• October 31, 2014
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Author Topic: Strategies for dealing with burnout?  (Read 1095 times)
nottooshabby
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« on: October 17, 2014, 10:26:31 PM »

Hello,

Im wondering if anyone has advice for dealing with serious job burnout.

Background: I just started a new VAP position (4/4 load) after having taught 10-12 classes a year for the past three years as an adjunct at various local universities.  I am so happy to have my new full-time VAP job, but it barely pays the bills (same pay as adjunct pay) and after only two months I feel extremely burned out.  For some reason, all of a sudden I feel that all I want to do is teach my classes and go home.  I have absolutely no desire to "go the extra mile" as I have in the past, to attend departmental events or meetings, to engage in service learning projects or have any contact with students at all after working hours.  I feel so bad about this because it is not how I envisioned the VAP job going and this is not the way things have been in the past.  But I cannot seem to overcome these feelings of complete indifference, especially to "extra stuff".  Also, when students come to class not having read or done the assignment, show immature behavior or turn in middle school level work, I feel like I absolutely cannot deal with this any more and that my job is absolutely meaningless, thankless, and pointless.  I am even starting to be quite rude and sarcastic without even meaning to be so. For instance,  a particularly immature student asked me today if she could leave early to pick her parents up from the airport and I replied to her, "Sure, no problem, you can leave whenever you want". I didn't mean this to be rude, but after I said it, I realized that I actually really hoped she would leave and that I couldn't care if she stayed in the class one way or the other.  I have never had feelings like this in the past for my department, students, or "extra" stuff, but right now, I think I might be suffering from serious burnout.  Has anyone else had similar experiences? Any advice on how to deal with burnout when it hits you right from the start? (ie. a VAP position?) I feel that there is no one I can talk to about this within my actual workplace since I am brand new and people dont know me that well quite yet--Im afraid they will think I am lazy or not consider me for reappointment.  I have tried to change my attitude, lift my spirits, and inspire myself by reading new teaching methods books or looking for new ways to present material. None of this has worked in the long-term.  It has just served as a quick fix.

Thanks very much for any advice. 
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hpopyfrood
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2014, 11:47:16 PM »

I am so sorry that things aren't working out the way that you'd hoped they would.  I have recently started a new job 4/4 as well, and honestly?  I'm tired and cynical right now too.  I think part of it is that time of year.  And you've been doing a lot of teaching as an adjunct.  I had to remind myself this year that if I'd had a full time permanent job, I would have qualified for two sabbaticals by now! 

Give yourself a bit of a break, in terms of feeling like you don't care.  You honestly might not right now, and you know what? That's okay.  You can feel like that all you like.

At work, fake it, at least to students.  Also, you don't have to care if they come or go.  Its their choice.   

I am feeling this acutely right now!  I had to do some deep breathing in class today just I wouldn't snap and tell the students to smarten up and put on their adult undies!  And I'm generally a pretty positive person to students, even if I think they are being the most annoying person on the face of the planet.

So, strategies?  Get things done the best you can, as professionally as you can.  Respect your students in practice even if you can't stand what they are doing.  My mantra right now is:  its not about you.    Be firm and fair about their behaviour.  (Also, if the extras really are extras, then don't do them.  When I was a contract, not adjunct, but full time contract, I was never required to go to meetings etc)  You don't have to be  Mary Poppins!   Sometimes teaching is just boring and unexciting, especially when you haven't had a chance to take a leave to explore new and exciting things.  So go easy on yourself.

And don't work all the time.  (I'm really bad at this part, but I'm trying)  Take at least one night during the week when you can just focus on something else, a hobby, whatever.    Take the time to recharge.    If people at work go out after work sometimes, maybe go and handout with them for fun.  (This has been workings splendidly for me right now)

I have no idea if any of this will be helpful, but I wish you luck!  You're not alone, and if you ever need to vent, the venting thread is awesome!
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protoplasm
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« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2014, 12:08:03 AM »

Doing the minimum required for your job is still doing your job. You've got guilt on top of the burnout. No reason for the guilt. It's the fault of the system that you have burnout. You have been nothing but conscientious, and you are not greedy about income. You're just getting by.
I've taught through burnout. I figure the students get their money's worth from me most of the time, frequently more, and occasionally less. It evens out. The burnout comes and goes, but you need more chilling out time right now. Think of it as like tendonitis in your elbow.
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aliceinschool
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2014, 9:08:37 AM »

I don't get the question. Why are you going "the extra mile" for a temporary job with lousy pay in the first place?

