Tips for Handling Remote Burnout for Teachers

Office workers have developed remote work practices for more than a decade, perfecting the art of creating home offices and avoiding distractions. Teachers never had that luxury. Not only is remote work impossible when you manage a class of 30 or more students, but it’s even harder when all of your students are also logging in from their houses. 

Over the past three months, most teachers across the country have switched to online learning, trying to teach over zoom calls and webcams. They had to make their lessons possible digitally and created new projects and activities that could be done online. This was a massive undertaking for educators who were given little time (and even less appreciation) for their work. 

Even as your coursework approaches summer break, you may be facing remote burnout from this spring while feeling overwhelmed looking ahead. Here is how you can fight burnout for the benefit of your students and your own mental health.

Create Prerecorded Lessons and FAQs for Your Students

When possible, create recorded lessons and materials that you can present to the class. This is particularly useful if you are a middle or high school educator who teaches the same class multiple times each day. 

Your courses don’t have to be entirely prerecorded. James Hill, a ukulele musician and instructor, explains that he uses a combination of live and prerecorded video to guide his music lessons. He calls this a “zoom sandwich.” He starts the lesson with a prerecorded clip to give the student something to work toward, then moves into the live lesson, ending with another prerecorded clip or two for follow-up. By setting up recordings ahead of time, educators don’t have to worry about screen lags and can avoid the exhaustion that comes from being online all day.

This can be achieved outside of the music classroom as well. Educators Edna Murugan, Ph.D. and Noura Badawi, Ed.D. write that students tend to have the same questions each class — and each semester. By preparing answers ahead of time, you can pull them from your resources or send out the information to students beforehand.

If your state or region is offering online summer courses or considering staying remote through the fall, save your online materials and improve upon them so you don’t have to create new lesson plans for each class and each semester.

Find Existing Materials Already Proven Effective

Most teachers have scrambled to move their hands-on learning and in-class materials online. This isn’t an easy process. 

It takes time to create lessons for distance learning, says Michael Barbour, associate professor of instructional design at Touro University California. In fact, planning for live sessions can take up to three times as long while prerecorded lessons can take up to eight times as long. It’s no wonder that teachers right now are facing burnout because they are expected to take all of their existing lessons and make them digital.

Don’t spend each of your waking hours trying to create original lesson plans and activities. Your personal time is just as important as professional time, maybe even more, Chris Zook writes at Applied Education Systems. It is okay to find existing lesson plans and use educational resources by NASA, Google and other large-scale companies.

remote burnout

Take Time for Yourself

Setting boundaries for when you are available to students and when you are offline is key to preventing burnout. Educator wellness consultant Kiesha Easley says staying offline until you need to clock-in to school can help you conduct basic self-care in the morning. This sets the tone for the day.

Just because you can login right when you wake up to start answering emails and addressing student concerns doesn’t mean you have to — and you shouldn’t feel pressured to constantly be working. 

“The guilt we get from not being productive, which itself comes from the prevailing cult of productivity in higher education, doesn’t and shouldn’t have a place among our most important concerns today,” Rebecca Pope-Ruark, Ph.D., author of “Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching,” writes. “These are not conditions for productivity… these are conditions that can quickly lead to burnout, especially if you were on that path before the pandemic.”

Taking evening and weekends off and using your full lunch break to take a walk is part of the self-care needed to avoid remote teaching burnout this semester.

Taking time to yourself also means stepping away from the media and other current events. In an article from the Inclusion Lab, adapted from Susan Craig’s book “Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt,” teachers are encouraged to avoid exposure to “violent” or “gruesome” media. These stressors can negatively impact your “overall mindset.” In the middle of a pandemic, this is almost any news story. You can stay connected to the news — and your students will have questions about it — but don’t spend your downtime fixating on new cases and stressors on the economy.   

remote burnout

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

If social media has achieved one thing, it is making it significantly easier to judge your actions and abilities compared to other educators. 

