My new book is coming out on April 10th, called Fewer Things, Better: The Courage to Focus on What Matters Most. I’m doing the final edits on the book now and realized that I talk about a lot of different “syndromes” throughout the book.
These are mindsets that overcomplicate our teaching, make it harder to say no and draw boundaries, or that prevent us from doing the most impactful work.
I thought it would make a cool podcast episode if I pulled out each of those five syndromes from the book, and talked about how they might be holding you back.
Want to listen instead ofread?
Download the audio, and listen on the go!
Shiny object syndrome
Some teachers find themselves perpetually chasing shiny objects: the next new, exciting trend that will transform their teaching. They might have FOMO: the fear of missing out, or worry about being stuck in the dark ages when everyone around them is innovating.
Here’s the cure: Remind yourself that of course, you’re missing out on some cool stuff. If you had a million years, you still wouldn’t have enough time to teach every awesome lesson idea that’s possible.
But, you don’t have to spend excessive time thinking about what you could be doing if what you’re already doing is working well for you and your students. Consider where your time and energy is best spent, and be intentional about what you prioritize.
When you find an activity that works, you can repeat those types of experiences over and over. I used the same 20ish types of practice activities in many contexts and only deviated from them when the subject matter lent itself to that (i.e. if I was teaching about moon cycles, obviously, we built models of the moon). For all the other skills/topics, I was simply picking from what I already knew was effective.
For example, gallery walks (also called chat stations) are one teaching strategy I’ve relied on a lot. Students work in small groups to walk around the classroom and respond to texts, questions, or prompts that I placed in various parts of the room. This activity is versatile and naturally differentiated. It can be used with any topic. It gets kids moving around and collaborating. They love it, and it’s minimal prep.
So, gallery walks are a go-to activity in my teaching “bag of tricks.” If I want kids to think and talk about a topic, I don’t need to spend an hour online looking for a clever new way to do it. I can simply write “gallery walk” in my lesson plans, and the next day, tell kids that’s what we’re doing and they immediately spring into action.
This means there’s no wasted time reinventing the wheel on my weekends. And, there’s no wasted class time explaining what to do, setting expectations, practicing procedures, and creating new routines.
If lesson planning takes you way too much time, this is the way you want to plan the bulk of your activities. You can start with 4-5 strategies which you know are effective for your students, and add more slowly over time.
This doesn’t mean that you can never look for something new to try. If finding fun activities is part of your “hobby-work” that you do in your free time, that’s great! I’m simply saying you don’t have to do it in order to be an effective teacher, and there are other ways to keep things fresh and interesting in your teaching.
I promise that the repetition of activities will not bother the majority of your students. Young kids like predictability and older kids don’t find things nearly as repetitive as we might assume (after all, they have 5-8 different teachers each day, so they’re getting a lot of variety in teaching styles and activities, anyway).
For kids of all ages, it can feel like a relief to come to class and know what is expected. Students like knowing how to be successful without thinking too hard about what the procedure is for whatever new thing the teacher is trying out that day.
So, don’t allow yourself to fall prey to “shiny object syndrome” in which you’re distracted by every new-to-you teaching idea. Focus on what works and let go of the pressure to do constantly do something new.
Even if your students are generally learning and engaged, parents are complimenting you, colleagues admire you, and your principal thinks you’re doing a good job, you still might not see yourself as an effective teacher.
You might feel a bit like a fraud, and experience an almost panic-inducing sense that at any moment, other people are going to figure out you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
This is called imposter syndrome, and it can be paralyzing. You might think to yourself, I have no idea what I’m doing as a teacher. I’m not experienced or knowledgeable enough to be doing this work. I don’t know why other people say I’m such a good teacher — I really don’t deserve it and haven’t done a very good job.
The cure for imposter syndrome is to build up your sense of self-worth and learn to truly recognize your skills and accomplishments. That’s because the problem isn’t other people thinking you’re better than you actually are. They’re not wrong about your competency.
The issue is that they think you’re better than you think you are. Their view of you is higher than your view of yourself.
