Burned Out? There is Hope!

Jan 4, 2012

What happens when a creative, enthusiastic, home educator suddenly finds that the wonderful activities, projects and learning well has suddenly run dry? What happens when lunch and shopping dates with “the girls” have more appeal than history dates? It’s called burnout, the one small glitch in this otherwise wonderful endeavor called homeschool.

I remember the very first time I entered a period of burnout. After a year of intensely disciplined teaching, writing my own unit studies, planning all the appropriate field trips, creating and administering each student’s quizzes and exams, I found myself dreading another day of school, another lesson, another plan, another student. Amazingly, I, the dedicated teacher, had become easily distracted, and was avoiding all educational pursuits like the plague. As daily assignments began to stack into mountains of paper work, and we increased our P.E. days, I also had several Teacher Work days in a row. (The teacher sadly did no work.) Daily I felt more and more overwhelmed with what I needed to do and accomplish, versus what I actually felt like doing. My motivation to teach was dying a slow death.

In all my time spent researching the homeschool option, burnout—or even the dwindling of motivation—had not been covered, let alone mentioned. Where had I fallen short? What was wrong with me?

Now, years later, looking back down that road, I realize that experiencing burnout is common in the lives of most teachers: home, public and private. Burnout is sometimes a result of how we homeschool, but,more often than not, it is the culmination of many factors. There are a few warning signals that alert us of its encroachment. I will share few of the lessons I’ve learned.

Stop School

No, I don’t mean the confetti-in-the-air-and-cheers-all-around stopping of school. Just give yourself and your students a break. It is certainly warranted and well deserved. When you feel as though the walls are beginning to close in on you, or tensions start to run high, a teacher work day is probably in order. This time off will allow mom an opportunity to regroup, reorganize and revive that love of teaching. This is the ideal time to pray for your school and to ask for teaching endurance. It will definitely give you a fresh start for the next day.

One friend gave me this advice from her own experience with burnout. “Give yourself permission to take the day off and be together. Go to the park, or do something else that includes everyone. Or, alter your school plans to include lots of independent work for the children. Take this time to remind yourself and your children how much you really love and enjoy each other.”

Find Support

Initially, I believed that homeschool support groups were a fine idea for those who needed them (which I thought did not include me). First of all, I reasoned we had enough children to strike down the socialization argument. Secondly, I planned all of our field trips. I wanted field trips that were perfectly coordinated with our studies, and often the planned support group field trips were not. (Don’t ask me how I knew this). Thirdly, I was just too busy teaching my children to be involved in something like a support group. What I did not realize was that each of my reasons for not joining a group was based solely on my focus on meeting the needs of the children. I had left myself entirely out of the equation and now I was the one burning out. With this new revelation, you may ask how long it took me to remedy the situation. I immediately found a white pillow case, tied it to a stick, waved it and started looking for a support group.

Get Help

As a new homeschool mom, I believed that I had to do it all: teaching, grading, project building, transporting, etc. Since my husband was a full-time pastor and, therefore, out of the home some of the time, I felt it my duty to let him rest when he came in and did not involve him to any extent with the day-to-day teaching activities. Big mistake! I was burning myself out by not utilizing my greatest and most obvious source of help—my spouse. He enjoyed math, I hated it! Yet I continued to teach and grade papers on a subject which I loathed.

The light came on one day as I, almost completely discouraged and quite weary of silently bearing my burden, decided to openly express to my husband how much I dreaded looking at another math paper. There was probably a little bit of pride mixed in with the other emotions. I’m not certain why I had pictured myself being able to teach everything. The words “Let me do it,” never sounded sweeter. Trust me, it seemed as if the birds outside struck up a chorus, while dogs and cats in the neighborhood barked and meowed in harmony. The dark cloud over our homeschool parted and beams of sunshine poured in.

I had been so overwhelmed that I wanted to walk away. I longed to enjoy teaching again. Now, with the help of my spouse I began to make progress. Later in life, as a single mom, I needed to connect with other single moms and barter for services,or classes,or help on special projects. In other words, sometimes our friends become our greatest resources when we do not have the support of a husband at home.

Change Your Routine

On the one hand, routine is necessary. Establishing a routine for your family works well when the students are very young. They will know what to expect on Mondays or Thursday, for example. However,more of the same every day leads to what? Burnout! Change is great and sometimes change is all we need to give our students and school a pick-me-up! It didn’t take long for me to learn that our children did not want to sit for long periods of time to do school. Behaviors I interpreted as disinterest with the subject, or criticism of my teaching ability were merely the early symptoms of burnout (in most instances).

That homeschool students could burnout was a revelation; that my students were burning out was startling! I quickly instituted special days—days that we broke our daily school routine. Here are a few fun suggestions that worked really well for us. Some have become official school day traditions.

  • Backwards Day. Everyone (even the teacher) wears his clothing backwards, and the school schedule is observed in reverse.
  • Pajama Day. Self explanatory. (When I shared this idea with a friend, she stared at me blankly, but, not to be outdone, she commented,”Our special day is actually getting dressed to do school.” Okay, never mind.)
  • Color Day. No school colors? Choose two.This is a great way to reinforce family and school unity.
  • Bored Day. Aha! Fooled you,didn’t I? This is when we spend most of the day playing board games related to our unit study, topic or class subject (i.e., science, math geography, etc.).
  • Opera Day. Gifted or not,we sing everything operatically for the entire school day.
  • Day of Silence. Communication is only by ASL. (Our students learned ASL—American Sign Language—as their foreign/second language.)
  • Heroes and Heroines Day. Our students dressed as their favorite historical figures. (We usually video taped this.)

Pray

Add prayer to your to-do list. Whether first thing in the morning, last thing at night or during the middle of the day; a quiet time with the Lord is a necessity. His direction is not given simply because we need it. It is given because we ask. I learned to find out from the Father how He wanted to order my day, and prayed earnestly for help to follow those orders!

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