Do what you need to get you on the tenure-track somewhere else--almost certainly somewhere else. Even if you stand a chance at being hired, it will be because you are competitive, so do what you need to be competitive.
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neutralname
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2014, 10:23:22 AM »

 Do what you are paid to do.  Only do extra if it will be helpful to you or you enjoy doing it.

If you are getting burned out, cancel a few classes or show a few videos.

Don't care more about student success more than the students themselves do.  Enjoy what is pleasant and rewarding about your students, and don't focus on the annoying things they do.

Focus on projects that will get you better jobs.

Do things that are fun.  Look after your health.  Stay fit.  Exercise.  Relax.  You will be a better teacher if you do.
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"My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music." Vladimir Nabokov
mended_drum
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2014, 11:47:33 AM »

Do you have something else that you do on a regular basis?  A hobby, a meditation time, even a regular hour or half-hour for tv or gaming?  I have found that burn out sets in if I have nothing else in my life besides my job.  No matter how busy or overwhelmed I am, I toss all work obligations for two hours in the garden on the  weekend, and three hours at the pottery wheel during the week.  Unless I'm actually sick or out of town, I refuse to supplant these activities with anything, including work or family obligations.  As a result, I find the rest of life not only less stressful, but more humorous and less burdensome.


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"dr. mended_drum don't give a sh!t; she will chew me up like a cobra."
lucero
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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2014, 12:31:05 PM »

In addition to what everyone has said, I would recommend particularly working out physically, meditation, yoga--some things that will use the body and strengthen/relax the mind. Also, planning your next VACATION. Even if it is only a weekend or week during Winter Break, if you have a vacation set up, it is something to look forward to after the semester is over.
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fizmath
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2014, 2:18:56 PM »

It helps to be a slob.  Let exercise and pleasure reading take priority over keeping the home tidy and organized.
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fiona
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« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2014, 12:24:13 AM »

I think the advice on this thread is very, very good.

However, why are you even wanting to teach?

Seriously, there's not much pleasure in it for you, and also seriously, it won't improve much at another job, unless it's somehow at a very intellectually energetic school, such as a place like Swarthmore or Oberlin.

A big proportion of students today don't do the reading, don't come to class prepared, and have immature attitudes. It really has gotten worse in the years I've been teaching, and cell phone use and plagiarism add to the burnout factors.

My suggestion is to think seriously about what you kind of job you could get that would give you more pleasure and make you feel enhanced, not drained. Right now it sounds like you're  beating your head against a wall. You can get bandaids, but you may not be able to change the situation to make it feel good.  Volunteer work might give you a window into other kinds of work you could do. Don't settle for enduring. Think about what'll make you happy.

The Fiona
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protoplasm
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« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2014, 9:40:55 AM »

The shock is you're going into teaching so you can be for someone else what your most inspiring teacher was for you. Then you find only 5% of the students are like you were. Then you get the joker with his ass hanging out of his pants, and you can't figure out how he got through high school. Sign of the times.
Maybe when you're an adjunct you think all these bulls*** artists are being herded your way. So you expect something different if you move up.

I don't get the question. Why are you going "the extra mile" for a temporary job with lousy pay in the first place?

Do what you need to get you on the tenure-track somewhere else--almost certainly somewhere else. Even if you stand a chance at being hired, it will be because you are competitive, so do what you need to be competitive.