Imposter syndrome isn’t rooted in reality or your actual skills and expertise at all. It’s rooted in the way you see yourself. If you’ve accomplished things that are greater than your own perception of self-worth, you will experience cognitive dissonance anytime you’re praised:
- How could I be Teacher of the Year when my desk is a mess and I have 500 unread emails?
- Why would they want me to be a team leader when I yelled at my students the other day?
- How could my colleagues compliment my room organization when everything inside my cabinets is a disaster?
Because you don’t measure up to some internal ideal, you don’t feel like a “real adult” or maybe you just don’t feel like a “real teacher.”
So when others compliment your achievements and skills, it feels uncomfortable because it doesn’t align with your identity. You don’t see yourself as a person who could be a team leader or teacher of the year or even “just” a competent classroom educator. You focus on all your flaws, mistakes, and limitations. Your self-image is not aligned with who you really are and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
It’s extremely difficult to create boundaries for yourself, stand up for your needs, and be firm in what you believe if part of you feels like an imposter.
If you want to have the confidence to do fewer things better, you have to be yourself unapologetically, without letting others’ expectations define you. Getting there means understanding your strengths and knowing what you bring to the table.
Project manager syndrome
It’s a well-known fact that teachers wear many hats. You play the role of secretary, nurse, social worker, counselor, actor, events coordinator, coach, detective, referee, and so on.
But there’s another role that needs to be filled, and you might not even be aware of it. It’s being a project manager. Your school or district leaders set the goals, but you’re in charge of figuring out systems and daily procedures for getting kids from point A to B in their development.
In other words, someone in charge tells you what needs to be done, perhaps in excruciating, micromanaging detail. But you must figure out how to ensure that everything which is required actually happens. Not only are you figuring out systems, routines, and procedures, you are also responsible for completing the vast majority of the work, all by yourself.
You’re given the learning standards and are responsible for orchestrating how to get every single child to meet the standards. That’s not a single task you can put on a to-do list and check off. It is an absolutely massive, ongoing project.
That’s why lesson planning is so challenging and time-intensive: you have to design, research, manage, oversee, implement, and evaluate the project pretty much single-handedly.
And lesson planning is just ONE type of project you’re in charge of. You also manage projects around behavioral issues, classroom design, organization, committee goals, action research, and more.
You’re not only expected to execute all of them well, but you’re also expected to plan, manage, and oversee all of them … ON TOP OF MANAGING THE WORK OF ALL OF YOUR STUDENTS.
And then you go home and repeat the process for all your personal and household tasks, planning and executing far too many things there, too. The obligation to make sure everything’s running smoothly and everyone’s happy and nothing is forgotten never ends.
I refer to this kind of emotional labor and mental load as “Project Manager Syndrome.” It’s where you feel responsible for planning and orchestrating every detail of your life and the lives of those in your care.
I believe it’s one of the most insidious forms of burnout because we have trouble recognizing it in ourselves or explaining the stress to others. Many of the responsibilities don’t seem very big on their own, so we feel like we shouldn’t complain.
But it’s the cumulative weight that’s exhausting: the sheer number of items to keep track of. There might be 30 or more things to oversee just in the minor details of your students’ day:
Remember to send Sarah to the Speech Therapist at 10:15; get Jacob to the nurse for his asthma medication at 11:30; give the homework assignment to LaShay right before lunch since she’s leaving early; make sure Mario has the extra copy of the study guide his mom requested; print out the recommendation letter for Justine; have Chloe check the lost and found for the hat she can’t find …
No wonder your brain feels like it’s on overload!
The cure for project management syndrome involves turning over the responsibility for doing many of these tasks to others so you’re not carrying the mental load of trying to remember and oversee everything. But there’s another syndrome that plays into this one which might be holding you back. Let’s talk about superhero syndrome, too, and then we’ll address the cure for both.
This is a phenomenon in which people are unwilling to ask for help because they believe no one else could be capable of doing things how they need to be done.
This has been a big struggle for me in all areas of my life and work, and chances are good that you struggle in very similar ways with carrying too much of the workload. Maybe your superhero syndrome sounds like this:
- “I can’t ask my partner to do the dishes because I don’t like the way he loads the dishwasher.”
- “I can’t ask my students to organize our class library because it won’t look right if they do it.”
