying. Is there any place where you’ve written about people who have gone too far without taking care of themselves and what happens as a result? I’d love to read about how others have handled similar situations. I know they’re out there because the agent assigned to my disability case said he has helped hundreds of teachers complete all the paperwork. He said he is amazed that one specific occupation has such a high level of these types of claims, but that he sees many make a full recovery. (He was explaining why he was so excited about helping me in this situation. He explained that there definitely was hope for my successful return, as opposed to those who are filing due to possibly terminal reasons, such as cancer.) Clearly there are a lot of points to be drawn from this email exchange. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts! Joel WagnerJoel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.