Skip to Content


Virginia Journal of Education


Your Classroom

Fighting Burnout With Balance

--by Josh Folb

We've all been there: it’s 2 a.m. and you're wide awake, feeling hopelessly behind or thinking about the student /parent /administrator /state official who’s getting on your last nerve.

“I'm burned out! I don't need this,” you think to yourself. Should you quit? Maybe you should just retire early—but wait, you can't. Gahhh, I hate that student /parent /administrator /state official! 

Stop! There's got to be a better way to look at this!

There is. I learned a little about it at VEA's instructional conference listening to Neil McNerney. A family therapist, he talked as if he was reading every teacher's mind. At some point during his session on avoiding burnout, Kenny Chesney's That's why I'm Here started playing in my head: “This old boy stood up in the aisle said he'd been living life in denial / And he cried as he talked about wasted years / I couldn't believe what I'd heard / It was my life word for word / And all of a sudden it was clear...”  There have definitely been times when I’ve felt completely burned out; he was talking to me. And probably to you, too, so let me share some important things I took away from Neil's presentation.

It's not happening to you, it's happening around you. The child is not doing the annoying action to personally bother you, but reacting to his situation. It's hard, but don't take it personally.

You’re not responsible for anyone but yourself; you’re responsible to provide proper education to your students. There were two reactions in the room to this. The first was, “Sounds like semantics”—but the difference is important. The only person you can control is yourself; everyone else is going to do what they’re going to do, and all you can do is work with it. The second reaction was, “The state/district/principal says I'm responsible for x, y and z.” Go back to the difference—you’re only responsible for yourself, but you are responsible to provide quality education, report abuse, make lesson plans, etc. Johnny is responsible for Johnny.

Don't love your job, it can't love you back. This one is important, because extreme emotions accompany love. Enjoy your job; be happy to go there, but don’t love it. Save that for living creatures. Further, take a hard look at your life; if you’re throwing everything you have into your job, maybe you’re searching for something else.

Set boundaries. You can't control if people send you e-mails at 10 p.m. or try to stop you in the hallway for a conference. Personally, I read my e-mails in the evening to see if there will be any “fires” in the morning, but the responses wait until the next day. If you start answering e-mails at 10 p.m., people are going to start to expect it. Also, if a parent catches you in the hallway, redirect him or her to the office, or suggest an e-mail. One hallway conversation assumes that a second is acceptable, too.

Stay late if you want to, but only if you want to. There is no prize for staying late. Some schools have a “culture” of staying late after school, but every teacher owns that choice. If staying late makes you feel better because you know you’re getting certain things done, then go for it! However, if you’re just burning out, go home. You might get “the look” from some other teachers, but remember that the work will be there in the morning, and it won't love you any differently. Who knows? You might start a healthier trend.

Make your job only a slice of your life. I flashed back to a survey about what I enjoyed doing outside of school. When I took it, I had no good answers, because work was my life. Now I have many answers and most of them make me smile. If you were asked about what you do outside of school, what would you say? If your answer doesn't satisfy you, then it’s time to make work a smaller slice of your life. If you need someone to give you permission to do so, go ahead and give it to yourself.

Avoid negativity. If the lunchroom is nothing but a gripe session, avoid it. Make your own group and eat in a classroom or other common area. In one school where I taught, a few of us actually ate in the cafeteria with students (though at our own table) and it was surprisingly nice.

Finally, give 85 percent, save the other 15 percent for other things. You've heard the statement, “you've gotta give this your all!” But consider: If you give 100 percent at work, what's left in you for the rest of the day? Are you just supposed to go home and wallow? You want to do a great job and show you care, but if you give everything you have, there will be nothing left for you, and that's not right. I read an article by a weightlifting coach who talked about not maxing out on a set a lifts, and always leaving a little behind. He said you’d be stronger for it. This sounds like great advice for all of us—save a little for yourself, your family and the other activities in your life.

Nothing here is earth-shattering information, but it needs to be said. Steering yourself away from burnout takes a shift in attitude more than anything else. As Kenny Chesney also sings, “It's the simple things in life...” 

Folb, a member of the Arlington Education Association, is a math teacher at two sites in Arlington’s High School Continuation Program.

Presidential Awards
Honor K-6 Teachers

Do you know an especially outstanding K-6 math or science teacher? Maybe even yourself? If so, you have the chance to nominate him or her for a 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

The PAEMST program was launched in 1983 by the White House and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. An awardee from every state will receive $10,000 and be invited to Washington, D.C. for recognition events. To be eligible, you must have had at least five years of full-time math or science teaching experience before the 2010-11 school year.

Deadline for nominations is May 1, 2012. For more information, visit

Teachers: Tune In for
Professional Growth

Now here’s some worthwhile television: A channel devoted entirely to professional development for teachers! You might want to check out Teaching Channel, which can be found at There, you’ll find a video showcase, from both television and the Web, of some of the outstanding teaching being done right now in American public schools.

The channel’s mission is to celebrate teaching by helping teachers share their best ideas, watch each other in action, and learn from one another. You can download videos, many with accompanying lesson plans, or just watch and learn. Subjects range from math and science to English and history, and there is also a chance to offer feedback.

