[Case Study] From Teacher Burnout to Flourishing and Enjoying Teaching Again
Brooke was one of my first clients. I met her when I attended the 2014 Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) where I was a presenter offering a workshop on work-life balance. When Brooke learned of the topic of my presentation, she was eager to hear what I had to offer. She had been feeling stressed and overloaded. In fact, she was fast approaching what I refer to as “teacher burnout.” Her life was definitely out of balance, and she was feeling unhappy and overwhelmed with her situation at work.
Brooke didn’t share all of the specifics of the stress she felt at the time until she contacted me later. A few months after that workshop, she reached out to inquire about the work I did in career coaching and counseling burnt-out teachers. She was ready to make a change. Without going into a lot of detail here, suffice it to say that she was experiencing a stressful situation in her assignment as a high school librarian. As a result, she was considering that she might need to make a change in her job situation.
Hear in her own words how the work we did together in the ensuing months made a difference and truly changed her life:
Brooke has synthesized the work we did together that goes beyond just her job search. She has also continued to work on the stress management and work-life balance strategies she learned through our work together, and now she is using those strategies to teach mindfulness to her students. (How awesome is that?) I just love that she has started Mindful Mondays with her students.
As you can tell, Brooke was lucky enough to be able to find a position doing what she already loved as a librarian. She was able to transfer into a healthier school climate where she is appreciated for her background and her efforts in a way that she wasn’t in her previous assignment. Not every teacher is so lucky. I am hearing from more and more teachers who are either approaching teacher burnout, or they are already there. The fact is that not every teacher that I work with would be satisfied to stay in the profession because they are just done. By the time they reach me, they are ready to move on and try something different.
What I try to do is to learn what it is that makes my client special and unique. What special talents, skills, experiences or education do they have that would allow them to work in a different field. I want them to find where they can be happy and feel fulfilled and appreciated for their efforts.
There is No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
There is no one size fits all, cookie cutter solution for any teacher looking to leave the classroom. What works for one individual won’t work at all for another. I realize that my clients are just like my students were. They are unique and individual, and they each have a special mission or purpose for being here. I feel like it is part of my job to help them decipher what that purpose or mission is and then help them find the best way for them to express it.
Brooke was able to find the solution that worked for her. Had she not taken the action she did three years ago, however, chances are she would still be stuck in the situation that was going to make her sick from the stress. She had to decide on her own that enough was enough. She was also smart enough to know that she needed help in directing her job search. She needed to learn the tools and techniques for a successful job search. She is much happier today than she was when I first met her. She is a perfect example of the kind of transformation that I want for all of my clients. Way to go, Brooke!
[Case Study] How This Teacher Experiencing Burnout Transitioned from K-12 to Higher Education
When Nicky first approached me, she was ready to make a change in her career. She wasn’t sure what that change should be, however. She had gone back to school after a few years of teaching in high school, and she had earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. Upon graduation, she went back to teaching high school because it felt familiar, and it was “safe.”
After just a few months, she knew she wasn’t going to be happy in the K-12 world long term. She had no clue how to where to start a job search, however. Luckily, her friend, Brooke, was able to tell her about me. I had already been working with Brooke (see her case study above). She referred Nicky to me to get help.
Listen to Nicky’s own words as she describes what she believes she gained from working with me as her career coach.
Sometimes You Need Encouragement
As Nicky points out in the video, having a career coach helped her become more positive in her outlook. When we began our work together, she was feeling pretty down on herself. She lacked the personal and professional confidence that she needed to stretch herself and examine all of the various possibilities that were available to her.
In the end, Nicky left the K-12 world and entered the world of higher education. She is now doing the exact type of work that she said she wanted to be doing when we began our work together.
Changing Your Job or Career Path Takes Patience and Persistence
Nicky also learned about the roller coaster aspect of the job search process. There were a number of peaks and valleys along the way in her individual job search journey. Job search is fraught with complications, and most of them are outside your control. You can go from the elation of feeling you have found the job of dreams to the deflation of learning you came in “second,” and someone else got the job. A competent and experienced career coach can help you manage your expectations during the process.
Nicky’s was not an overnight success story. We started working together in October of 2014, and she didn’t land her new job until the summer of 2016. In the meantime, she turned down at least one concrete offer and took herself out of the running for another opportunity that just didn’t feel like the right “fit.” That takes courage. It also takes confidence and the belief that something better will come along.
The “3 Ps” of Successful Job Search
Nicky is an example of someone who learned to practice what I refer to as the “3 Ps” of successful job search. She practiced patience and persistence, and she didn’t allow herself to panic…even when she might have wanted to. She decided to take action and change the trajectory of her career. She is now working on a college campus and teaching students who are training to become teachers on how to teach chemistry the right way. This has been a passion of hers for as long as I have known her. To get where she is now, she had to step out of her comfort zone, and she had to take action. She has definitely grown in her confidence in herself, and she continues to work on stretching herself. Congratulations to Nicky on having the patience and persistence to make the change in her life that she wanted. Way to go!
