Throughout my teaching career I have experienced great job satisfaction and fulfilment. Teaching has allowed me the opportunity to create positive change, to instil a love for learning, and to help foster a sense of self-worth, self-belief, and resilience in my pupils.

However, I have also experienced episodes of emotional and physical exhaustion, or ‘burnout’, due to periods of sustained stress, excessive demands, and increasing workload. Throughout my thirty years of service, the profession has changed dramatically, and almost one third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have subsequently left.

As teachers, much of our energy is focused on the needs of our students. But if we are to perform effectively, then we need to prioritise our own self-care. Being aware of potential signs of burnout will enable us to take preventive measures to protect and manage our own mental health.

What is occupational burnout?

Occupational burnout is the result of long term chronic stress in the workplace which negatively impacts physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common in the teaching profession and has led to many dedicated teachers deciding to leave and pursue alternative careers. According to the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index:

Yes, teaching can be a wonderful and rewarding career, but the excessive workload, accountability pressures, and ever-shifting expectations can often make it feel a thankless and draining task.

A burnt out school teacher with his head on the desk.

Recognising the signs of burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process, with many of the symptoms often mistaken for anxiety. Unless addressed, burnout can have severe impacts on both physical and mental health.

Signs you may be experiencing burnout:

Taking action to avoid or manage burnout

Once we recognise and understand the signs of burnout, we can be proactive and put in place simple measures to avoid or manage it.

1. Develop a good work-life balance

First things first, set clear boundaries between school and home life.

During school hours, try to implement time-saving strategies such as live-marking, which will not only reduce your evening workload, but will increase the quality of feedback to students. If you must bring marking home, set aside designated relaxation time. It’s all too easy to let marking or planning take over an evening or an entire weekend.

I can remember spending whole weekends sitting in front of the computer while my husband took the kids to gymnastics and the park. By Sunday evening, I felt exhausted and guilty for not having spent time with my family. And then the emails would start rolling in about the upcoming week’s schedule…

A teacher’s ‘to-do list’ is never ending, but it’s vital to set aside time to relax and unwind. If possible, try to finish work at the same time every day. Have a cut off point (say 7:30 pm) after which exercise books are closed, emails are muted, and school talk is forbidden!

A good work-life balance also includes taking proper lunch breaks (rather than mindlessly eating a sandwich whilst marking books).

Over-the-shoulder view of a woman holding a TV remote and surfing for television programmes.

2. Don’t strive for perfection

This ties in with the previous point. There will always be a myriad of tasks to accomplish, so the key is to prioritise what is the most important and what can wait.

If you’re a perfectionist like me, it’s tempting to spend an entire afternoon writing an hour-long lesson plan, or hours after school creating elaborate classroom displays. I’ve come to realise that perfection simply isn’t feasible in teaching, and it’s okay to aim for ‘good enough’.

3. Learn to say no

Learning to say no is more difficult than it sounds and many teachers struggle with setting boundaries. However, it’s an important skill to develop and will prevent you from overcommitting yourself.

Know your priorities and be realistic about what additional demands you can meet. It might not go down well if you say no to teaching your class, but it is entirely reasonable to say no to extra duties such as lunch break pupil supervision!

4. Support network

Having a support network in place at work, whether it be a trusted colleague or a mix of school staff, can be a real lifesaver when you’re in need of emotional support.

They’ll understand the pressures of the job and be able to relate to any challenges you’re facing, offering a fresh perspective when you’re struggling, feeling frustrated, or just needing a sounding board.

You may have a very understanding partner or great group of friends, but there are only so many times they’ll want to hear you ranting about your workload or disengaged students!

Two teachers chatting and catching up while standing at a printer in the school corridor.

5. Check in on your own mental health

Don’t forget to routinely check in on your own mental health. How are you feeling today? Is there anything worrying you? Are things starting to get on top of you? Do you need to reach out to someone for some extra support?

