Skip to Content

Teacher Burnout Symptoms: 7 Signs Something’s Gotta Give!

Teacher Burnout Symptoms: 7 Signs Something’s Gotta Give!

By:

Burnout Symptoms & Advice By Jane Morris

The World Health Organization’s 2019 definition of burnout lists it as a legitimate occupational experience that organizations need to address. While not classified as a medical condition, it can easily lead to serious health problems, both mental and physical. Burn-out is a syndrome that can happen in any job that is caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been managed. It is characterized by main symptoms: exhaustion, unusually high lack of interest or care about the job, and just not doing it that well anymore.

What is Teacher Burnout?

The stages of teacher burnout is more complex because our jobs have so many different facets and we have a staggering amount of responsibilities. Yes, the effects of teacher burnout include feeling exhausted all the time but this is way more extreme than the usual exhaustion we are used to. The mental and physical exhaustion resulting from burnout makes it almost impossible to get the job done.

Another symptom common with burnout that is more extreme for teachers is basically not caring anymore about “your why.” We are often told to remember our “why” by administrators or professional development specialists when we are struggling to manage stress and fatigue.

Teachers tend to have more of a strong philosophy for why they keep showing up to a job that is so difficult and pays so poorly, or else we just wouldn’t do it anymore. This “why” is usually about caring for kids and wanting to make the next generation better than the one we grew up on.

When someone is burning out as a teacher, they no longer know or care why they are doing it. They just know that they have intense feelings of not being able to do it anymore. And in a job as stressful as teaching, if you don’t know or care why you’re there, the paycheck is not going to be enough to motivate you to continue. This is when something has to change.

The Stages of Teacher Burnout

Stage 1: You still want to teach, for the most part, but you’re extremely overwhelmed.

Stage 2: You’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and don’t know if you want to teach anymore.

Stage 3: You know you don’t want to teach anymore, and you don’t know if you actually can, regardless of motivation.

Stage 4: You know that you can’t teach anymore because you are completely breaking down, physically and mentally.

Quiz: Are You Burning Out as a Teacher?

How often do you wake up already feeling exhausted and anxious about the day’s tasks? 

Never- 0 pts.

Once or Twice a week- 1 pt.

A few times a week- 2 pts.

Every day- 3 pts.

How often do you feel ineffective at your job? (personal feelings, not something some awful person at work has told you)

Never- 0 pts.

Once or Twice a week- 1 pt.

A few times a week- 2 pts.

Every day- 3 pts.

How often do you feel you will never be able to keep up with the workload?

Never- 0 pts.

Once or Twice a week- 1 pt.

A few times a week- 2 pts.

Every day- 3 pts.

How often do you feel like you don’t even care anymore if you do a good job at work?

Never- 0 pts.

Once or Twice a week- 1 pt.

A few times a week- 2 pts.

Every day- 3 pts.

How often do you get excited or energized by something (anything) at work? 

Every day- 0 pts.

A few times a week- 1 pt.

Once or twice a week- 2 pts.

Never- 3 pts.

Add one point for each of the following mental/physical health issues you can attribute solely to your job (include extra points for any condition not listed here):

Anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, suicidal ideation, feelings of worthlessness, paranoia, ADD/ADHD, heart palpitations, stomach problems, digestion problems, significant weight gain/loss

Signs of Teacher Burnout SCORE

0-5: You’re probably not burned out but the fact that you are reading this article should be a red flag and you should take a look at ways to avoid teacher burnout

6-10 :You’re approaching burnout and should take a look at how to stop teacher burnout just to be sure

11 & up: You have all the symptoms of teacher burnout and need to look into teacher burnout recovery ASAP!

The 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout: Symptoms to AVOID

1. Exhaustion

The word “exhausted” gets thrown around quite a bit. But when we’re talking about teacher burnout symptoms, this is much more serious than being really tired after a long week. This is the kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away, even when you have somehow had a proper rest period and have taken good care of yourself.

Interestingly, the dictionary defines exhaustion as “the state of using something up or of being used up completely.” This feels very similar to the feeling of burning out as a teacher. You are a “candle” who has burned down to nothing, so there is nothing left to give.

If you still aren’t sure if you are experiencing this symptom of teacher burnout, ask yourself if you would describe yourself as any of the following on a regular basis: overtired, weary, lethargic, depleted, drained.

2. Anxiety

“Anxiety” is another word that is used too often in our society. But it is actually a serious condition, not just being worried about the future. Serious anxiety involves a constant and intense worry about everyday situations.

As far as signs of teacher burnout, this would mean a persistent and extreme feeling of worry about work, especially when outside the workplace. If you still aren’t sure if you are experiencing this stage of teacher burnout, ask yourself if you would describe yourself as any of the following on a regular basis: dread, intense fear, obsessive thoughts, panic.

3. Hopelessness

This is a very serious symptom of a teacher burning out, and it is important to distinguish hopelessness about work from hopelessness about life in general. If you feel like what you are doing at work is not making a difference with the students and/or the work only gets more difficult and torturous, this could be described as hopelessness about teaching.

If you feel hopeless about life, like there is no point in living or your life has no value, this is very serious, and you should seek professional help immediately.

