Teachers in All 50 States Just Revealed How They Recover from Burnout
"Over summer break I aim for one book a week," one Midwest teacher told us, while others feel great after swimming, fishing, and "blobbing." (You need to read this.) Teachers share their smart, shameless, and inspired methods for staying sane that might be worth a test.
There’s no doubt about it: Being a teacher in America is tough. Teaching was never a cakewalk—now add increased pressure from limited resources, low pay, heavy workloads, large class sizes, technology, shifting testing and curriculum standards, administration, parents, and—oh, yeah—guiding young minds to navigate a complicated world. It’s no wonder teachers are burning out in record numbers.
“Our profession has become such a frequently invalidated, scrutinized profession that any nice gesture is welcome, because it’s so rare,” says Jennie Berglund, who has been teaching middle school for over 20 years in Minneapolis, MN. Still, Berglund says, it’s worth it, thanks to her love for the kids and the satisfaction she receives from the role of helping to shape the future.
So how do you stay in a job that’s so high-pressure while feeling underappreciated and overworked? You have to prioritize self-care. How does Berglund do it? Read on below to find out how she, and 49 other teachers from around the country, relax, recharge, restore, and come back to teach year after year.
“I spend time with my husband and two littles every day,” says Maddie S., a preschool teacher for six years. “Every night before bed, we play chase, then read a book, sing a silly song, and then it’s bedtime for bonkers (me included!).”
“Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” says Pete H., a high school teacher for 18 years. “It’s kind of the running joke … that we choke people in the gym so we don’t choke people in real life.” He adds: “I make sure and get an extra session or two in before parent-teacher conferences.”
“I turn off my phone and computer after 6 p.m.,” says Luke A., a high school teacher for 15 years. “I don’t want to hear all the notifications pinging, so after dinner is strictly tech-free!”
“I have a date night scheduled with my husband every Friday night,” says Alexis V., an elementary teacher for seven years. “It gives me something to look forward to all week, and we have a rule that we don’t talk about either of our jobs!”
“For me it’s burlesque dancing. I take an adults-only dance class once a week and it is the highlight of my week,” says Carlie L., an elementary teacher for three years. “It’s just so much fun and a great way to relax.”
“I go for a run,” says Jenae H., a middle school teacher for four years. “I come home feeling exhausted so you’d think running would be the last thing I’d want to do! I put my AirPods in and listen to podcasts and it’s actually really energizing.”
“I vent to my best friend,” says Ashley K., an elementary school teacher for 10 years. “She’s a teacher too, at a different school, and it’s our daily ritual to call each other. We get it all out on the drive home and then we’re ready to be present for our families when we walk in the door.”
“Electronic grading is my secret to recharging,” says Dan F., a high school teacher for 12 years. “I have made all of my tests and assignments such that they can either be peer-graded or electronically graded. That’s freed up so much of my time outside of teaching hours that I can use to recharge.”
“Therapy, lots of therapy,” says Daniella M., a high school teacher for 15 years. “I work with a lot of at-risk students and their problems were taking over my life, to the point where I was losing sleep worrying about them. I started seeing a therapist two years ago and it’s been a game-changer. Now I know how to compartmentalize better, and I come out of my sessions feeling so much better!”
“My students need a nap every day, and I do too!” says Lila M., a preschool teacher for 25 years. “When it’s nice, I nap on the porch.”
“Yoga on the beach,” says Diane L., a high school teacher for 30 years. “I grew up doing yoga, but it wasn’t until I started teaching that I learned how essential it is to my mental and physical wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but even 15 minutes of sun salutations reconnects me with the earth and my body.”
“I go target-shooting on the weekends,” says Amy S., a middle school teacher for 22 years. “Probably not the most politically correct way to unwind, but honestly it’s my favorite way to recharge. I spend a couple hours at the range and it’s a great way to focus, calm down, and get out of my head.”
Sheila P., an elementary teacher for 10 years, says, “It sounds harsh but this job will take 24 hours a day if you let it so you have to have good boundaries. One way I practice self-care is not working unpaid overtime.”