And remember to pay attention to your physical health. Adopting healthy living habits, such as taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining good sleep hygiene, will not only benefit you physically, but also mentally.

It’s all too common for teachers to experience episodes of emotional or physical exhaustion at some point in their career. If you recognise the signs of burnout in yourself (or one of your colleagues) be proactive, seek support, and take action to stop it in its tracks.

Switch on your TV or radio, or scroll through your social media feed, and you’ll increasingly come across news stories, articles, or posts about the rise in prevalence of mental health issues among students.

Whether it be the result of social pressures, academic demands, fear or failure, or uncertainty about the future, low self-esteem (and the accompanying anxiety) can be debilitating.

Supporting a child with anxiety can be daunting, but there are many ways in which you can promote your child’s mental well-being. As a parent, here are some of my tried and tested tips for fostering self-belief in your child.

Encourage a growth mindset

Help your child to develop effective learning strategies. Instead of focusing on an outcome (e.g. praising good results) or purely on effort (e.g. you tried so hard…) encourage your child to develop a growth mindset.

Focus on the learning process and encourage your child to view challenges in a positive light. If your child is disappointed with an exam result, for example, ask questions such as:

A growth mindset recognises failure as a fundamental part of any learning experience. It will enable your child to develop greater resilience and to ‘bounce back’ more quickly after setbacks.

Persistence, increased effort, and a willingness to try different strategies will lead to greater academic performance, as well as improved mental health.

A red arrow points down to represent a fixed mindset. A green arrow points up to represent a growth mindset.

Let your child make mistakes 

As a parent, it’s natural to want to support and protect your child. However, it’s equally important to give your child the opportunity to reflect on and learn from their own mistakes.

It’s all too easy to take over and try to fix potential problems − but by acting in this way, you’re actually doing your child a disservice. They need the opportunity to develop their coping strategies and resilience.

By all means provide your child with guidance and reassurance but encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and to find their own solutions.

Listen to and value what they have to say

If your child is feeling stressed or upset, be open and available to talk. Listen to what they have to say and try to be accepting of their feelings.

Rather than telling them that “everything will be alright” − which may inadvertently come across as dismissive − repeat their concerns and explain that it’s natural for them to sometimes feel this way. Be careful, however, not to empower their anxieties.

Be empathetic and encourage them to face their fears. Just talking through different scenarios together and coming up with different outcomes can help your child to manage their anxiety. For example, if they are worried about an upcoming class test, discuss the steps they can take to alleviate their worries, such as making a revision timetable or asking their teacher for extra support.

Dad and daughter sitting on a couch chatting.

Establish a self-care routine

It’s a well-established fact that the benefits of a self-care routine are crucial to both physical and mental well-being. Encourage your child to establish a routine which may include:

Of course, this is easier said than done − but even implementing one or two self-care steps will be beneficial.

Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety

Think carefully about the type of behaviour you’re modelling for your child. A parent who is constantly stressed and fearful will inadvertently transmit such negative behaviours.

Try to implement positive thinking and practical strategies to help manage your stress. If your car won’t start on a Monday morning, rather than ranting and raving, step back from the situation, take a breath, and call your local garage. If your child sees you calmly working through a problem and not letting stress take over, they will mimic this behaviour in their own life. Be more aware of the language you use around your child.

Do you find yourself saying “I can’t cope with…” or “I’m not very good at…”? If so, try to include more positive self-talk.

A stressed and anxious mother sitting on her sofa.

Create a safe home environment 

Having an area of the home to which your child can safely retreat at the end of the school day is important for their mental well-being, allowing them the space to recharge and de-stress. However, providing a calm and relaxed home environment where your child feels confident talking through their worries is equally, if not more, important.

It’s common for children to experience periods of low self-esteem and it can be difficult for you as a parent to know how best to support them.

There’s a fine balance between providing emotional support and allowing them the opportunity to make their own choices.

If you’re concerned that your child’s anxiety or low self-esteem is impacting their day-to-day life, then perhaps it’s worth reaching out to their school or your GP.