We all have bad days, but if we have too many, we may be putting ourselves at risk of burnout from excessive stress, pressure and exertion. This article will look at how teacher burnout can be avoided.

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Teaching is a unique profession because you make such a direct impact on the lives of so many people. On the other hand, the profession has a massive impact on you. In an ideal world, this impact would always be positive. However, we all have bad days. Unfortunately, if we have too many bad days, we may be putting ourselves at risk of burnout from excessive stress, pressure and exertion.

I am proud to say that I love teaching. I love getting to know a class, coming up with ideas for how to help them improve, planning it out and then enjoying the journey of educational improvement together. The rewards of this for me, are job satisfaction, helping others, and positive classroom interactions.

There have been times in my teaching career, however, when things have gone horribly wrong. I remember when I was teaching English to young learners in Portugal, I had the great idea of handing out little paper stars to reward good work and effort. While this did the job intended for the first 15 minutes or so, the stars started fluttering away off the students’ desks. The lesson soon turned into mother-tongue floor-scrambling star-grabbing chaos. My lesson plan went completely out the window as I struggled to maintain control of the situation. Oops!

In this kind of undesirable situation, teachers can react in different ways.  

I have seen teachers who decide that they will assert their authority.

Teacher 1: Authoritarian teacher

“No more stars. This behaviour is unacceptable. Pick up the stars and put them all back on my desk.”

I have seen teachers become nurturing and motherly.

Teacher 2: Motherly teacher

“It’s ok, let’s pick them up together. Calm down Maria. Paula thank you for helping your friend. You are such a good girl.”

I have seen teachers smiling on the outside but pulling out their hair on the inside.

Teacher 3: Quietly seething teacher

“Oh my God! I’m never giving out stars again – good thing no one was observing me, that was utter chaos! I’m exhausted!”

I have also seen teachers who simply carry on as if nothing untoward was happening.

Teacher 4: Blasé teacher

“Ok, well, let’s pick them up. Yes – like that. Ok. Good. So, who can tell me the opposite of the word ‘hot’?”

The fact of the matter is that these kinds of things happen more often than you would want them to, and how you react when the ship is sinking fast can spark the beginning of teacher burnout.

To avoid full teacher burnout, let’s look at the potential pitfalls of each reaction in more detail.

Teacher 1: Authoritarian teacher

The authoritarian teacher will typically use their body language, loud voice and ‘evil look’ to scare the students into doing what they want them to do. If you are naturally big, loud and a bit scary, this can be an easy thing to pull off. However, for many of us this does not come naturally. To become that kind of character can feel like extreme acting; like you have got the role of Terminator in a big blockbuster movie, but you are actually Emma Watson (aka Hermione Granger from Harry Potter). These are some big shoes to fill, and you will need to do some serious practice. Speaking from experience, in anticipation of telling a troublesome 10-year-old Spanish boy to leave the classroom because of his repeated bad behaviour, my DOS told me to practice “Pedro Jose! Fuera de la clase!” (Pedro Jose! Out of the classroom!) in the mirror in my loudest most authoritarian voice. When I had to do it in class I was initially petrified and then afterwards so emotionally exhausted that I couldn’t have taught another class that afternoon. To my mind, the advice some secondary school teachers give newly qualified teachers starting in September: “don’t let them see you smile until after Christmas” would be a no-go for me as much of the enjoyment of teaching would disappear. In other words, if you are not naturally authoritarian, putting on an act to pretend that you are may be exhausting and unsustainable, leading to burnout.

Teacher 2: Motherly teacher

If you are a natural with young learners, and don’t have a problem with small children clinging to your legs as you try to leave the classroom it may be that you are a motherly teacher. This can lead to a very nurturing, caring classroom environment which is a pleasure to be a part of. However, sometimes these kinds of teachers can care so much that they start to worry about the wellbeing of all the children in their class all the time. Putting this amount of pressure on yourself can be very draining and keep you up at night. Do remember that while education is holistic, there are lots of welfare measures in place e.g. safeguarding, which means you are not the only one responsible for these little people. Too much responsibility on your shoulders could lead to burnout.

Teacher 3: Quietly seething teacher

The quietly seething teacher has probably got a toolkit of tricks up their sleeve so that if something goes wrong in their class they can abracadabra magic up a solution to get things back on track. This, however, does not mean that they are happy with the situation or enjoying themselves in the moment. These kinds of teachers may be inclined to complain to colleagues a lot and wonder if the rewards of teaching are really worth the time and effort they are putting in. If there is a healthy outlet for the inner rage created (e.g. going to the gym, dancing, singing, talking to friends) then a good work-life balance can exist. However, if there is not a healthy outlet (e.g. drinking alcohol to excess, thinking obsessively about how much you hate your job) then this could be the beginning of a slippery slope.

Teacher 4:  Blasé teacher

The blasé teacher feels like they are in control, even when they are not. Blissful ignorance can get you so far but in terms of promoting learning, it is far from ideal. The students will start to realise that if they talk while your back is turned you will not do anything. This may escalate to paper aeroplanes flying across the room, students talking over each other, lazy students becoming lazier, and a fading enthusiasm for the subject, because those who used to be keen cannot learn in such an environment. In this case, it is likely that your classroom will be louder and more raucous than other classrooms and whoever is walking past will wonder what is going on in there. If the ex-keen students start to complain to their parents, group leaders or school, then your methods may be investigated which could be obviously very stressful. In such cases, it may be useful for you to do peer observations so you can see what classroom management techniques your colleagues are using, so that you can develop your toolkit. Some professional development courses would also be a good idea. If not, with escalating bad behaviour and complaints, your naturally low stress levels are likely to go up as others begin to question your ability to do your job. This can lead to a negative working environment.  


Teaching is an all-encompassing profession, or, perhaps better said, lifestyle. Your job does not start when you walk into the classroom, and it does not end when you walk through your front door at the end of the day. This means that we really need to look after ourselves and be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses so we can keep a healthy work-life balance and continue to love what we do, even when faced with the inevitable hiccups along the way. If you feel like there are more negative experiences than positive ones, that is a big red flag that something needs to change. If you keep going like this, you will likely burn out from the excessive stress, pressure and sheer effort required just to get through the day. The intention of this article is to help you understand more about your personality as a teacher and how to play to your strengths whilst being aware of your weaknesses. Of course, everybody is different, but a little self-awareness goes a long way.

If you have any comments, ideas or suggestions, it would be fantastic to hear from you. Do add a comment in the box below.

Happy teaching!

Emma x