From Burned Out to Teacher on Fire

Editors Features May 19 / May 17, 2019

–Daniel Jones–

“Is there anything I can help you with?” I asked a guest at Target. I had been working in the electronics department there for four years (all whilst teaching full-time) when a thought crossed my mind. What if this was my job? What if I went into management? I would make more money than I do as a teacher, and I wouldn’t have any work to do at home. I brought the idea up to my wife, and she said, “I just want you to do what will make you happy.” I took a deep breath and said, “Then I am done with teaching. I just can’t do it anymore.” I spoke with the management team, and they were so excited that I was going to move in this new direction. They created a plan and started giving me leadership opportunities at the store, and then the day came for my interview to become a Team Lead (assistant store manager). The interview went great. Then…nothing. One door after another started closing, and the opportunities went silent.

My brother called me and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about working in the insurance business?” He went on to say that I could make a whole lot more money for a lot less work. I thought about it and figured, well, anything is better than what I am currently doing: teaching. My brother thought that since he worked at an insurance company, he could easily get me a job. I sent in my resume and waited. Nothing happened. The opportunity never came. Why the heck couldn’t I get out of education? What was keeping me there?

The more I thought about my frustrations, the more frustrating they became. I was consumed with agitation, anxiety, and emptiness. They filled my mind from the moment my feet hit the floor to when I exited the school. The only moments of relief I had from this depression were when I saw the faces of my wife and children. It was consuming my mind, my heart, and my lips. I loved teaching at one point, but I had reached a point where I was zapped of all strength to move forward. I had allowed my depression to isolate me and rob me of my joy. I was experiencing the epitome of burnout. I could not see how I could spend one more year in my classroom.

Flaming Out

That feeling of exhaustion, isolation, despair, anxiety, agitation, emptiness, and depression ultimately extinguished my passion for education. I had reached the bottom of my pit. Les Brown, author and speaker, is attributed to the quote, “When life knocks you down, try to land on your back. Because if you can look up, you can get up.” I was blessed to have people in my life that were not willing to allow me to give up. They encouraged me when I was discouraged. They affirmed me when I felt empty. A good friend of mine recommended meditation. I told him that I wasn’t into that sort of thing, and he responded, “It seems to be all you do!” I asked him to explain. He said that I was filling myself with so much negativity that it consumed my mind; I meditated on negativity and despair. He went on to say that if I can put that much energy into being negative, I am fully equipped to meditate on positive things. What we allow to consume our mind will transfer to our heart and then to our lips. The mouth speaks what is in the heart and what is in the heart is filled by the mind. Meditating on joy, peace, and passion is a position, not a feeling. He said that if we can make peace, we can give peace, which will equip us to keep peace.

Finding the Spark

Flipped Learning eventually reignited my extinguished flame, but why…how…when? I was in a position to be open to the idea that education needed to be done differently. It was either that, or I was going to exit the classroom entirely. The philosophical nature of Flipped Learning was so contradictory to traditional education that it became a matter of yin and yang to me. I began to see that traditional instruction was not merely backward from the way education needed to be done, but it was not best practice, it was not student-focused, and it was not in line with 21st-century needs. It was wrong. Traditional education had snuffed out my passion. It was what I had grown up with, and even then, I found it frustrating. Now that I knew there was a different way of educating students, I began to meditate on it.

I thought about Flipped Learning constantly. I allowed it to consume my mind, my heart and my lips. It offered something that traditional education did not: deeper relationships with my students, student ownership of the learning, and fulfillment in the classroom. One of the things that truly makes Flipped Learning unique is that it is not some empty initiative that will be here now and gone in six months. It isn’t a program owned by a corporation out to make a profit. It is rooted in sound and solid pedagogy that is researched-based best-practices; and it’s free — teacher-facilitated and student-driven. Flipped Learning is how self-directed learners are created. It is a way for students to creatively express their mastery of the content. It is THE way to reach every student in every class every day.

Beyond the Fixed Mindset

By being open to how Flipped Learning rearranges how students access learning, I was able to have a different outlook on, not only the day-to-day but also the process of teaching. Researching, innovating, and failing all taught me to endure the struggles because I understood a greater purpose in my role as an educator. I could see that my job was not to present content and make certain that all content is taught. Instead, my role was to guide and direct students as they mastered the content and demonstrated that mastery in meaningful ways.

Teacher on Fire

My transition from burned out to raging fire was not instantaneous. It was a process that required kindling, fanning the embers, and patience. In the beginning, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. All I knew was that it was the right thing to do, and it was what I needed to do. The biggest thing for me was just to start. I jumped in with both feet. I didn’t wade into the pool of Flipped Learning; I jumped into the deep end with a “Yahoooooooo!” New things are also exciting, but as the newness wore off, my passion and purpose raged on. There were good days and bad days, but I was able to develop the ability to see them as days, and I did not allow them to taint the condition of my heart. Without knowing it, I was meditating so intently on the successes I was seeing with my students, the excitement and ownership of learning that was occurring in each of them, and the maturing of my students that peace, no matter the day, swept through my mind, my heart, and my lips. In truth, peace is what I was seeking all along. Exhaustion, isolation, despair, anxiety, agitation, emptiness, and depression are all absent of peace. Flipped Learning brought me peace so that I could allow my passion to burn on.

Maintaining the Flame

I honestly believe that teacher burnout (not just the end-of-the-year stress that is just part of being a teacher), I mean burned out: ready to leave teaching, I hate my job, sort of burnout is a problem for traditional teachers. Flipped Learning means walking out of my classroom rejuvenated. The global network of flipped teachers means I am no longer isolated. I see my students owning their learning. The daily interactions with my students mean that I know where my students are in their understanding. As flipped educators, our old ways of doing things become foreign to these superior methods. We guide our students through their learning. We give to our students in more meaningful ways that meet more of their needs. We prioritize healthy relationships with our students. We can guide peacefully, give peacefully, and keep peace within our classrooms each and every day. Flipped Learning is not a style of teaching; it is the relationships we build, the time we give, the opportunities we provide. It is the peace we practice.

Photo by Matt Palmer

Dan Jones
Dan Jones Jones
Dan Jones is a middle school social studies teacher at the Richland School of Academic Arts. He earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is the author of Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide. He is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty and has earned numerous FLGI certifications including the certification Flipped Learning 3.0 Master Class Facilitator Certification Level - I.

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1 Comment

on May 22, 2019

Wonderful article, Dan!!! You have well described how I felt (many times) before starting flipping my lessons!!!
Let me quote your last words to summarize what Flipped Learning means, “Fl is not a style of teaching; it is the relationships we build, the time we give, the opportunities we provide. It is the peace we practice.” Thank you!!!

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