Ask Brian: I’m burnt-out. What are my teaching options?

A teacher lacking zest might look at how skills acquired can be used elsewhere

Teachers cause themselves needless stress by micromanaging students rather than encouraging more self-directed learning. Photograph: istock

Teachers cause themselves needless stress by micromanaging students rather than encouraging more self-directed learning. Photograph: istock


Question: I am a secondary teacher in my 50s with 21 years’ service. I taught English and history but find my workload overwhelming as my job begins again each night at 9.30pm. I am burnt out! I would like a career that ends each day without having to correct until 11pm most nights. Teaching has been good to me, but I want to move on to get the life work/balance right.

Answer: I was reflecting on your question as I read an article in the Daily Telegraph which reported on a school principal who had banned formal homework in her school to allow her teaching staff recharge their batteries in the evening time. The aim was to ensure they would be more effective teachers while delivering their class work each day. A revolutionary concept, but on reflection, maybe not an altogether bad idea?

As teachers, do we really need to micro-manage students every step up to 19 years of age and then cast them loose to their own devices in college? Should we not be directing senior cycle students towards self-directed learning in fifth and sixth year?

After all, it is the central skill we impart in transition year, but fail to develop once the serious business of the Leaving Cert and CAO points race kicks in. Would such a change allow teachers to avoid the burn-out that dedicated teachers such as yourself experience in their 50s under our present system?

You might consider beginning to place more responsibility on your senior students to manage their own study, which of course you will monitor.

Low ebb

It is also worth having a conversation with your principal regarding how these pressures have brought you to this low ebb. The school may be in a position to amend your teaching timetable. If that is not possible, you might consider applying for a job-share arrangement for a year, to see how a 50 per cent teaching load would change the dynamic of your life.

I would definitely take that option up before I took the irreversible step of resigning from my job. You might find if you did resign from teaching that a lot of meaning and purpose would also disappear from your life with your decision.

Finally, if none of the above sounds attractive to you and you are determined to move on to a different role, I suggest you start by compiling a list of the skills which you have undoubtedly acquired in over 20 years of teaching. If you are looking for a new paid job, nobody is interested in the qualifications you acquired in your 20s, but they will be interested in the skills you have now.

So draw up a skills-based CV and see if there is any organisation in your area in which you can identify a role which might give you a new zest for life. After all many people only find their true vocation in retirement, and at 52 years of age, you have relative youth on your side.