- “I can’t co-plan with my teammates because they don’t do things the way I want them.”
And on, and on, and on.
You don’t exist as an island, and yet you’ve isolated yourself when it comes to getting things done. You’ve taken on the responsibility for tasks which the people around you are fully capable of doing.
You don’t want to “owe” your coworkers so you never ask them for anything.
You don’t trust your family members to be responsible so you bear the full weight of keeping the household on track.
You don’t want to take time to train your students to clean, organize, and manage their learning environment so you stay on top of everything for them.
It’s superhero syndrome that makes you feel like you are the only one who can do things the way they need to be done. Superhero syndrome convinces you that it’s easier to do everything yourself than to train someone else or allow them to do things in their own way.
But guess what: As long as you’re the only one who can do things “right,” you’re the only one who will ever be doing them.
If you want to expand your capacity to achieve more or even just shorten your to-do list, you have to adapt the same mindset that I needed to adapt and begin sharing the workload. That’s the only cure.
No, your family members, students, etc. will not be able to do things exactly like you do them. But 80% done by them is better than 100% done by you.
You may have to explain the task, train them, and get them started (the first 10%), and you might have to do the final 10% yourself to clean up any errors or put the final touch on things. But if the middle 80% can be delegated, that’s 80% less work for you.
Even 40% done by someone else is better than 100% done by you. Don’t allow your own standards for how things “should” be done keep you stuck in a place where you can never delegate or get assistance.
In the Fewer Things, Better book, I share a lot more specifics about this delegation process and how to let go toempower others to take more responsibility. For now, let’s move on to the fifth and final syndrome that overcomplicates your teaching.
The competition for martyrdom is ingrained in us from the first days of our teacher training programs. We are told repeatedly — by everyone around us — that we will never make a lot of money in this profession, while also being told that teaching is the most important profession in the world.
We are groomed from the start to accept that we will always be undervalued and underpaid, and the tacit implication is that we must be okay with that sacrifice if we really care about kids.
These are the subconscious beliefs that comprise our collective teaching identity:
- The more I pile onto my plate, the more dedicated of a teacher I am.
- The harder the teaching job, the more it proves I care about kids.
- The worse the working conditions I endure, the tougher I am and the more worthy of respect I am.
These are the beliefs which make the “savior complex” such a common problem amongst teachers. We pressure ourselves to do whatever it takes to “rescue” kids. We are conditioned to see ourselves as the hero of kids’ stories instead of seeing kids as the heroes of their own stories.
Not only will a savior complex harm your students, but it will also wear you out. It’s impossible to create better balance when you feel responsible for saving children and need to constantly prove how much you’re doing to help them.
A savior or hero’s entire identity is wrapped up in saving the victims, and nothing else matters — it must get done at any physical, emotional, or financial cost.
A supporter takes responsibility only for the factors within their control. A supporter derives a sense of self-worth from their inherent value which is not measured by how hard they work. Therefore, a supporter has nothing to prove to themselves or others.
But here’s the cure: you can change your identity from savior to supporter, and withdraw from the contest for Most Dedicated Teacher in the Most Difficult Teaching Job Ever.
In fact, that’s the critical piece of this transformation. If you think that taking the toughest teaching job and working endless hours is necessary to prove you care, any improvement in your workload will always be impossible.
Cutting back on anything will make you feel less dedicated to kids, and you will constantly compare yourself to other teachers who sacrifice more.
You won’t be able to follow through on steps to simplify until that no longer conflicts with your identity as someone who must do anything for the kids and be hard at work every minute to prove your worth.
Being overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated — yet continuing to give 110% every day — is part of our collective identity as educators. And we are all hardwired to reject changes that don’t fit with our identities.
Maybe it’s time for you to ask some of the questions I had to grapple with, too:
- Do I want people to agree that I have a terribly hard job with completely unreasonable demands, or do I want to enjoy my work?
- Do I want the satisfaction that comes from seeing myself as a martyr, or do I want to figure out what my needs are and make sure they’re met?
- Do I want to win the Hardest Job in the World award, or do I want to live a fulfilling, well-balanced life?
You have to get real about what you want and decide if you’re actually motivated to change.