It just takes looking at some Pinterest images to feel inadequate, writes Lindsay Smith at Not So Wimpy Teacher. “The thing is, we rarely take pictures that show our weaknesses,” she explains. Plus, you don’t have to reach those levels of perceived perfection. Right now, you just have to be there to help your students learn.  

“Many people who go into the teaching profession have high standards for themselves, and might even have some perfectionist tendencies,” writes third grade teacher Wendy Lipe. “These personality traits often lead teachers to compare themselves to others, and…this undue pressure can also contribute to eventual burnout.” 

No one was prepared to switch to fully-remote teaching so quickly. While you may want to have perfect lesson plans and act like you made the transition seamlessly, it is human to have some problems and frustrations related to the transition.

Limit Your Emotional Investment

Beyond moving lessons online, teachers are also tasked with helping students understand what is going on in their communities and even within their families. This means answering tough questions and supporting students who have watched their worlds get flipped upside down. 

“In this high anxiety historic moment of a global pandemic directly affecting teachers and students, teachers are rapid-cycling through the many roles they fill in the lives of the children in their care — educator, counselor, parent, nurse, mentor or coach,” writes Michelle Kinder, coauthor of “WHOLE: What Teachers Need to Help Children Thrive.”

Limiting emotional involvement is easier said than done. But remember, you can’t solve every problem. The more you worry about each student, the more you will feel inadequate for not being able to help.

Listen When People Say You Are Burned Out

It is entirely possible that your significant other, your family and your friends can see how burned out you are. In fact, everyone but you may be aware of your situation.

Educator James Anthony says he burned out without knowing it. He compares burnout to living in a bubble: “people will tell you that you are working too hard – but you know best. It’s the job…they don’t understand.” 

He thought going above and beyond was a service to his students and a sign of his commitment to his job, but the job really took a toll on his physical mental health. He shares a quiz that you can take in less than a minute to see how close to burnout you are — and to see if you are in your own bubble of denial.

The team at Advancement Courses created a fun graphic with the six signs of burnout. For example, you may have felt irritable for a long time and simply assumed it was due to outside causes, rather than your own internal frustration. Other signs of burnout include isolation and anxiety or depression. 

Know That the Pandemic Ending Won’t Eliminate Your Burnout

To assess how teachers are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence surveyed more than 5,000 teachers. “The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad,” they report. “Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

However, compare these emotions to those surveyed by another 5,000 teachers by the researchers in 2017, where the five-most mentioned feelings were: frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, tired and happy. Even before the global pandemic, many teachers felt they had an uphill battle educating students and making a difference in their lives.   

This Yale survey isn’t the only one to highlight teacher burnout. Researchers at the University of Missouri College of Education found that 94 percent of middle school teachers experience high levels of stress. Keith Herman, professor at the University of Missouri and one of the researchers, says that teachers aren’t getting the support they need to cope with the stressors of their jobs. Without this support system, teachers risk burning out or limiting their ability to help their students succeed.

Even if classes return in the fall and the worst of the pandemic has passed, you may still have lingering feelings of burnout from working remotely, or even from teaching as a whole. This indicates that your burnout needs to be addressed and treated. 

Breathe, This Too Will Pass

Burnout is a natural feeling across many careers and industries. It usually symbolizes a need for you to make changes, either in how you teach or who you teach. 

“When you are feeling burned out, it can be easy to think something is wrong with you,” says high school teacher Meghan Mathis. “It’s perfectly normal and healthy to have ebbs and flows in your profession.” 

Burnout doesn’t mean you are a bad teacher, or unfit for your profession or that you need to find a new career. Every teacher has good years and bad years, and the good years propel them through the burnout of the bad ones. You can feel burned out and still have a passion for teaching. 

You may be scrambling to create resources and connect with your students remotely while schools are closed during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you need to turn teaching into a 24-hour job. Know when to give yourself to your students and when to step back for yourself. This will help you through the summer and into the fall semester. 

Images by: Kurhan/©123RF.com, Andriy Popov/©123RF.com, Tumisu, FirmBee

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