Sunday, June 1, 2014


My day job is serving  director of faculty development at Lone Star College-North Harris. I just returned from the annual Teaching Professor Conference, held this year in Boston. One of the sessions was "Self Care: Preventing Burnout and Re-engaging Passion." The session was packed.

If you're not a college teacher, you may wonder what kind of ninnies can pack a workshop on faculty burnout. Get real, you may be thinking. Most faculty teach 15 hours per week, and many take off summers. Burnout? You gotta be kidding. In fact, I remember a friend's husband telling me regularly that I got big bucks--huge dollars--when you figured how little time I actually worked. He was working on the assumption that the 15 hours in the classroom were my only working hours.

Of course he was wrong. And frankly the fault is mine because I, like my colleagues, make teaching look so easy.

The truth is, teaching takes preparation... about 3 hours of prep time for each hour in class, and another 10-plus hours dedicated to grading the 120-160 essays and other short papers students turn in weekly. There's another 5 hours (minimum) of office hours where students drop by to argue over points deducted for spelling errors or why they believe they should be allowed to turn in late work. In addition to all this (do the math, we've gotten to a 70 hour week so far), there's also several hours a week working on one committee or another. As for those summers off? They're often spent working on a project to improve our teaching.

Bottom line: many faculty work as many hours as those contemporaries climbing the corporate ladder and pulling bigger paychecks.

The burnout comes from blurred boundaries. We take our work home: grading papers, answering emails, evaluating new textbooks, looking for relevant YouTube and Ted Talks and other resources to liven up class... the list goes on.

The consequences are serious. Burnout results in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (detachment from students and cynicism) and a sense of ineffectiveness. We gain weight,  neglect our spiritual practice, and neglect our families.

The cure? You need to pay attention to your emotional and physical state so that you can de-stress instead of soldiering through until you implode. Some of the best advice I heard in the session:
  •  Keep a gratitude journal (write down specific things you are grateful for each day)
  • Keep a folder of "fan mail" (notes from students and colleagues about the specific instances where you made a significant difference or contribution)
  • Meditate (schedule quiet time in the busy-ness of your day)
  • Move the body--take a walk in nature
  • Have date night with your sweetie on a weekly basis
Great ideas, and not just for teachers. Writers will find more enthusiasm, productivity, and happiness in their daily work if they, too, incorporate these ideas. As Steve Covey reminds us, we need to take time to sharpen the saw. If we don't, life will become dull and we'll lose our passion.

How do you care for yourself so you don't crash and burn?