[Case Study] Learn How Richard Benefitted from Having Kitty Serve as a Sounding Board
Not everyone feels comfortable being in front of a camera, so for this case study, Richard has offered written answers to questions that I asked him about the work we did together as we considered the possibility of a new career path. He was experiencing symptoms of teacher burnout when he reached out to me a few months ago. Find answers to questions I asked him as we approached the end of our work together about the benefit of the work we did. He hasn’t yet made his transition out of teaching, but he is definitely moving in the right direction.
(Question) What particular challenge were you dealing with that led you to enroll with me to help with your job search?
(Richard) I have been a teacher for decades, and I was discovering that it was getting harder and harder to get my work done. I actually never believed in burnout, but in talking with Kitty and some others, I started to believe that burnout might, in fact have been the problem. A very long commute and having two small children drained all the enthusiasm and efficiency that I long had for my work. I simply started noticed that I was constantly fatigued and irritable. Furthermore, the school I worked at decided to grow class sizes and increase workload, despite many teachers there already putting in a good 60 hours a week. This kind of life for me started to become unsustainable. I found it hard to be an energetic teacher going at a full sprint for ten months a year. I’ve heard that many people switch careers several times in their lifetimes, but I never thought I would be one of them. So, I contacted Kitty, who specialized in working with teachers, to see what my options were.
Furthermore, the school I worked at decided to grow class sizes and increase workload, despite many teachers there already putting in a good 60 hours a week. This kind of life for me started to become unsustainable. I found it hard to be an energetic teacher going at a full sprint for ten months a year. I’ve heard that many people switch careers several times in their lifetimes, but I never thought I would be one of them. So, I contacted Kitty, who specialized in working with teachers, to see what my options were.
(Question) What was an answer, instruction, or inspiration you discovered that started to turn things around?
(Richard) I spent most of my time working with Kitty on what might be realistic options for a new career. I started out taking an inventory of myself including my interests, skills, passions, wishes. Kitty’s course has several lengthy questionnaires, which took some time answering but were well worth the effort. Some of what Kitty noticed I already knew about myself.
My fascination with “big picture questions,” for example. Learning that she saw the same things in myself was encouraging for me. It gave me the confidence I needed to look into certain types of fields and not others. Indeed, Kitty provided a wealth of books and internet resources to help my self-exploration. It helped me really start to look hard at what I loved about teaching (and would want to keep in a future career) as well as what I disliked about the profession (and would want to avoid in a new career).
The most exciting thing that I discovered was my interest in questions of meaning and purpose. This led us to discuss the possibility of entering a ministry or chaplaincy. I had long considered this possibility, but what I think I needed to hear was someone else tell me that this really could be something that I did with my life. It wasn’t a “pipe-dream” or a pure fantasy. This led me to look into theology programs, including secular and Buddhist mindfulness training programs. The idea that there were other things I could do actually made my current job a little easier for me too. I felt far less trapped. I think Kitty’s encouragement was invaluable for me to consider that I was freer and more in control of what I did with my life than I was feeling after teaching for so long.
(Question) What were your specific results? (i.e., How is your life, job, career different now because of what you learned and implemented?)
(Richard) I am presently still teaching, but what has been exciting for me is that, once I started to consider a more religious profession, more doors for such a career started to open up for me. I am currently apprenticing with a mindfulness teacher, and I will begin a year-long training and certification program in June to become a mindfulness teacher for adolescents and children. I feel particularly called to this task since I have found that the stresses I experience in my job are equally shared by my students and their parents. I would like to help them all cope better with the pressures that are imposed on us. I don’t know yet what this means for earning a living, but I am excited by the prospect.
(Question) What were other benefits you experienced from your work with me? (e.g. financial, emotional, physical, or spiritual)
(Richard) I think what I most valued from our conversation was Kitty’s encouragement and positive attitude about making changes in my life. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it helps to hear someone give you “permission” to move on, to try something new, to follow your passion or your dream. I think I was waiting for an invitation to make a change and that doing so was what was needed in my life. Such a change, though, is scary, as one is making a leap or taking a risk.
There is no guarantee my plans will ultimately work out, but I was encouraged by all the examples that Kitty shared with me of people who did take the leap and did land safely on the other side. Kitty often said to me that if we can be clear in what we want, the universe will open up opportunities for us. I think this is true insofar as, by making a commitment to investigate a new path for myself, I became aware of a lot of opportunities that were right there in front of me but that I wouldn’t I have noticed had Kitty not encouraged me to look for them. I am grateful for her guidance and encouragement throughout our time working together.
(Question) Would you recommend me as a coach to friends & colleagues? If so, why?
(Richard) Yes, I would recommend Kitty as a coach, especially to those who feel burnt out and stuck in teaching. Teaching is a harder job than I think many realize, especially if one is a committed teacher. Kitty worked for years in education, and she understands what burnout looks like and how to move past it. I found her to possess a wealth of resources – from books to internet sites and businesses to innovators and entrepreneurs in a variety of fields. I would often take note of all these resources to track them down once our conversations were over, and I always found them helpful for giving me new ideas on how to look at my own situation and how to build a new career for myself. I also found Kitty to be extremely encouraging and positive about making good changes in our lives. I found our time working together invaluable, and I would recommend her with great enthusiasm.