“I planted a ‘butterfly garden’ to attract bees, butterflies and other insects, and it makes me so happy,” says Jennifer P., a preschool teacher for five years.
“Scrolling Instagram gives me a little mental break and since I only follow close friends and positive accounts, it really lifts my spirits,” says Mackenzie M., a high school teacher for three years. “It’s good to scroll and remind myself of all the good in the world.”
“I read one or two books a month just for fun, something totally unrelated to what I’m teaching,” says Emma S., a high school teacher for seven years. “The last book I read was Diamond Eye, about a woman Soviet sniper in World War II and it was so interesting to get immersed in her world. It helps me unwind every night. Over summer break I aim for one book a week.”
“No-screen Sundays!” says Amber L., an elementary school teacher for 19 years. “I completely disconnect from my electronics on Sundays and spend the day focused on going outside, being with my family, going to brunch, or hiking.”
“I’m training for a half-marathon,” says Jeff A., a high school teacher for 14 years. “Having a goal gives me something to focus on, and working up a good sweat every day feels so good. Plus I also coach the boys’ basketball team, so it helps me keep up with them a little better.”
“Weekend road trips keep me sane and give me time to recharge,” says Tina S., an elementary school teacher for 15 years. “I love driving—something about a winding road really helps me unwind. Over the years I’ve seen so many fun sites, and planning the next one keeps me motivated.”
“Am I allowed to say sleep? I am obsessed with naps,” says Harlan J., a high school teacher for eight years. “I have my favorite napping spot at home with my special pillow, blanket, fan, and, of course, my cat Angel.”
“I lift heavy weights,” says Bethany S., an elementary school teacher for four years. “Hitting the gym used to feel like a chore until I discovered powerlifting, and now I’m excited every day to do it. I push myself hard but leave feeling accomplished and refreshed.”
“I go fishing,” says Danielle V., an elementary school teacher for five years. “There’s something really soothing about just sitting on my boat on the lake. In the winter I go ice fishing. My goal is to learn to fly fish this summer.”
“Exercising is the best way to relieve my stress!” says Berglund. “I teach kickboxing and yoga classes at the YMCA. It is a great way to relax, recharge, and hang out with my friends.”
“Making and decorating cakes was a hobby I picked up during COVID and I’ve kept it going,” says Michelle W., an elementary school teacher for 10 years. “It’s creative and meditative! Sometimes when I’m in the zone, I’ll scrape the frosting off and redecorate the same cake three or four different times! Or I’ll practice icing roses on parchment paper.”
“Sunrise walks with my dog are the best way to start my day—I’m always more relaxed,” says Jenny C., a high school teacher for 15 years.
“It may sound weird but I love organizing my closet,” says Colette S., an elementary school teacher for 22 years. “I color-coordinate all my sweaters, line up my shoes, and get rid of old stuff. It’s cathartic!”
“Swimming at the Y is my go-to when I need to unwind,” says Jacob S., a high school teacher for eight years. “I do laps and the rhythm of my body and the sound of the water and the feel of gliding—nothing is like being in that zone.”
“Doing crafts with my kiddo,” says Maria A., an early education teacher for 20 years. “She reminds me why I love my job, and I enjoy the process of getting messy and creating new things. And it gives me time to bond with my daughter.”
“Binge-watching Netflix. I’ll be honest … All I want to do is watch a fun comedy or a true crime documentary—it’s one or the other, no in-between!” says Leanne T., a middle school teacher for 12 years.
Alvaro Lavin/Getty Images
“I just got the new Zelda game, so that’s all I’m doing in my spare time these days,” says Dan A., a high school teacher for 14 years. “It’s way too easy to lose track of time, but the upside of that is it feels totally immersive and it turns my anxiety way down.”
“People don’t often think of hiking when they think of New Mexico, but I’m telling you we have some of the best hikes in the world,” says Enrique L., an elementary school teacher for 17 years. “I love day hikes—but when I really need to recharge, I take a backpacking trip.”
“Trying new food trucks is my personal hobby right now,” says Patricio O., a K-8 teacher for five years. “I’m such a foodie! And Manhattan is foodie heaven. This week it was Ethiopian food, and it was amazing.”
