Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout
Yesterday marked the official start of my summer break, a time that should have brought relaxation, but instead, I found myself grappling with a sense of anxiety. My husband refers to this as "escalator syndrome," where abruptly stopping after moving at a fast pace can leave us stumbling momentarily, much like stepping off an escalator.
As educators, our summer break sets us apart from other professions. I think it takes on almost mythic proportions in our society as being an endless stretch of time with no obligations...non-teachers often wonder, "What do teachers do in the summer?" Sometimes, even we ourselves imagine it to be longer than it actually is.
So, how can we truly rest, recharge, and prepare for the upcoming school year? The concept of "filling your cup" is something I came across recently that really resonated with me. There are four "cups" or aspects of life that give us a sense of overall well-being: personal, creative, productive and social. Of course each of us has different size "cups" for each of these areas, for example I really need a lot of alone time so my "personal" cup is much larger than my "social"cup. As teachers we often run on half empty because of all the energy we put into our classrooms, curriculum and students. Summer is the perfect time to fill these cups and set up routines to last into the coming school year.
But... the idea of accomplishing this within the span of just eight weeks, our designated teacher summer, can feel overwhelming. In fact, the pressure to relax can even become a source of stress. From talking to other teachers, I understand that I'm not alone in feeling this way. That's precisely why I decided to tap into my art teaching skills and create a summer "curriculum" for myself. This approach ensures that I prioritize nurturing my artistic side, preventing the everyday tasks and the anticipation of the new school year from overshadowing my well-being.
Look for Inspiration All Around You
As teachers, our summer breaks are often filled with various obligations and activities, from taking care of our own children to family commitments, trips, and even volunteering. It can feel overwhelming to think about setting aside an entire day to seek inspiration. However, I've discovered that even short moments of inspiration, squeezed in between the hustle and bustle of daily life, can make a significant impact. Whether it's during those moments of driving our kids from one activity to another or stealing a few minutes during a coffee break, infusing ourselves with inspiration is worth it. These brief interludes have the power to fill our inspiration cups and fuel our creative souls, ultimately enriching our art practice and equipping us with fresh ideas to bring back to our students
Thrift/ Antique Stores: Discovering hidden treasures for artistic inspiration
As art teachers, we don't always need to visit art museums in the city to find inspiration. Some of the most captivating ideas can be discovered right in our local thrift stores, antique shops, or estate sales. It's truly astonishing what treasures can be found in these places. When we stumble upon objects from different time periods, like old postcards and prints, our creativity is sparked. It opens up a fresh perspective on art and culture, invigorating our artistic practices and inspiring new lesson ideas for our students. Let's never underestimate the power of the simple things around us—they hold the potential to become a wellspring of inspiration.
Embrace the Outdoors: Even a Few Minutes Can Make a Difference
Exploring the outdoors is a fantastic way to find inspiration, even when our summer schedules are jam-packed. Last summer, I started fitting in short nature walks right after dropping off my son at camp. I'd explore different neighborhood trails for just 10-20 minutes, without any distractions. It was effortless—I could walk in whatever I was wearing, and it only took a fraction of my time. Yet, the impact on my inspiration and well-being was significant. Whether it's making leaf boats in a creek with kids, tending to a garden daily, or simply enjoying a few minutes on the front stoop with a morning beverage, these small moments in nature can bring beauty, ignite creativity, and recharge our spirits amidst the busyness of summer.
Immerse Yourself in Local Creativity and Inspirational Ambiance
Last summer, my family decided to break our routine of going to the same coffee shop down the street on Saturday mornings. Instead, we ventured out to different coffee shops, not only discovering new neighborhoods and small towns near our home but also immersing ourselves in unique ambiances. The diverse styles, architecture, lighting, smells, and sounds of each coffee shop were intriguing. Most coffee shops display the works of local artists, often providing information about the artists as well. This opens up a world of possibilities for collaboration. You can reach out to the artists, invite them to visit your classes, give workshops, or even take a class yourself. I have discovered that many of these local artists are also art teachers, and through connecting with them, I've formed friendships and found a supportive community. The coffee shop art scene not only inspires my own artistic practice but also presents opportunities for fruitful collaboration and the expansion of artistic networks.
Do the Things You Love
During the summer break, it's important for us teachers to make time to do the things we love. It’s the perfect time to revisit the activities and connections that may have been put on the back burner during the busy school year. It can be something as simple as preparing a special lunch recipe for yourself (let's face it, we're all tired of those sack lunches!). Engaging in these small acts of self-care can make a significant difference in how grounded and fulfilled you feel. The key is to prioritize activities that bring you joy and allow you to reconnect with yourself.
