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The past few years have been very difficult, even for the most experienced of educators. The pandemic has left many educators exhausted, overworked, stressed, and in some cases, seeking alternative employment options. 

Speaking personally, getting up and heading to school in the morning hasn’t felt the same. My efforts to plan and facilitate great lessons have not been as fruitful as they used to be. My professional life became a constant storm of anxiety … and waiting for the “next shoe to drop.”

In an attempt to get to the cause of my “teacher burnout” symptoms, I spent some time reflecting on recent experiences and decided to document the top five reasons why being an educator has become so difficult.  

  1. Constant Need to Change Instructional Method
    Since March 2020, most educators have had to re-imagine everything they do in the classroom at some point to accommodate a hybrid or virtual teaching environment. In my (perhaps selfish) opinion, no subject suffered more in this regard than science. Science classrooms are hands-on, engaging, immersive, and collaborative environments. Demonstrations, lab experiments, investigations, and discussions lost all of their magic when they were limited to a virtual environment. While great teachers have attempted to combat the limitations of the virtual environment in interesting ways, the bottom line (again, this is my opinion) is that a tremendous amount of work was required for a fraction of the payoff. 
  1. Students Have Been Impacted
    Students were isolated in their homes for a long time. This caused many students to suffer socially, which in turn is having an impact on school environments. One upshot of this isolation is that many students have had a very smart and valuable partner over the past two years, named “Google.” It seems that the application of important skills like critical thinking and problem-solving are lacking in many students, due to having Google at their fingertips. Students need to get back into the practice of thinking for themselves and having original thoughts. 
  1. The “Covid” Excuse
    Covid has been a very valid excuse in many circumstances over the past few years. However, I feel that now it is being used unnecessarily in some cases. As we move forward, I think it is important to seek the level of involvement and professionalism that have always been a hallmark of our work.
  1. Budget Changes
    Many districts needed to reallocate funds to accommodate for a virtual teaching and learning environment. Big money was spent on technology, laptops, and other administrative necessities. While all are valid reasons to spend money, it feels like now we are dealing with the repercussions. Many districts have squeezed budgets to the point where it’s very difficult to obtain the materials one needs to be an effective educator.
  1. The Fun Stuff is Gone
    Covid canceled sports, dances, field trips, proms, award ceremonies, and much more. At the height of the pandemic, Covid even made eating lunch in a group or visiting a colleague’s classroom feel like a crime. Education environments need extracurricular activities and social opportunities to thrive. These are the times in which relationships and bonds are formed — which translates to a more comfortable, trusting, and productive environment in the classroom.

Overcoming teacher burnout

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After we have vented and aired our grievances, the next step is to find a way that we can get back to loving what we do. The great news is that time is very healing. In time, students will readjust to life in a rigorous, thought-provoking classroom environment. Of course, this assumes that we continue to provide them with opportunities to critically think and problem-solve. In time, the “Covid excuse” will become less and less justifiable — and hopefully, budgets will readjust to a new, and more workable, norm. 

Along with time, we can proactively fight burnout in the year ahead. I invite you to join me in my personal quest to combat burnout by following these three simple goals:  

  • Take Care of Yourself: We have heard about the importance of wellness and self-help endlessly during the pandemic. These personal needs don’t end now, and are not to be ignored. Your ability to help and lead others is directly proportional to your own well-being. In order to be the best for others, you must first take care of yourself. Make an effort to find a positive balance. Evaluate your habits and try to rid yourself of any negative ones that may have developed during the pandemic. Even the smallest effort in this department will go a long way.
  • Connect with Positive People: If you find yourself eating lunch with negative coworkers or chatting during your prep period with a group of teachers who constantly complain about the school, the job, or everything in general, it will serve you well to find a new crew. Attitude is very contagious. Being around negative individuals is exhausting, and can cause you to be more negative as well. If you cannot find positivity in your school, I recommend that you reach out to AACT. Through opportunities offered by AACT, not only can you connect with some of the best teachers you have ever met, but also some of the best people as well. Every time I leave an AACT event, webinar, or conference, I am motivated to become a better teacher, and feel like I have new tools to accomplish that goal. This year, AACT hopes to offer a virtual teacher meeting, via Zoom, where teachers can come for assistance, share ideas, and make valuable connections. Stay tuned for our first meeting this fall!   
  • Fresh Start: We have all developed new lessons due to the pandemic. Most teachers have found new apps, technology, and methods to rejuvenate their old lesson plans. The 2022-23 school year is a great time to try something new to spark your love for science and chemistry. “New” can be a scary word to some teachers, but adding even one new demo, lab, or activity to each unit this year would be a great start. The teaching resources and accompanying guides found in the AACT library have been designed by teachers to help you succeed.

The September issue of Chemistry Solutions

In each issue of Chemistry Solutions, educators from across the country and around the world share their experience and expertise with the chemistry teaching community. This platform can provide valuable insight, inspiration, and encouragement to teachers as we learn from one another — and get better together. I’ve been a reader of Chemistry Solutions content for many years, and with every issue I find myself learning something new. Additionally, I’ve authored several articles, which I hope have in turn benefited others in their own teaching careers. We all have genuine teaching ideas and experiences, and I encourage you to contribute to the publication and share your great knowledge with the community as well.  

In this issue of Chemistry Solutions:

  • Learn about the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program from the American Chemical Society, and the growing collection of lesson plans that are centered around select Landmarks for use in the high school chemistry classroom. The article shares about the unique combination of science, history, and literacy in each lesson plan, while featuring significant scientific achievements and discoveries.
  • Get insights from Tracy Kirsten, a veteran teacher from South Africa, who suggests small modifications in pedagogy that can make a big difference in how students learn science in the classroom, and seeks to inspire teachers to rethink and re-evaluate their pedagogy approach.
  • Hear from chemistry teacher Barbara Nelson, who has recently implemented a Project-Based Learning (PBL) curriculum in her chemistry classroom. She discusses her experience using PBL, and what motivates her to continue using the teaching approach. 
  • Learn about the influences and circumstances that led Roxanna Schaffino Moore to a career in teaching high school chemistry in her dream location, the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas.

From one teacher to another, I wish you the best of luck during the upcoming school year, and hope these small bits of advice help restore your passion and love for teaching!

Matt Perekupka
President, AACT 2022–2023

Photo credit:
(article cover) Bigsto
ckphoto.com/Vector V