“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it one time or another.”
Teachers, term’s done
Time to put away your planner
(A leisurely long read for the summer holidays)
We’d normally recommend our student planners, but you owe it to yourself and your students to take time out for rest and recuperation. It’s summer time and the living should be easy.
We all know the feeling. You’re not merely tired, but running on empty. Both energy and enthusiasm are on the wane. What fired you up last September no longer fascinates you.
You’re losing your sense of humour, perspective and fun.
This is just one early stage in the journey to burnout. The Maslach Burnout Inventory assesses the severity of such symptoms of career burnout.
Signs include doubts of one’s professional effectiveness, low self-worth, and increasing cynicism.
One burnout self-assessment questionnaire begins with the statements:
“I feel run down and drained of physical or emotional energy.”
“I have negative thoughts about my job.”
“I am harder and less sympathetic with people than perhaps they deserve.”
To which the reader, answers:
Not at All Rarely Sometimes Often Very Often
As mindtools.com puts it:
“Burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career from which they have previously derived much of their identity and meaning.”
When that happens, you know it’s …
… Time to say, “Stuff it!”
Don’t listen to that workaholic voice in your head that says, “Right, chop, chop. Let’s think about September. Let’s get a head-start on lesson prepping and planning.”
The temptation to keep going is, for some, overwhelming, however tired they feel. We kid ourselves that if we work just that bit harder over the summer holidays, the next term will be a breeze. It never is.
Your cogs have been whirring non-stop. You’ve been working 50+ hour weeks for the last however many months. You’ve been marking end of year tests, analysing data, attending meetings, running school trips, working through weekends, and spent a lot of your “downtime” simply worrying. And add to that teaching!
Many feel guilty for saying, “Stuff it”, or words stronger.
But you’re not being lazy. You just need a rest.
Rest to work harder come September
This isn’t to deny your inner workaholic: you’ll be more productive in the long run if you make the most of the summer holidays.
A proper holiday, without work interruptions, works wonders.
When you return to the teaching, something magical has happened. You find you’re firing on all cylinders once again and ready for the fray.
Don’t take our word for it …
More and more research backs this up. Those “in the know” know to rest.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, remarked in an interview with the Guardian:
“A few years ago, after lots of long projects and multitasking and travel, I started to feel the classic effects of burnout. My first response to this was to try to fit more into the day, to try to work harder. But when I was on sabbatical at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, I found that in three months I got an enormous amount of stuff done and did an awful lot of really serious thinking.”
Holiday … time to celebrate!
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice…
It’s time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together to release the pressure
We need a holiday…
The Material Girl was right about one thing.
We celebrate our pupils’ successes, but do we take time to give ourselves a pat on the back?
We dwell on the negatives – a tricky email or a thoughtless comment from a parent or colleague – because we want to “solve” them. But this can be draining and counter-productive.
Time now to celebrate the victories.
Keep a journal. Collect “thank you” notes and take photos of presents.
(This is also a great way to begin preparations for the start of term. But more of this in our next blog.)
Rest is hard work, and you may be out of practice. You may even need to set some rules.
Resist all those things that remind you of work.
You can work from anywhere in the world now. It doesn’t mean that you should.
Switching off means switching off teacher tech: notifications, email, work-based apps. Put away your books, your school tablet, and even your Milk student planner.
Put away anything and everything that reminds you of school.
Time to get serious about having fun
Many swear by leisure pursuits that are hard work, activities that are so demanding that you haven’t the mental space to think or worry about school.
Many swear by the efficacy of “deep play”.
To return to Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says:
“The counterintuitive discovery is that many of the most restorative kinds of rest are actually active. Things like exercise or walks or serious, engaging hobbies do more for you than sitting on the couch binge-watching television. The more supine kinds of rest certainly have their place but active rest delivers the greatest benefits. It also provides occasion for creative reflection.”
Note the number of successful people you know who play an instrument or competitive sport.
You can’t worry about work when you’re focused on technique or your opponent, or enjoying the banter of team sport, or struggling with that chord sequence for the umpteenth time.
If you’re a life-long learner or someone who lives by goals and targets, don’t fight against the grain: just set your own goals for the holidays, not goals for school.
Summer is the perfect time to explore something or somewhere new
A change is as good as a rest, and what better way to forget than a change of pace, place or headspace. With holidays comes the urge to explore.
Film, fiction, food, music and dance are all excellent forms of escapism.
Teachers of History and Classics will recall how holidays were celebrated in the middle ages or ancient Rome and Greece. Storytelling, plays, music, revelry, the carnivalesque, a shift in priorities, perspectives and hierarchies all characterised these occasions.
Holidays are a time to try on new guises. Holidays are the time to play the fool.
Time for a little quiet
Teaching is especially exhausting for those who value or need their quiet time. Schools are sociable and noisy places, and we’re not all sociable and noisy teachers.
With the success of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, much has been written about just how overwhelming school life can be for some introverts.
In 2016, Radio 4 questioned 18,000 people for “the world’s biggest survey on rest”.
Their Top Ten most relaxing pursuits in descending order were: reading, time in nature, being on your own, listening to music, doing nothing in particular, walking, having a bath or shower, daydreaming, watching TV, and, finally, meditating or practising mindfulness.
All essentially solitary pursuits, tellingly.
The BBC followed this up with an article on How being alone may be the key to rest.
There’s also a lot to be said for doing nothing
More studies are looking at the importance of doing nothing very much in particular. Not just worthy pursuits to be done merely out of a sense of duty.
Do what absorbs YOU, not others. You’ve been pleasing other people all year.
Idleness leads to productivity – that’s the paradox. Deep rest and relaxation follow moments of letting the brain lie fallow, the longer, the better.
And let’s not forget that summer is the time to reconnect with family, friends and those people we call on in moments of crisis.
Warning: teacher joke
“I’ll tell you the three reasons I went into teaching: Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.”
This is often told by the jaded common room cynic, but then again these may be the very things that keep you in the profession, and prevent burnout, something that affects all of us at some time.
Holidays should be just that: holidays.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, being virtuous doesn’t mean dispensing with cakes and ale, or whatever else takes your fancy.
Rest, reflect, recharge the batteries.
If teachers have anything to learn, it’s how to relax.
Going easy on ourselves, sadly, isn’t always something we’re very good at.
Have a restful summer and see you all in September.
Now put away those planners!
Mike Dowling and the team at Milk