Reconnect with your (non-artistic) hobbies
During the summer break, as teachers, it's essential to reconnect with hobbies that bring us joy and relaxation, even if they are unrelated to visual art. For me, swimming is a top priority. There have been summers when I didn't make time for swimming, and I realized those were the toughest school years. Whether it's puzzles, gardening, hiking, cooking, or any activity you enjoy, make sure to engage in something separate from your art practice. These non-artistic hobbies rejuvenate us, allowing us to return to the school year with renewed passion and energy.
During the summer break, as teachers, we have the chance to reach out to people we haven't had the opportunity to connect with during the busy school year. It's a great time to make plans to see that faraway friend for a weekend or simply meet up with a neighbor for a coffee or a walk. Personally, I like to use the first week of summer to make easy plans with those I haven't seen in a while and ensure they're on the calendar. By prioritizing these social connections, we can enjoy meaningful time with loved ones and strengthen our relationships.
Collaborate with Fellow Artists
During the summer break, it's important for teachers to make time to get together with fellow artists/art educators. You can organize art sessions or workshops to share and learn from each other. One summer, I invited a friend and fellow art teacher to my garage for a day of trying out gelli plate printing. It was so much fun exploring a new medium while catching up and chatting. If you're short on time or traveling, you can also take online classes to learn something new and connect with fellow artists. Many artists offer short workshops in their studios, which can be a perfect way to fill your creative cup. This summer I'm taking the Carefree Florals workshop online with Art with Mrs E and I'm learning so much about acrylic painting that is new to me. I never would have ever thought to start with a neon pink underpainting!
Take Time to Unplug from Technology
During summer break, it's important for us art teachers to take time to unplug from technology. After the past year's lockdowns, I've noticed my increased reliance on my phone for quick dopamine boosts. This summer, I'm committed to disconnecting. I’ve set aside specific moments to check social media or watch favorite YouTubers. These guidelines are there to keep me from mindlessly scrolling.
Disconnecting from screens and technology to reconnect with your inner self.
Disconnecting from technology…it's easier said than done, but taking physical actions can make it happen. This summer, I'm trying different approaches like decluttering my social media and unsubscribing from unnecessary accounts. I leave my phone in another room while sleeping and opt for family walks after dinner instead of watching shows together. When going for a walk or driving, I purposely leave my phone at home or choose music over podcasts to avoid information overload and be more mindful of my thoughts. These steps help me achieve a digital detox and find moments of clarity to reconnect with myself.
Embracing the analog
Engaging in analog forms of entertainment, such as reading a paper book, sketching, or journaling, has a unique way of slowing down time. There's a certain magic that unfolds when you immerse yourself in the pages of a book or let your pen glide across paper. This summer, I've made the deliberate choice to trade in my audiobooks for the tactile experience of reading a paper book. By doing so, I'm forced to focus on one thing at a time instead of constantly multitasking, giving my nervous system a much-needed break from constant stimulation. Engaging with physical objects and doing analog activities brings a sense of calm and presence to the moments of summer, allowing me to savor the simple joys and cultivate a deeper connection with the world around me.
Resist the temptation to book all your appointments in summer
Just a friendly reminder: use your personal days during the school year when you need them, especially for health and dental appointments. I once had a retired colleague who proudly declared she never took a single personal day throughout her entire career. While that kind of dedication is admirable, let's remember that there are no rewards for coming in every single day. Take care of yourself and save your summer for unwinding and fun. Don't cram all your appointments into the summer when you can schedule them at the right time. Your health matters, and using your personal days for essential appointments will ensure you return to the classroom refreshed and ready to give your best to your students.
As summer unfolds, let's remember that "filling our cups" with passion and inspiration doesn't have to be complicated or meticulously planned. As art teachers, we can find inspiration in the simplest of things. Whether it's exploring thrift stores, immersing ourselves in nature, admiring artworks in local coffee shops, or indulging in beloved hobbies, these are all accessible and spontaneous activities that can ignite our creativity. By taking a break from technology, collaborating with fellow artists, and embracing analog experiences, we can reconnect with our inner artistic selves. Let's savor the simplicity of these moments, allowing them to organically fuel our artistic journey this summer.
I'm a high school/middle school art teacher with 16 years of experience. I'm here to help art teachers free up more time and space in their lives through lesson ideas and ready to go content rich, engaging curriculum.