81. Teacher Burn-Out, Part One

It’s no coincidence that I’m writing about teacher burn-out right after I wrote about combined classrooms. I’ve had years when defending the combined classroom was more trouble than it seemed worth. But looking back over my teaching career, I think I suffered from burn-out less than the average veteran teacher. In fact, the stress of teaching got on my nerves literally – somatically – before it got a chance to really get on my nerves figuratively – psychologically. So I can’t write with great personal authority about teacher burn-out.
Let me tell you a story first. It’s a story I’ve told several classes, and it’s an introduction to the issue of burn-out, among other issues. I’ll actually focus on the issue in my next article, but I’m hoping this story will set the stage. Besides, I feel like telling it, and it’s my column.
Laboria was a queendom very much like other queendoms and kingdoms. People went to work, raised their children, and occasionally, took holidays to celebrate being able to be who they were and do the things they did.
But one day, Queen Emily the Thoughtful was thinking. She did that often (that is why they called her “Queen Emily the Thoughtful”), and often thought important thoughts. On this particular day, she was worrying that the only reason people in Laboria went to work was to earn money. Since she never had to earn money, she didn’t like this possibility. It didn’t seem fair.
So Queen Emily the Thoughtful made a decree: from then on, people would get money whether they went to work or not.
As you’ve probably guessed, people were surprised by the new decree. They immediately thought the queen had gone off the deep end. But not a single one of them went to work the next day. “Make hay while the sun shines,” as they say, but even the haymakers stopped making hay. People sat by the river that meandered through the town. They ate bread and cheese. They washed it down with delicious, fruity drinks. They sang, told stories, and danced.
But after a few days, people started going back to work. Why?
The children in my classes invariably wanted me to finish the story, but I told them I’m a teacher, not a storyteller. I wanted them to think about why the people of Laboria started going back to work. Their answers said a lot about them, and probably a lot about some of you. In my next article, I’ll discuss burn-out – the reason some teachers chose to leave teaching and become artisans, tinsmiths, and wandering minstrels.

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