The Truth about Teacher Burnout

Do you ever feel like you want to…

  • Numb with overeating, drink to excess or supplement with sugar? 
  • Hide away and isolate? 
  • Cry or scream?
  • Sleep for days?

I am no stranger to being ‘not okay’. I didn’t like myself very much when I was deep in the throes of teacher burnout. Going into work every day was something I grew to dread. I was new to a community and didn’t fit in. The school wanted me to go along with a system that I didn’t believe in. I stayed away from other teachers. I felt like a fraud, an outsider and the butt of everyone’s joke.

Nothing I did seemed to make any difference. My frustration and anger had me pull further and further away so I was depleted of all empathy and care. I was emotionally exhausted from caring too much for too long and this had the most negative impact on my self-esteem and worth.

I left teaching and ‘boom’ I thought I’d be healed. 


Fleeing was only the first step. My body got me out of it. My stress response was to flee and so I did. In that way, my body saved me. But that was only the beginning of healing from it. 

And now I see this pain showing up in teachers in my community, in my clients and in my friends. 

I believe that burnout is the next epidemic for educators. 

Teacher Burnout:

A syndrome resulting from prolonged stress due to increasing demands over time. A teacher’s capacity to protect themselves against threats to their self-esteem and wellbeing is disrupted or strained. The coping mechanisms activated to deal with demands fail, increasing stress and threatening mental and physical wellbeing.

Am I at risk for teacher burnout? Use the checklist to identify signs of teacher burnout and note how many you identify with:

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Cynicism or pessimism 
  • Apathy or hopelessness
  • Dread
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anger
  • Emotional turbulence 

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Body aches
  • Tension 
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty sleeping 

Behavioural Symptoms 

  • Decline in productivity
  • Difficulty focussing 
  • Poor performance
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Calling in sick more frequently
  • Emotional outbursts

A Survivor’s Truth about Teacher Burnout

1. You can still feel the stress without the stressor.

Even months after leaving the classroom there was a part of me that went into shame. I should have been able to…How are you going to take care of yourself now...I thought it was weak. That I let them get me down.  Even though the stressor was gone, I hadn’t dealt with my feelings. 

I learned that removing the stressor didn’t mean I didn’t feel bad anymore. Leaving teaching didn’t mean I wasn’t burnt out. You don’t need to wait for stressors to go away to heal and when the stressors do go away, you still need to deal with the stress that is flooding through your body. You have to do something to signal your body you are safe. 

2. Teacher Burnout revealed unhelpful patterns and coping I had relied upon for decades.

I have always had a deep fear of being criticized. I, as many women do, have bought into this paradigm that to be valuable we must serve others. By believing that it is my moral obligation to be calm and patient, and when I would fail the internal critic would be the first to flare up and cast judgement and blame. I’d combat it all with trying to be liked. As my coping mechanisms failed, it sent me deeper and deeper into frustration and overwhelm. 

I have good news for you…. these ideas too can be unlearned!

3. Feeling my feelings saved me.

Even months after leaving the classroom, a holiday and a summer vacation later, many of the feelings and stress responses remained in my body. My mind was ready to move forward long before my body and emotions were. Feeling feelings is a skill I had never learned. I believed emotions were something getting in my way. I thought that if I dealt with the problem that caused the emotion then I would have dealt with the emotion itself. Wrong again. 

Feelings exist in your body whether we like it or not. There was a lot of emotion in my body from my whole life! What I needed to do was to turn towards the suffering (which at the time sucked!) but in the long run this was the only way though.

4. Teacher Burnout Cycles repeat themselves if left untreated.

Learning about my feelings meant I had to understand feelings a lot better. Emily and Amelia Nagoski describe emotions as natural cycles of the body. They are normal and happen everywhere and all the time.

I like to think of emotions as waves with a trough and a swell and crest (a beginning, middle and end). If you ride the wave you get to the end, if you try to stop the wave…well, you get slammed in the face or maybe drown. Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion and can’t find our way through. This happens a lot with really heavy emotions like rage, grief, despair and anger that are too hard to navigate on our own. Getting stuck in emotions leads to dis-ease. We can stay in this chronic stress state for days, weeks (months in my case).  

5. There is so much more in our control than we think!

My favourite part of my teacher burnout definition above is this: “The coping mechanisms activated to deal with demands fail” because this is where our power rests. It means we get to activate new ways of coping… and there are plenty! (yes, it’s hard to do a new thing because of our brain wiring, but it’s totally possible and totally within our capabilities)

We waste too much energy stuck in trying to control and understand and blame the stressors. But it’s the coping strategies we are tuning into that are the problem. Being stuck is the problem. 

Ever said – “I just don’t know what to do!”  

Now you do.

Try this:

Acknowledge that you can’t continue to push through anymore. Acknowledge what you can control and what you can’t. 

I couldn’t control the school-wide expectations, I couldn’t control the parent behaviour, I couldn’t control the schedule or infinite interruptions or attitudes of the children, the list goes on. Then turn towards the difficult feeling with awareness and acceptance – kindness, compassion, so you can finish the feelings and ride the wave. 

I had to learn new ways to signal my body that I am safe. For me that took the form of yoga where I learned to attune to my inner world and move and breathe. And getting a coach to help me navigate the hard feelings and how to listen to my body.

The Biggest Truth of all

  • We need you.
  • Your families need you. 
  • The students need you.
  • Your colleagues need you.
  • We need you taking care of you. 

The cure for teacher burnout is in caring for one another and caring for yourself… In your house, in your team, in a trusted friend. In a coach.

Most Efficient Ways to Diffuse Stress:

  1. Physical activity – get the hormones and chemicals moving! (dance, walk, zumba, yoga, running)
  2. Breathing – regulate the nervous system with 1-2 minutes of deep belly breaths. 
  3. Positive social interaction – laugh, look into eyes, hug and listen, create a deeper connection with others. 
  4. Cry! Allowing the emotion to go all the way to the end. Turn towards the physical experience of crying, the sensation of heat, the water, the snot, not feeding it more thoughts about the cause of the stress but feelings in your body. Feeling it all the way through only takes a few moments. 
  5. Create – take something difficult and put it outside of yourself. 

ANDREA TESSIER is a master educator and wellness coach for teachers.  She helps educators overcome teacher burnout and overwhelm and fall back in love with teaching again so they can experience freedom and make an impact that inspires others and changes lives. Informed by 13 years in the classroom, a degree in advanced psychology and a deep dive into personal inquiry she supports educators on their journey to heal, love and rediscover their passion.

Andrea is the founder of Conscious Classrooms – a wellness coaching business that supports educators around the world. Andrea believes that education is the pathway to a positive future and educators are the guides that help children thrive. By giving teachers the value that they deserve, classrooms can be spaces of conscious authenticity.

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