Best Lesson Plans
On the Planet?

At the Lesson Planet website, you can search over 350,000 lesson plans that have been reviewed and rated by your colleagues around the country; find lessons that are targeted to specific state standards; search by grade, teacher rating, theme and more; and share your teaching strategies and resources with others.

And, because you’re an Association member, you can do it for 20 percent less.

To get all the details, go to

NEA to Help Hall
Honor Teachers

NEA is partnering with The National Teachers Hall of Fame to strengthen efforts to honor the nation’s teachers and raise the profile of the teaching profession.

Through the NEA Foundation, the Association provided a grant of $25,000 to the Hall of Fame, and will honor the 2012 inductees during National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6-12. NEA leaders will join the Hall’s Board of Trustees and a representative will serve on the national selection committee.

The Hall was founded in 1989 at Emporia State University, and is committed to drawing attention to exceptional PreK-12 teachers through a museum and recognition program. It’s the only organization of its kind dedicated to recognizing career teachers, to preserving and promoting education, and to serving the nation by inspiring others to enter the profession. Learn more at


The Perfect Storm?

--By Dave Ridenour

A hurricane was coming. My students listened intently to forecasts predicting floods, high winds, downed power lines and closed roads in the next 24 hours. Our very own school building would be available as an emergency shelter.

The National Hurricane Center gave us only a 20 percent chance of being hit by the storm and, since we were about 200 miles inland, there would be no tidal flooding. Of course, a category 4 hurricane is not to be taken lightly (and heavy rains inland could certainly cause deadly flooding), but I have always used news coverage of hurricanes to discuss with my physics students the dynamics of energy transfer, explaining that the energy of the storm always lessens as it passes over land and the air cools.

I welcomed the chance to introduce the concept of probability and risk assessment in class, and pointed out that if we only had a 20 percent chance of being in the path of the storm, then we had an 80 percent chance of not being in the path. This meant that students should do their homework and plan to be in school the next day.

They were sure I was wrong. The media were warning people about the coming storm, advising them to buy supplies, telling them how to deal with downed power lines and flooded roads, and recommending they seek safe shelter. No student in class thought there was any way we could be spared.

I suggested that we talk after the storm had passed and see which view would prove itself to have been more accurate, theirs or mine.

Soon, a school district directly to our south announced that it would be closed the next day. Then another and another, until the majority of nearby districts had decided to close. Finally, our district joined the stampede—no schools in our area would be open the following day.

During the night, the hurricane changed course and headed away from us. The next day had some rain and a few wind gusts, but nothing worse than an average summer thunderstorm. No one needed to seek shelter. I was happy that the storm had not come our way, but I was also delighted at the opportunity to show my students, in a convincing way, the effects of media hype.

It was going to be great, I thought. Students would see that statistics actually meant something. The physics of energy transfer would also be confirmed; the storm had been downgraded to a category 2 immediately after reaching land, and then later a category 1. I was carefully controlling my urge to gloat (so that I could appear judicious and objective as I watched them acknowledge the superiority of my analysis).

Walking into class the following morning (reminding myself to be humble), I looked into a room of excited faces. “We were right, you were wrong,” they gleefully cried. “they did close school!”

Ridenour, now retired, taught in Albemarle County. This story is drawn from a book he is writing, titled In Support of Teachers.


Kudos Kolumn

Buchanan’s Potter Earns
2011 Apple Award for Excellence

Gail Potter, a member of the Buchanan County Education Association and a seventh grade reading and language arts teacher at Riverview Elementary/Middle School, has been named the county’s 2011 winner of the Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is presented annually by the Thank You Foundation and TruPoint Bank, honors “service above and beyond the call of duty,” and comes with a check for $15,000.

Three VEA members have earned national recognition for their work with special education students. Each year, the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) presents the NASET Outstanding Special Education Teacher Award to educators nominated by their school, school division, colleagues or students’ families. Among this year’s winners are Alicia Deel of the Buchanan County Education Association and Grundy High School; Betsy Ferguson of the York Education Association and York High School; and Jane Volkmann of the Education Association of Norfolk and Willoughby Elementary School.

Annemarie Noonan, a member of the Shenandoah County Education Association and a sixth grade U.S. History teacher at Signal Knob Middle School, has been named the county’s Teacher of the Year. She received a $2,500 check for classroom use from the Shenandoah County Education Foundation.

Seven VEA members from the metro Richmond area have earned R.E.B. Awards for Teaching Excellence, which come in the form of cash grants for pursuing a self-designed program of professional development. From the Richmond Education Association, winners included Samara Booker of Clark Springs Elementary School and Danica Millner of Thomas Jefferson High School; from the Chesterfield Education Association, honorees were Jacqueline Coffey of Ettrick Elementary School, Vincent Hughes of Tomahawk Middle School, Shannon Majeski of Bon Air Elementary School, and Susan Nagel of Clover Hill Elementary School; and from the Henrico Education Association, awardees included Beverly Brown of Echo Lake Elementary School.






Virginia Capital

Fund Our Schools Now


Check out our products!


Embed This Page (x)

Select and copy this code to your clipboard