Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Letter to burned out teachers

I say, over and over, to my friends, that what makes magnet schools like Ann Arbor Open, Community High School, and Skyline High School good--in large part--is that teachers (and kids and parents too!) CHOOSE to be there. Magnets are often extra work, and these teachers willingly sign up for it!

At Skyline, nobody has been unwillingly bumped into teaching there, and it's pretty rare for that to happen at Ann Arbor Open or CHS. Most people arrive by requesting a transfer. (Yes, it did happen to my oldest child at AAO twice. But it's not common.)

Not so at some of the other schools. Some of my friends with kids in middle school and high school report that their kids have burned-out teachers for half, or more, of their classes!

I'm not opposed to tenure; I believe in unions. And before you blame unions, remember that unions do not make people stay in jobs--people choose to stay in jobs. I myself stayed in a job too long. There was nothing wrong with the job, in fact it was rather comfy. It was a job that I loved for the first 6 years, a job that I liked for the next 5 years, and after that--well, it was still "good work" (defined by me as helping to make the world a better place), there were still some parts of the job that I liked, and it did have good flexibility and benefits. But when I finally left, I felt like I had gotten some fresh air, and I said to myself, "What took you so long?" The fact is, there was nothing wrong with the job, but I was ready for something new.

Yes, some teachers can teach for 30 years, and still be excited when a new group of students start. But for others, that is simply not true. So--this is my letter to burned-out teachers.

Dear Teacher,

I know that when you started teaching, you were full of enthusiasm. You have always loved your subject, and the kids were endlessly fascinating. But here it is, 20 years later, and--well, the kids? Same old, same old. The subject matter? There is only so much you can do to make the same grade's subject matter new and different--the kids still need to learn the same things! If this describes you, then you are a. . . burned out teacher. And yes, the kids notice. It doesn't mean that you weren't a good teacher for a long time, or that you couldn't be a good teacher again, but admit it--it is time for a change! Ask yourself how you can make things change.

I am asking you, as a parent of kids you teach, can you:

A. Consider retiring. Possibly it is time for you to stop working.

B. Consider changing careers. If you still love kids, but are sick of the school routine, you could look for informal education opportunities. But if your passion is politics, or math, maybe you could do something else with that passion. You could also go back to school in a non-education-related subject.

B. Can't afford to retire? Not interested in changing careers? Do you love the kids, but you are just bored with your subject matter? Now would be a good time to think about working with a different grade, getting a new certification so you can teach a different subject, trying an administrative post, or even just moving to a new school.

Yes, you know who you are. And the kids and parents do too. You owe it to the kids to bring your best teaching to the table.

Change it up!

And thank you.


  1. Thank you for your letter. I am only in my seventh year of teaching, but I still feel burnt out. I changed schools, thrice, in hopes of finding a 'better fit'. However, I feel like it is time to move on already; I am just not cut out for the struggle and all the at-home work. You are right; we owe it to everyone involved--especially the kids.

  2. Anon,

    Thanks for writing! It sounds like you've given it your best shot. As you note, teaching is a hard job, and it's not for everyone. I hope that your next position is a better fit for you, and that figuring out your next steps is not a difficult process.


  3. Now might be a good time to share an article on a related topic, Teaching With Depression, from the blog Teacher, Revised. Take time to read the comments as well, they are interesting too.
    Click here to go to the article.