Right after finishing teachers college I went to go teach in China for a year. 11 years later I returned back home. That seems to be how it goes for many of us globetrotters.
I’d had a thriving teaching career for 11 years before the burnout kicked in but it took me over two years to realize it. For those first 11 years I taught internationally, working in mainland China, the Middle East and in Hong Kong.
As an IB PYP teacher I pursued excellence in my craft and adventure in my personal life. I taught with global educators who inspired me and challenged me. The students I taught were truly remarkable – they took inspired action, they were curious and questioned the world around them, they sought deep and meaningful inquiry and resources to help them find answers. It sounds magical, and it really was. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have hard days, or stressful moments, but they were manageable and I could always recover.
As many of us are at some point, I was called to move back to Canada.
It’s when I look back at those last two years of teaching that I see the burnout clearly, like a slow, steady car crash, yet at the time I had no idea that was what was happening to me. I can now say that I do not blame returning to Canada nor the schools that I was fortunate enough to teach at. It’s important to be clear here. I know now, with perfect hindsight visions, that my burnout did not happen because of external factors around me but because of how I was relating to those factors.
When I was ‘in it’ – I mean deep in the throws of burnout – I would never have said that I didn’t blame the schools, the system, even the parents and the kids – because I really did. I was emotional, angry, frustrated and it was everyone else’s fault. It was their lack of organization, their system, their schedule, their leadership style. I blamed everyone else and isolated myself.
Time away on weekends was never enough to fully recover mentally. I gained weight. I was tired all the time. And I was highly critical of myself. My ‘survival routine’ looked like quick fixes like the glass of wine and zoning out on Netflix to avoid the pain of accepting where I was and my part in it. Even during all of this I wouldn’t have called it burnout.
I dreaded going into work every day. It was a new community to me and I didn’t fit in. I had to go along with a system that I didn’t believe in. My isolation from other teachers increased. I felt like a fraud, an outsider.
On top of it all, I felt like nothing I did made any difference. My frustration and anger had me pull further and further away so I was depleted of all empathy and care. Which was so not like me. I was emotionally exhausted from caring too much for too long and this had the most negative impact on my self-esteem and worth.
Like I said, it was a lot of blaming. A lot of complaining, a lot of avoiding and a lot of wine (and sugary treats in my desk drawer). I shut down. I gave up. My patience wore very thin. I didn’t have the energy to fight for it or even rise above.
I thought I would feel amazing once I left the job. So I did. While I admit, I contemplated breaking the contract, I made it to the very last day and I biked away, flipping the bird as pedalled off as fast as I possibly could.
I left teaching thinking 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.
I only began to see my burnout when I began my journey of healing. It was only then that I could take a step back and see all the symptoms and signs. I was relying on some old faithful coping mechanisms as a way to self-protect. The perfectionism, the people pleasing, the inner critic. You name it. They worked for a time, until they didn’t. By understanding my own conditioning and accepting it, I began to heal.
Stress Centers in a teacher’s life right now run the gamut from;
On top of these common job stressors, I know deeply the stressors of the International Educator including moving to a new country and integrating into a new culture, culture shock – on arrival and reverse culture shock when you return home, finding your new tribe or family and creating and sustaining new connections and handling homesickness.
Even when we love it, even if it’s our mission and purpose, it’s a lot to manage.
After my own healing journey, I retraced my steps and realized I have the education and experience and empathy to help teachers overcome burnout so they can create transformational classrooms and lead inspired lives. So they can have the classroom they want and energy for the life outside of work too.
My wish for teachers this year is to know and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of teacher burnout. This gives them a greater chance than I had in my denial and blame – from here you can empower yourself with choice! There is so much power in that.
I look forward to sharing more ideas about teacher wellness, from a holistic perspective, over the next few months. I specialize in teacher burnout and stress and hope to share some of the stories, experiences and knowledge I’ve gained from burning out with you – so you don’t have to.
ANDREA TESSIER is a master educator turned wellness coach for teachers. She helps teachers overcome 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. It is built on the belief that education is the pathway to a positive future and that educators are the guides that help children thrive. By giving teachers the value that they deserve, classrooms can be spaces of conscious authenticity. Through 1:1 coaching, group coaching and professional development at the school level, teachers rediscover the joy in teaching and lead inspired lives both inside and outside the classroom.
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