Monday, September 7, 2009


It didn't take long. I felt like I may have even accomplished it the first day of school. But there are few things worse than the overwhelming and complete feeling of having burned out on your job. I did it this weekend. Last week I was reminded of just how far behind I was teaching three new courses (two of which are AP) and decided I would spend my weekend catching up, and I did. The only problem is that after working three days straight, I have to go back to school tomorrow, and I don't really like the idea of teaching right now. It's too much. I hate it. I feel awful.

It's easy to get this way in teaching. Ít's a lot of pressure. Teaching is important; it matters. And if you mess it up, there are serious consequences for all of us. So when you're behind and you stay up nights working, and people tell you that you need to stop and take a break, you feel like it would be wrong. It doesn't really matter that I've put 30 hours into my job this weekend. I can't stop; I'm still behind. If I don't take care of it, my kids will suffer.

Ideally all of this could have been avoided if the school would simply have told me what I'd be teaching back in June or July, or even the first week of August. I could have been creating assessments, course outlines, unit plans, and instruction back then instead of trying to do it now in the middle of trying to grade papers, call parents, deal with meetings, and process all of the other things that come with the day-to-day teacher life. Oh well....

Burnout is a seriously debilitating state of mind. I feel like I've worked so tremendously hard, but also know that I have a long way to go. And the worst part is looking at all the work I've accomplished, and questioning whether it actually leads to better teaching. Sure - I can align my standards with objectives, assessments, essential questions, and enduring understandings, but when I look at the activities I've created to teach all of this stuff, it looks like the same old instruction I got in high school and hated:

"Who invented the Spinning Jenny? Good. How did the steam engine impact the world? Hmmmm, not quite - look at your notes again."

That instruction might align with standards and objectives, and I might be more certain that more of my kids remember it for the test when I'm done, but it's not inspirational. They probably won't remember it except to pass the test. So I can show my administrators I'm doing my job, but it's not the kind of stuff that changes kids' dispositions about life. It's not changing the way they view and interact with their world. It's not the kind of stuff I felt I could do when I taught in Seattle and nobody was constantly watching me to make sure I was aligning with standards.

I don't know what to make of it, but right now it's depressing. I can't stop thinking about teaching and it's bringing me down. What difference am I really making with all of this. Hopefully I'll reconcile the standards with the inspiration at some point soon in my career, but for right now I think I need to stop thinking about teaching for a little while....

Too bad I'm teaching tomorrow.


  1. I would say that this will teach you to leave places like RHS, but...I won't. =) It sounds like it's time for a day of exploring DC, or at least a day of sleeping and possibly mindless tv. Do you even have days off at this school? I am sorry, it is a little early for burnout. There is a line between motivating teachers to work harder and burning them out on week 3.

    Good luck. Homecoming is in October, come visit us.

  2. ok, part of that sounded wrong. I am sorry about how burned out you are feeling. It sucks to feel useless as a teacher and it's really early in the year for that to be hitting. That's what I meant.

  3. Hot damn. You are most eloquent when you are feeling deeply, James. Here are four guidelines that help me get through each teaching year

    * You're allowed to skip one meeting a year, and for entirely selfish reasons - guilt-free. Don't even tell people you won't be showing up. Just don't.

    * Ask for forgiveness, not permission. (Not a rule I would live or love by, but definitely one to teach by.)

    * If you're having a stressful month, make a neat stack of pending paperwork on your desk. Let it build. A few weeks later, revisit it. If there are certain people who need their special forms at particular times, they will contact you again, and you will do those forms for them, and they won't say thank you. Because you don't deserve it. That's okay. The rest of the pile will expire. Or stay pending. And you can do the pending stuff when you're less stressed.

    * Student work: Collect all of it; read most of it; grade some it. Recycle the rest. Seriously. You can put whole stacks of student work in the recycling bin and they will NEVER ask about it. It feels like drowning kittens at first, but you get used to it.

    I don't know if these will work in your highly managed environment, but you could try. ;)

    Miss you!