Week 3.1: Blowing off Steam & Teacher Dropouts

Happy New Year all! Back to school with all our goals for the spring semester. May they last at least one month…

To start the New Year, we’re getting a leg-up on how we’re all going to feel in March. Blowing off steam! This is a tricky subject, and one of the posts taking me the longest to write. How do teachers let off steam caused by work issues? If we go out and drink with our fellow teacher friends, might not a parent see us and decide we are too irresponsible to teach their kid? If we bottle up frustration, we risk leaving the profession through sheer unhappiness. If we have hobbies, all well and good, but building a model sailboat doesn’t really help us deal with our job.

I’ve tried many things – tequila Thursday with friends, movie marathons with junk food, driving to the next town over every weekend to hang out where I was unlikely to run into students and parents, etc. The only thing that really keeps me clear-headed is exercise; something I’m pretty bad at remembering to do. But for some reason, running, hiking, or doing any kind of solitary exercise helps me stay centered. So, first of all, you can look for the activity that keeps you clear-headed – and I can tell you that venting with fellow teachers is not that thing.


Second of all, I have to bring up an old story. The story of when I was talking to a first-year teacher a while ago and we bonded over how we are “teacher zombies” during the week and on the weekend we remember that we are living, vibrant, people with great personalities. The mental switch from “teacher self” to “myself” can be extreme. So, I suggest that each week, you find a way to bring who you are into your classroom. Share a story from your college days, share one book that you enjoyed, plan a lesson around something you remember from growing up – anything to combine your disparate selves. In the long run, it will help you remember who you were, who you are, and who your students are, something that we forget is so important when demonstrating that we are on the students’ side.

Besides bringing your unique personality into your classroom, I think the best thing is to change the game completely – don’t even use words like “stress” or “letting off steam” or “it was a tough week and I need a DRINK.” All of these phrases only emphasize the problem and keep you living in your stress for longer than you need to. So on Friday afternoon, right before you leave, I recommend doing three weirdly psychological things:

  1. Make a quick list of things to deal with next week. (5 minutes on this, max.)
  2. Read CNN headlines for 2 minutes and remember how good you have it.
  3. Name three things that went well in your classroom this week and make a note to thank your students for them on Monday morning.

Now proceed to your weekend, stress-free! Or thereabouts.

I would like to propose that the extremely high number of teachers who leave the profession in the first five years all encounter something they are not expecting in their first teaching jobs. They are trying to resolve their disparate selves – they are trying to develop a teacher personality while remembering their favorite teachers, while dealing with parents who only see how young they are, and while realizing that staying enthusiastic while surrounded by teenagers is just plain hard work and involves an element of acting. There is no room to have a “bad day” in teaching, because it is work that is up-close and personal every day, for much longer than 8 hours a day. There are plenty of stressful jobs out there, but most of them depend on you, rather than you and 25 teenagers.

The sources below offer a few more ideas explaining teacher-dropout rates, as well as giving the dropout statistics. Have your own idea, based on the new teachers you have observed or your own experience? Have you discovered an effective way to blow off steam? Please share by leaving a comment or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com. We would love to learn from your experience!

Interesting Reading:

NCES: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2015337





Next week, those VIP’s are back: it’s VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, part 2.

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