If you don’t know how hopeless you feel about work, ask yourself how often you feel that your students aren’t listening to you or learning anything or that the work gets more awful every day.

4. Constant feelings of confusion

This was a big one for me. For my first ten years of teaching, I barely needed to write anything down. Lessons and locations of materials were all in my brain and easy for me to access when needed. As the job got more stressful and I started to burn out, I couldn’t remember a lot of things, and no amount of notes made me feel more in control.

As expectations increased, so did feelings of confusion. It wasn’t until I left teaching and handled so many other responsibilities in life smoothly that I realized my brain wasn’t the problem; teaching was. Ask yourself how often at work you feel confused, forgetful, unsure, indecisive, and just a general feeling of brain fog.

5. Cynicism

Cynicism is similar to feelings of hopelessness but with more anger, pain, and snark. Have you become the Debbie Downer at the lunch table (when that wasn’t your usual state of being?) Are you no longer making sarcastic jokes or venting but complaining with anger a majority of the time?

I am kind of this person on a regular basis, but the difference for me as I experienced teacher burnout was that I was bringing these feelings into the classroom. For 13 years, I kept my complaining to the lounge and other adults, but more recently, I was sharing these feelings with my students.

For me, this turned into a coping mechanism that was spiraling out of control. No matter how awful student behavior is, we can’t share with them how much they are making us want to bang our heads into a brick wall. It’s a cardinal rule of teaching, and if you’re finding yourself sharing these negative feelings with students a lot, this is a big symptom of teacher burnout.

6. Overwhelming mental health problems

Many adults struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, etc., but if you are experiencing more of these than usual and they are more severe in nature, that is a big effect of teacher burnout. According to recent studies, one in five teachers feel depressed.

This number has increased significantly in the last ten years. If you are on multiple medications for anxiety, depression, etc. to help you get through the school year, and you don’t seem to need them during the summer, that is a major sign of teacher burnout.

7. Overwhelming physical health problems

If you also have several health problems that you don’t have in the summer (or they aren’t nearly as bad), such as high blood pressure, palpitations, stomach problems, digestion problems, significant weight gain/loss, etc., this is a major red flag that you need to recover from teacher burnout. You do not have to live your life in pain, especially when there is one thing causing the pain that you can walk away from.

How to Avoid Teacher Burnout

Quit lol! Teacher Career Coach Plug

Self-Care Coping Strategies for Teacher Burnout

  • JUST SAY NO! They are always going to try to suck you into doing as many unpaid extra duties as they can. Unless they specifically tell you that you have to do something, OPT OUT. Make NO your new, short little life philosophy. I actually knew a group of teachers who got the word “NO” tattooed on their wrists as a constant reminder to put themselves first and not give in to being overworked and, well, burnt out!
  • Refuse to think about work or check your email when not at work. You’re not a doctor and should not be expected to be on-call! You certainly don’t get paid like one. Wait till Sunday night when you’re anxious anyway, or get to school extra early on Mondays to weed through the emails
  • Schedule time in your calendar for something you love (even if you have to lie). What relaxes you? For me, it’s being cozy in bed with my dogs and a good novel. If you can’t find the time to do the thing that relaxes you, well, as my students would say, “You doin’ too much!” Even if you have to lie and say you have a doctor’s appointment when really you are going for a hike, do it. It’s not really a lie because it is for your mental and physical health.
  • Put up a wall, also known as try not to take it personally. Good lord is this hard for me! I wear my heart on my sleeve and take everything personally. But I’ve gotten better at erecting a mental wall that refuses to let anyone affect me who doesn’t truly know me. A parent is cursing me out? Thou shall not pass my mental wall, crazy person!

Recovering from the Symptoms of Teacher Burnout

Can you recover from Teacher Burnout? Yes. Does that mean you can’t go back to teaching? Maybe.

Teacher burnout recovery is entirely possible, and the easiest way is to stop teaching for a long while. How long? I would say you need to stay away from any school for at least one year.

The other teacher burnout recovery strategies involve essential self-care. Get back to the basics. Eat a healthy diet. Get a lot of rest. Drink more water. Stop talking about and thinking about school.

For me, I left in a traumatic way due to trauma at work, and it took at least six months until I felt like myself again. You can read more about that trauma and the feelings that ensued here. I had low self-esteem as far as what I was capable of and just felt like a sad, broken-down mess. But the father away I got from the situation and the more validation I received from peers, the stronger I became.

If you are going to stay in teaching for whatever reason, take as long of a break as possible and then consider switching schools, grade levels, districts, etc. Just make sure you put up that wall and make the word NO your new best friend. You are not a candle with a cute inspirational quote on it. You are a human being. So if you must teaching, then carry on my friend. But as this viral post on toxic positivity urges, refuse to burn down!

Jane Morris, Author

Bio picture for the author and founder of Teacher Misery, Jane Morris.Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.

Attention! Some of the links present in this article may be affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through the link, we might generate a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links. All of this revenue goes back into Teacher Misery and the mission of improving it and the lives of teachers everywhere. As always, thank you for all your support! :)))

Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.