“I play a ridiculous amount of Candy Crush on my phone. Sometimes Animal Crossing,” says Anna A., an elementary teacher for 28 years. “It’s repetitive, so I can zone out.”
“Over the summer I catch up on my dental cleaning, pap smear, mammogram, annual check up, and colonoscopy,” says Ashley T., a high school teacher for 23 years. “That may not sound relaxing to some, but it actually gives me a lot of peace of mind knowing that it’s taken care of.”
“Walking my dog through the park always relaxes me,” says Lyla S., an elementary school teacher for nine years. “I leave my headphones out and just listen to the noise of kids playing, people laughing, the wind blowing, whatever. Sometimes my best friend comes, and we catch up.”
“I like to look up new recipes—I have a whole pinterest board I save them too—and then meal-plan,” says Ashlee M., a preschool teacher for 18 years. “I enjoy cooking. I enjoy the process of finding the recipes, trying new ingredients, and putting it all together.”
“Portland has so many great breweries, and doing a little beer tasting is relaxing,” says Matthew S., a high school teacher for two years. “My partner and I do it together. We spend a lot of time visiting different local breweries, and we even recently started a keg in our garage.”
“I cross-stitch funny, off-color sayings. For instance, I just did one that said ‘Oh, for [image of a fox] sake’,” says Amelia F., a middle school teacher for 10 years. “I usually give them as gifts, they always make people laugh. And the process of counting and then stitching is very relaxing.”
“Car karaoke is my jam,” says Laura L., a elementary school teacher for 20 years. “I have a whole YouTube playlist of karaoke songs and I listen to it and sing my heart out during my commute.”
“I do nothing. Literally nothing. When I need to recharge, I go in my room, lay face down on my bed in silence, and just…turn my mind off,” says Emma N., a school counselor for 18 years. “My husband calls it ‘blobbing’—it sounds funny, but it works.”
Grace Cary/Getty Images
“I write in my journal,” says Maria F., an elementary school teacher for nine years. “It’s a way to get all my feelings out and process things. Once I write out something I’m anxious about, then my brain will stop obsessing over it.”
“I work on my side business,” says Chelsea W., a high school teacher for 11 years. “Teaching is my main job, but it’s not my forever job. I’m really passionate about entrepreneurship, and planning and running my little business is so invigorating.”
“I do house projects, which I know sounds like more work, but it’s a different kind of work than teaching,” says Alan F., a high school teacher for 10 years. “It’s really satisfying seeing a remodel through from start to finish and knowing I did it with my own hands.”
“I go kayaking on the lake with my husband and kids,” says Laura M., a middle school teacher for 15 years. “Being outdoors really speaks to my soul and I love the time together. We have a couple of inflatable kayaks and bring a picnic and spend the day on the water.”
“Painting, specifically wildlife or landscapes, is my best way to relax,” says Ella, a middle school teacher for five years. “I get to sit outside and finding the right location to paint is half of why I love it. It also inspires me with different ways to teach my students.”
“Going to see a movie in a theater is my favorite thing in the world,” says Thomas K., a high school teacher for 29 years. “All I want is to be in the dark, in a reclining seat, with my popcorn and soda. I’m a simple man.”
“Going to concerts—preferably live and outdoors—is my favorite way to recharge,” says Andie M., a middle school teacher for 12 years. “I’m a huge fan of all the Nineties bands, but I just love listening to music, really. There’s such a fun, chill vibe at music festivals.”
“Reading autobiographies is a great way for me to recharge because it helps me put my own problems in perspective,” says Rachel F., a preschool teacher for three years. “I love reading people’s stories in their own words.”
“Going to the lake—barbecues and boating in the summer, ice fishing in the winter, walking in the spring and fall—is my happy place,” says Mel P., a college professor for 30 years. “And Wisconsin has the best lakes, don’t let Minnesota fool you!”
“Facetiming with my family members who live in different states—especially my mom in Arizona—makes my heart full,” says Ami J., an elementary teacher for 11 years. “We live so far apart and I always miss them. Talking to my mom is the best!”
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