Being a music educator is incredibly rewarding. You are instilling passion, respect and creativity in your students. The benefits of music education are well-documented and you play a key role in showing just how important music is in the life of your students.
But, being an educator also comes with many stresses and frustrations and you’ve likely experienced teacher burnout at least once in your career. Your district may have a teacher shortage or experience high teacher turnover rates. You probably work long and sometimes unpredictable hours. You’re constantly fighting for budget for everything from instruments to accessories to sheet music and more. You may feel undervalued by students, parents or your employer. Some of the teacher burnout symptoms you could experience include exhaustion, anxiety, depression, a feeling of isolation, feeling overwhelmed and more. Some burned out teachers even consider career changes.
Feeling burned out is natural. But it’s important to take care of yourself, mentally and physically, so you can move forward. While each educator’s experience is unique, here are some ways to ease burnout, or possibly even avoid it completely!
- Maintain a life outside of your job. You want to be the best educator you can be, which means you get up early and stay up late planning, researching, studying and preparing. But you need to find balance – make time for exercise, hang out with friends and family, take advantage of holidays and vacation and get away for new perspectives.
- Find opportunities with each challenge. Maybe a student damaged an expensive tuba or a shipment of reeds didn’t arrive in time for a performance. It may not be easy to stay calm in the moment, but once you have some time to reflect on a tense situation or a rough day, try to find a lesson or a chance to learn. Could you have handled the circumstances differently? Could you have had a contingency plan? Did someone else handle the problem in a positive way that you can mimic next time? Was there a way you could have avoided the situation altogether? Look for the silver lining in every cloud.
- Nurture your relationships with other teachers. You are not isolated and you’re not the only one feeling stress and burn out. Talk with your co-workers (inside and outside music and arts programs), find out how they deal with their frustrations, commiserate with each other. Feeling like you’re part of a larger team can be motivating and inspiring and can give you energy.
- Incorporate humor and laughter in your classroom. Start each class with a joke or a funny 2-minute YouTube video (keep it music related so you don’t get too far off track). One day a month, hold practice while all wearing funny hats/costumes. Incorporate funny tongue twisters into your warm up activities. Just a few moments of levity and laughter can brighten up the day for you and your students.
- Plan activities that have nothing to do with school – especially over summer and holiday breaks. It’s tempting to use your time off to plan and get ahead and sure, you’ll likely need to spend some of your vacation doing just that. But be sure to reserve time for non-school events! You need time to rest and recharge.
- Be selfish. It’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes. You need to address your own needs and health. Your job is not everything you are.
- Incorporate down time into your classes. Your students probably feel burned out too. If you’ve planned a difficult rehearsal, leave the last five minutes to play a fun song or incorporate some of that humor we talked about above. Or alternate tough and regimented activities with some free-form and lighter moments.
When you’re feeling stressed and frustrated, it may feel like nothing will ease it. Incorporate these tips into your routine or listen to what your peers do to combat anxiety in their lives. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling burned out, but try to remember why you wanted to be a music educator and rekindle that passion.