Teacher Burnout and My Experience with Stress

Here’s an interesting video on teacher stress:

I find it shocking that almost half of novice teachers quit within the first five years. However, having been an educator myself for almost a decade, I am acutely aware of the stresses teaching brings: unfamiliarity with job requirements, unwritten school rules, classroom management issues, student challenges, constant lesson preparation, assignment creation and evaluation, and so on.

Personally, I’d like to think I’m a man who loves quality. I’d be embarrassed and disappointed if I were forced to deliver a lesson that I thought was substandard, or if I didn’t have enough time to accomplish what I’d hoped to in the classroom. I’m constantly striving to give the most and best I can. Still, I’ve become increasingly aware of my own personal limits.

Back in 2005, I was studying Computer Science in college. The course load that semester was particularly exhausting, with projects that required literally hundreds of hours of work, pages of facts to memorise for exams (one course had 260 questions and answers to memorise!), and constant mental exertion in class. Until that semester, I had only ever received ‘A’ grades in college, and so that was my target. I decided to forego proper eating and sleeping routines, exercise, social events, and all other restful or rejuvenating things in my life for the sake of doing well in college.

After weeks of this unsustainable lifestyle of nonstop exertion, it all came screeching to a halt.

I experienced what was officially described as a “psychotic episode”, where the extreme stress I was facing caused my brain to temporarily alter my perception of reality. For a short time, I lost all memory of who I was or who anyone else was. My name was unfamiliar, and whatever homework I was working on didn’t make sense anymore. It was overwhelming and profoundly disturbing.

Thankfully I was able to seek professional psychological help immediately afterwards. At the time I was living with my parents, and they also were able to help me reason things out and regain my bearings.

I learned so much from that incident: that my mental health, which I’d never given a second thought to beforehand, was critically important to my everyday life; that stress can cause physical symptoms; and, most importantly, that I needed to take time to refresh and take care of myself or I’d be of no use to anyone.

My desire to do well still governs the way I teach and the way I pursue higher education. In fact, I believe my passion for excellence is one of my strongest qualities as a teacher. That said, I now know that sometimes the best thing I can do is take a step back and leave my perfectionism at the door so that I can muster the stamina to keep going and finish the task at hand. I’ve realised that I can’t do any better than my best, so that is what I will always aim for, and no more than that.

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