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Abby Connors - Early Childhood Arts Educator & Author
Abby Connors : Use Your Creativity to Find the Beauty of Burnout

For Teachers of Young Children: Use Your Creativity to Find
the Beauty of Burnout

By Abby Connors

I'm talking to you, there, hiding under your blanket. You've forgotten how many times you've hit the 'snooze" button. You feel apathy, fatigue, overwhelmed by the relentless responsibilities of teaching. You just don't want to go back to that classroom. If you teach young children, you've probably been to Burnout Land — at least once.

The usual suggested "cures" for burnout: Take a vacation, or at least a day off — make time for yourself and your needs. Try meditation, exercise, hobbies, time with nature. All good things, all vital for mental and emotional well-being. They can help us return to the classroom refreshed and ready to teach.

The only problem with this approach is that we may be missing out on the beauty of burnout. Burnout can be a gift, a reminder that we're losing touch with the joy and meaning in teaching. It can be an invitation to reflect on our own personal strengths and weaknesses, to challenge ourselves in new and exciting ways, and to experience teaching on a deeper level. It can be an opportunity to use our creativity to teach with new ideas, new energy, and new inspiration.

I've found the following creative exercises to be tremendous boosts to re-create myself as a teacher and renew my positive feelings for working with young children. You may use these or invent your own — whatever you can imagine that brings out your best creative efforts.

1. Write a new job description. Most preschool teachers have job descriptions that are dry and factual, with items like "attend regular staff meetings" and "assist with snack preparation." Why not write a personal job description, for your eyes only, listing the "tasks" that are meaningful to you? For instance, my personal job description includes "spread the joy of literature, music and dance," "appreciate children's efforts and accomplishments," and "give and receive smiles."

2. Use each day's teaching to honor someone. Think of the individuals who have inspired you as a teacher and as a person. These may be professors, parents, colleagues, public figures, or anyone important in your life. Then take a moment each morning to dedicate, in thought or in writing, the coming day's teaching to one of your heroes. Your mind will be attuned to the positive thoughts they've inspired in you.

3. Divide and conquer. Often, what seems like one huge, unsolvable problem can be broken down into three or four (or twenty) problems which, when taken on one at a time, are actually quite manageable. Make a list of everything that's bothering you at work — just list them quickly, without dwelling on them or looking for instant solutions. You may come up with items like:

  1. Constant interruptions
  2. Two or three children with behavior problems that distract the other children
  3. Negative, gossipy co-workers

Chances are you already feel somewhat less overwhelmed, just by writing things down instead of letting them stew inside your head. Now you have clear, isolated issues you can take creative action on. For instance, with the interruptions, you can experiment with different ways to cut down on children's interruptions: you might remind them ahead of time (every time, in different ways, if necessary) that we don't talk during story time but can save our questions and comments for after the story; you can speak louder or more softly; you can give children more time to talk without interrupting them; or try ideas of your own that you feel might work.

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