Is What You Already Know About Teaching Burning You Out?

Out of the Box May 19 / May 17, 2019

–Peter Santoro–

In New York, we are nearing the end of our school year. As a matter of fact, as of May 3rd, we have 28 teaching days left, not that anyone is counting, of course! I hear many of my colleagues giving the countdown until the last day of classes. Some are more exasperated than others. I get the impression that this latter group has been counting down since the first day of school. I do know for certain that we are all looking forward to the more carefree days of summer vacation.

As I hear the angst from a few colleagues, I can’t help but think some of them are experiencing “educator burnout.” In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term “burnout” in his book entitled Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger originally defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Let’s be honest, we all have bad days from time to time. That is the normal ebb and flow of life. But an occasional bad day is not burnout. Burnout is when you have a bad day every day with no hope for a better day in sight!

Red Flags

Some signs of burnout include the following: frustration with your job, being cynical about your workplace and your colleagues, headaches, stomach aches, feeling drained and tired, lacking the energy to get your work done, difficulty concentrating and lacking creativity. This by no means is an all-inclusive list, yet it highlights some feeling with which we all can identify.

About six years ago, I noticed a few of these traits in myself. It scared me, and I didn’t know what to do or how to “fix” myself. I was teaching Math, a subject that I love! My students were nice children, and yet I felt frustrated by my clear inability to reach every student, every day, in every class. I wanted them to learn and be enthusiastic, but I wasn’t able to give them the individual attention they needed. This made me feel inadequate and frustrated with my job. I felt my creativity draining from me, and that made me more frustrated. It was as if I was starting a downward spiral and couldn’t stop it. I was beginning to experience some symptoms of burnout, and I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to make my teaching better. I knew I was not alone. There had to be other teachers wrestling with the same feelings as me. Are any of my struggles yours as well?

I didn’t know, what I didn’t know

My Department Chair spoke at one of our Math department staff-development sessions about this “new thing” called the Flipped Classroom. He told us this was something he was exploring way back with pre-class work in the 80s. At that time, the technology wasn’t there to support this idea. He was passionate about the fact that active learning was the path to success for our students. He saw me reading and taking notes on the handout. After the meeting, he suggested that this was something that I should consider. The logic of why Flipped Learning works was so obvious that it jumped off the page at me.

After that meeting, I started reading all I could about Flipped Learning. I bought Jon Bergmann’s first book and read it in one sitting. A teacher in my school who had been to FlipCon 2013 was doing a one-week summer workshop in July 2014, entitled “How to flip your classroom.” I attended that workshop. While I was there, I created a week’s worth of video lessons, as well as individual and group space worksheets and activities. I spent a few more weeks that summer working on lessons. I would text my Department Chair over the summer and give him updates on my progress and some of my ideas. I wanted to keep him updated and seek his feedback. He was (and still is) supportive of Flipped Learning.

Coming back from the brink

All summer long I could feel my excitement growing as my creativity started coming through. It was almost like my first year teaching…excitement mingled with fear! As my excitement grew, I felt my creativity start to return. In the back of my mind, I kept asking myself how my students (and their parents) would react to such a dramatic change in the way they were learning. When I received my rosters at the end of the summer, I knew I had to reach out to my students and their parents. I wanted to let them know that their classes would be different. I crafted an email, sent it home, and waited for the responses. How many students would request a transfer to another teacher? Would they be open to change for the possibility of a better learning outcome? I was hoping they would stay in my classes. To my surprise, only two or three students requested transfers to another teacher. This response was a big boost to my confidence.

As the school year progressed, my students embraced Flipped Learning. I grew more confident in my new-found craft. Flipped Learning is a radical departure from the hundreds of years of passive learning. This felt so new and exciting. It was as if a whole new world had opened up in my classroom. My students were achieving success. Most of them had struggled with math for their entire career in school. They were succeeding in ways they could never have imagined. During parent-teacher conferences, the parents said they could not believe how well their children were doing in my class. One question all parents ask me is: “Why aren’t all teachers flipping their classes?”

Boosting my knowledge, boosting my students

I attended FlipCon 2015 and FlipCon 2016. It is so important to stay connected with the Flipped Learning community. At FlipCon 2016, I attended a session on Flipped Mastery. The Algebros, who presented this session, motivated me to implement Mastery in my classes when the school year began that September. As I was sitting at the conference listening to them present, I sent an email to my Department Chair and told him I wanted to put Flipped Mastery in place when school started in September. He emailed me back and told me to go for it. I was so excited to be doing something new again. It was clear that Mastery would be a tremendous boost to my students.

My colleagues noticed a change in my mood and attitude. I no longer ate lunch with the pessimists. At faculty meetings, I only sat with positive, uplifting colleagues. I grew to love my job again. All those negative feelings I had a few years before were gone. I no longer felt anything even close to burnout. If anything, Flipped Learning is the polar opposite of burnout! My relationship with my students has never been better. In the coming weeks, I will ask my students to complete a course evaluation/survey. This is an important part of my end-of-year reflection process. It helps me in my planning for the next school year.

Dodging Burnout

Does this sound too good to be true?  Are you interested in trying Flipped Learning for yourself?  Here are a few things you can do now:

  1. If you have not flipped your class yet, start planning that process now. Make sure you have administrative approval and support.
  2. If other teachers are in your school who have flipped their classes, join forces with them. Flipping your class is a lot of work. The effort that you will put in up front will pay dividends in the future as you transform your practice of teaching. A support system is invaluable.
  3. Look at how much active learning (i.e., peer-to-peer/group work, student centered-work) is happening in your classes now. If it is not much, start researching ways to put in place more active learning strategies.
  4. As you plan to flip, spend a good deal of time on your class pre-work: the video lessons and the work you assign with the video lessons. The individual space work is critical to your group space success in the classroom.
  5. Reflect on how this school year went. Did it meet your expectations? Exceed them? Fall short? Be specific and honest in your analysis.
  6. Review the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning (GEEFL). Flipped Learning is the solution for so many issues. A few of them are as follows: differentiation, higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, student choice, and student ownership of their own learning.

I was fortunate that I did not burn out a few years ago. I know I was heading towards burnout. Flipped Learning was my antidote for burnout. And it can be your antidote as well.


Peter Santoro
Peter Santoro
I have been teaching High School Mathematics for 12 years. This is the fifth year I am “Flipping” and my third year with Flipped Mastery. In addition to two sections of Introductory Calculus, I also teach one section of Geometry and two sections of Mathematics Research Honors. In addition, I am the coach of the Garden City High School Math Team (Mathletes). I am a Founding Member of the FLGI International Faculty as well as an FLGI Master Teacher and a member of the FLGI Insanely Smart Panel on the innovative uses of class time.

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