On Teacher Burnout

It is the third week of the school year, and I am already contemplating the fact that I might not make it through my first year of teaching.

There’s a lot of factors at play here–the stress and difficulty of my cross country move being a large one; not only do I feel lonely, but the majority of my time outside of school is spent in trying to do things like procure groceries, unpack my luggage, buy a lamp, or find the UPS depot to pick up a package (and end up losing over three hours of my night to their disorganization; thanks UPS!). Many of the factors that are burning me out are not school-specific ones.

However, there are several issues that are issues many schools face.

For one, I suffer a significant lack of materials. My curriculum–which was assigned to me by my school–is based entirely around handouts and reading packets. However, I am denied photocopy paper and the machine is rarely stocked with paper. Somehow, I need to make a minimum of ten pages of copies per student per day, but I am not provided with the materials. Without the copies, however, I can’t teach the content.

When I DO manage to make copies, I have to stick to the bare minimum. With ninth graders, you need to give them a lot. They need graphic organizers, note-taking guides, vocabulary lists, hard copies of all assignments and the requirements (right now I have to settle for writing everything on the board), worksheets, etc. I can give them none of these things because I can barely even give them the work the school expects them to do.

So, at best, I can give my students the absolute bare minimum of materials, with absolutely nothing to help them utilize what we give them.

In addition, I have no technology in my classroom. I have a very old over head projector (the kind with which you use transparencies, not the kind that hooks up to a computer) that doesn’t focus the entire page at once. I also don’t have a screen onto which I can project with said projector, so I have to use either the whiteboard (which doesn’t erase fully so whiteboard marker barely even shows up) or the wall above the whiteboard, which is so high up that most of the students have difficulty making out the words of the poorly focused projector. And yes, I know how to focus it–I get it to the best possible setting and then hope for the best. I can’t give my students projects based on technology–such as presentations using Powerpoint or other media–because there is no guarantee that they have access to such things at home, and even if they stayed after school to work in the library, we would be unable to access their efforts in class. Likewise, I cannot use Powerpoint, videos, audio, etc in class. I teach a double-period block class, but I have no way to break up the monotony of the class. Media makes an enormous difference, and it’s yet another resource I cannot utilize.

I’m teaching my students about California geography, but I have no map of California and no way to access such a thing. I’m teaching short stories, but often without knowing if I will be able to hand out the stories or not.

My class has no textbook, and the novel we’re supposed to start next week… won’t be available for another two weeks or so. So I have been told to “fill time.”

Meanwhile, I’m a new teacher, and teaching out of my subject area, so filling time is hard for me. I dislike giving busy work, and I dislike giving work that I cannot collect and grade, and I’m already in over my head. I try to put writing prompts and assignments on the overhead, but that’s ineffectual and difficult. I can’t give the students handouts because I can’t make copies. I can’t have them work in their books because they have no books. Meanwhile, I’m struggling with classroom management, so I end my days drained and empty despite having gotten next to nothing done over the course of the day.

Finally, my classroom is not my classroom. The previous teacher has yet to move out her belongings and materials, so my social studies classroom is full of science and physiology posters and books, and I keep being told “it’ll be cleaned out soon.” I don’t have enough seating for my students, and instead of desks, like every other teacher, I have long tables, which makes arranging the classroom near impossible. It is difficult to create a classroom culture in a classroom that is not yours, regardless of whether or not you are the only one teaching in it.

I have phenomenal colleagues who are working hard to support me and help me, but without materials and resources, I feel powerless and lost. By the end of the day, I want to cry. When I get home, I want so badly to work on getting ahead on my curriculum, creating new materials, improving my systems, but I am generally so crushed and overwhelmed that it’s all I can do to cook dinner and sit on the couch, let alone deal with any of the mess of my personal life or professional mess.

This is where new teacher burnout comes from. People talk about classroom management overwhelming and demoralizing new teachers, and it does, but the thing is that we already have the odds stacked against us before we even have to deal with student problems. There are already so many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that by the time we enter the room, we already feel like we’ve lost the battle, so of course classroom management is just the icing on the cake. It’s not hard to break something that’s already barely holding together.

Hmm. And I swore I was going to be more positive.

09/14/2011. Tags: . Uncategorized.


  1. Melissa replied:

    There are websites where teachers posts their needs & donors supply them. I have known teachers get their wishlists fulfilled by publishing companies. You can register for books, paper, technology, any/everything you need. One such place is classwish.org. Of course, you could also pimp that wishlist out to everyone you know so you get what you need.

    With regard to the other teacher’s things in your room, my guess is that since she’s not there anymore, it’s not her priority. So, do it yourself. Nicely, of course, and smile brightly when you drop it off to that teacher’s new room. It’s not your responsibility and you should not have to do it, but who’s bothered by it? Not that teacher.

    As far as your move, when I moved halfway around the country and felt like the walls were closing in, I went for a drive. Specifically, I went to get lost. I knew how to get home from X street, from Y highway so I went in the opposite direction to find new places and new ways home. I also used meetup.com and meetin.org to make friends in my new town, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

    Think of this hard time in your life as the half-way point between two high points. Keep moving forward and you’ll get back to a great place in life.

    You can do this. Also, Trader Joe’s makes some great, cheap wines. πŸ˜‰

    • Cuppy van der Cake replied:

      I’m definitely planning to make some proposals to DonorsChoose, as well as applying for some of the grants that the PTSA tries to provide. I’m hoping I’ll be able to spruce up my classroom a little. Classwish sounds great; I’ll check that out too!

      You’re exactly right about the other teacher. She actually quit and is subbing sporadically, but she isn’t teaching full time anymore, so retrieving materials is just not that important to her. I’ve started removing and dumping some stuff (I put the more valuable stuff, such as textbooks and whatnot into a closet, but I’ve recycled a TON of magazines, old worksheets, etc). It feels a lot better to be starting to make the room my own!

      I definitely agree–I am trying to remain positive, because there is so much I love about teaching, and there is really a lot of truly great things about my school and students. It’s easy to get trapped in the negative. I am very lucky to be part of such a wonderful school, moving a wonderful career forward! I know it will get better as I learn more and improve. It’s just very hard at the beginning!

      And I am a big fan of the TJ’s wines, haha. πŸ™‚

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