Very good question. The adjunct load for the last three years though, without any extra mile, is enough for burnout.
This was supposed to be the better situation, but it's just another weigh station? Sad.
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histchick
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« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2014, 10:49:31 AM »

OP,

I am experiencing much of what you describe this semester.  After three years as a term-to-term instructor (5/5 and 6/6 loads, not including summer classes), and in my second year as a year-to-year lecturer (5/5 at a regional state college), I have had near-panic attacks or crying jags many times this summer and fall.  Complicating matters a bit is that I will marry a tenured prof / administrator at this institution in a few months, and our rural location / lack of promotion pathway for me means that I may very well be "stuck" in my current position for quite some time.   As a coping mechanism, and with my SO's full approval,  I'm pursuing projects that will allow me to be promoted here (if there's a chance for it, and it seems probable in the next couple of years) as well as a Plan B retraining if it's necessary.  Meanwhile, at least this semester, I'm doing the bare minimum teaching-wise to allow myself some time to regroup.  Fortunately, I have the department's full support on this, and the interesting part is that I'm now giving myself the freedom to try some new teaching techniques that I wouldn't have tried in the past.  The "I don't really care" attitude, at least for me, has been a positive one. 

I wish you well as you seek your answer. 
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newprofwife
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2014, 3:58:05 PM »

I am experiencing burnout too but it is more of compassion fatigue. Basically after years in higher education working with mentoring students, it is very difficult and stressful work. What stresses me out is the trauma that I see on a regular basis. All the student stories of pain and suffering. Ive dealt with students coming to me for all kinds of mental health concerns from suicide to sexual assault. Im not just a paper pusher. I deal with student crisis all the time.

I am learning about how to come to terms with compassion fatigue (http://www.wendtcenter.org/resources/for-professionals.html) and how to use self-care to overcome my stress and burnout.       
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dr_prephd
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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2014, 6:54:03 PM »

Burnout+1 here. It's compounded because I've finally got my "dream job," but I'm so burnt out from getting here that I don't have the energy to do much more than the bare minimum--which makes me worry about *keeping* the dream job. I think I have serious adrenal fatigue and /or PTSD from the last job, which was too crazy to believe.

I'm trying to unplug from work as much as possible, compartmentalize, and nurture my body--exercise, self-care, etc.

It's hard and I have no real suggestions, just empathy.
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2014, 6:56:55 PM »

For instance,  a particularly immature student asked me today if she could leave early to pick her parents up from the airport and I replied to her, "Sure, no problem, you can leave whenever you want". I didn't mean this to be rude, but after I said it, I realized that I actually really hoped she would leave and that I couldn't care if she stayed in the class one way or the other. 

To get a little distance, you might keep a running list of things happening like this so that you can tweak your syllabus for next semester.  Then you can answer, "What does the syllabus say about that?" on autopilot.  All the bad behavior costs them points and you just record the results of their choices.

You can also tell yourself constantly that you're at a new place and that everything you're doing is just to get to know these students, try out assignments and readings and activities, and it goes the way it goes.  You'll assess at semester's end and decide what to change.  Less prepared students?  Reading quizzes needed, if you didn't give them in the past.  Points off for cell phones, etc.  Spend the rest of your time on publishing.

Also, something physically fun and exhausting, like dancing or a tough mudder run.
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #14 on: October 29, 2014, 6:59:33 PM »

Burnout+1 here. It's compounded because I've finally got my "dream job," but I'm so burnt out from getting here that I don't have the energy to do much more than the bare minimum--which makes me worry about *keeping* the dream job. I think I have serious adrenal fatigue and /or PTSD from the last job, which was too crazy to believe.

I'm trying to unplug from work as much as possible, compartmentalize, and nurture my body--exercise, self-care, etc.

It's hard and I have no real suggestions, just empathy.

Yes, could have written that a month ago.  One odd thing I turned up in research was that adrenal fatigue seems helped by salt.  I never salt my food but began, and I swear it helps.  I also went back to red meat for awhile and added a new kind of exercises I really enjoy.  Plus going to bed much earlier whenever I feel like it.  Trimmed the reading for my classes.

It is good to hear that others are struggling too, which reminds me that it's not that uncommon.
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