The Blog

Teachers: Burnt Out or Burning Brightly?

Who do you want in front of your kids for over 500 hours of their formative years - a stressed, intolerant screeching banshee or a calm, compassionate and flexible human being with a sense of humour?

Who do you want in front of your kids for over 500 hours of their formative years - a stressed, intolerant screeching banshee or a calm, compassionate and flexible human being with a sense of humour?

"Teachers who experience burnout are less likely to demonstrate sympathy and caring to their students, have less tolerance for disruptive behaviour, and are less dedicated to their work" Farber & Miller 1981

As a newly qualified teacher I was energetic, enthusiastic and full of ideas. Inspired and loving the opportunity to really make a difference in the world, I would be in school by 7am. Splitting my day between Drama, Art and English, I dashed from one end of the massive school to the other, shouldered books and resources through heaving corridors of students, and scaled endless flights of stairs. If that didn't keep me fit, nothing would (or so I thought!).

As well as coping with the usual demands - challenging behaviour, hormonal students examining boards, academic mentors and political diktats - I embraced all the opportunities offered to me and then created more if they didn't exist! I volunteered to assist with the Special Needs group, started an art club, stage managed and co-directed the school production and supported my students any which way I possibly could.

As you can imagine, as a virgin teacher, on virgin territory, I was pretty pooped by the end of the first term, despite having three amazing mentors. I tried not to be too concerned by my levels of exhaustion as the Christmas term is renowned for being a toughie and all my colleagues looked pretty shattered too. I focused on the positive - my heart was happy, I had survived my initiation, and my students and I were making progress together - and assumed that I would recover during the Christmas holidays.

But, by the end of the second term I was really starting to feel fatigued. My connections with the students were strengthening, but I was getting weaker. I ignored the signs - shrugging them off as inevitable for a newbie teacher. By the third term, however, I was dragging myself around the school. My Head of Faculty encouraged me to lie down under her desk to recover during lunch so I could keep going in the afternoon.

The improvements in my students' achievements and self esteem buoyed me enough to scrape my way to the end of the year where the promised land of the summer break surely awaited. But, I was too sick to enjoy it. I ended up in hospital, had major surgery and spent many months recovering. I was burnt out. I had literally burnt my body out. I'd like to say it didn't take too long to recover, but it did. I have never fully recovered and still suffer the symptoms of what I did to myself in the name of great teaching.

I still thank my lucky stars that I burnt my body out not my mind or heart like so many colleagues: suicide for UK teachers is 40% higher than the national average. But, I knew that if I wanted to continue teaching - which I loved and fulfilled my heart and soul - I had to do it differently. I could not risk making myself ill again, nor for that matter forego spending genuine quality time with my husband, family or friends for another year!

I had a second chance. I had to change. I learnt to meditate. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is why I had to begin an education revolution where wellbeing was not just put back on the agenda, but prioritised for the sake of our children.

I began taking Mindful, heart centred, conscious 'tools' into schools. My aim was to ensure every child knew how to manage their stress and cope with the pressures of their life early, so that they would have the skills to embrace the rollercoaster to come. But, unsurprisingly, every time I trained the students, their teachers would look at me pleadingly and say "what about us?"

So I created the "Getting in the Right State for Teaching" training programme. If we equip our teachers with Mindful, healthy and resilient skills, they will not only perform better in the classroom, be better able to cope with the physical and emotional demands of teaching, but will also be the best role models for our kids.

My mission is to inspire Mindful, heart centred teaching and learning. I want to develop conscious classrooms throughout the world - where every teacher and student is valued and feels valuable. My book, Every Teacher Matters - Inspiring Wellbeing through Mindfulness, is the cornerstone for this education revolution, where the human being comes before human doing.

By Kathryn Lovewell