Because sometimes we don’t want things to improve. We just want to wallow. We want to talk about how awful and difficult things are, and have others commiserate and admire us for all the hardship we manage to endure.
I’ve been there. And it’s okay for you to be there, too. Just don’t stay stuck there. At any point in time, you can decide to stop repeating to yourself how exhausting everything is and let go of excuses for why your life could never be any different.
You can stop measuring your worth by what other people think of you and how much you do for others.
You can disassociate the number of hours you work with your perception of effectiveness and dedication.
When you shift those beliefs, you create space to be intentional about how you use your unpaid time. You can begin to focus more on what matters instead of trying to keep up with what everyone else appears to be doing.
It is a myth that every teacher has to work endless unpaid hours to do a great job for kids.
The truth is that working more hours does not equate with more effectiveness. It’s what you do with the hours that makes a difference.
Thank you, Advancement Courses, for sponsoring today’s podcast episode. You can earn graduate credits or CEUs through over 200 online PD courses in 19 different subject areas for K-12 teachers. Everything is online and self-paced, and you have 6 months to complete. Right now, you can save 20% off each course with code TRUTH20 – that’s just $120 per graduate credit hour. To learn more, visit advancementcourses.com/truth.
The phenomenon is often characterized by self-doubt, anxiety, second-guessing, self-sabotaging, and fear. Imposter syndrome is common among new teachers. I went through it myself 27 years ago when I first became a teacher. It's normal, and it's OK.What are the symptoms of teacher frustration? ›
Evidence of this may be frustration and irritability, mood swings, impaired concentration, chronic fatigue and insomnia as well as physical symptoms such as increased illness, palpitations, gastrointestinal pain, headaches and dizziness.Is teacher burnout real? ›
With long hours and a heavy workload, it's easy to fall prey to teacher burnout. Without proper support, teachers are in danger of being overworked and not taking care of their own mental and physical health needs.What does teacher burnout look like? ›
“Signs you might be experiencing teacher burnout might include stress or feeling irritable or tired all the time. You also might be having sleep issues, like sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia from worry. You might be sad or overwhelmed when you think about teaching, or maybe you just don't enjoy it anymore.What is the most common illness of teachers? ›
- Voice disorders and hearing loss. ...
- Eye strain. ...
- Burnout, stress and other mental health issues. ...
- Falls. ...
- Communicable diseases. ...
- Ergonomic issues. ...
- The toll of school violence.
Tall poppy syndrome describes aspects of a culture where people of high status or success are attacked or criticised because their achievements make them stand out from their peers.Why teachers are quitting 2023? ›
Clip: 04/10/2023 | 17m 51s | Staffing shortages, burnout, funding cuts, and debates over the curriculum are adding to the pressures on America's educators. In her new book, bestselling author Alexandra Robbins followed three teachers to see how these issues are changing the way they work.Why is teaching so draining? ›
It's estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it's no wonder our willpower is gone by five o'clock. We are exhausted.What percent of teachers are unhappy? ›
Meanwhile, teachers have made it plain that they are unhappy. Seventy-four percent of respondents in the American Federation of Teachers' June survey of nearly 2,400 members were dissatisfied with the job, up from 41 percent in 2020, and 40 percent said they'd probably leave the profession in the next two years.What are the three major signs of burnout? ›
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your job.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
Other major contributors to teacher stress include managing student behavior, taking on extra work due to staffing shortages, supporting students' mental health and well-being, and very low salaries. “I think the key takeaway there is that teachers are super concerned about their students,” Steiner said.Which of the following is the most common reason for teacher burnout? ›
Workload. Overwork is the main cause of burnout. Teachers will tell you there is simply too much to do and no time to do it.What is the most common mental illness in teachers? ›
High rates of depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms were observed among teachers (67%, 73%, and 86%, respectively). Among teachers who were affected by the work–family balance (89%), there was also an increased risk of symptoms of anxiety (OR: 3.2) and stress (OR: 3.5).What are the 4 primary concerns of all teachers? ›
More than anything else, the modern teacher is concerned for their students–their academic performance, mindset, well-being, and readiness for their future.Can teachers have mental health issues? ›
More than a quarter of teachers and principals reported experiencing symptoms of depression as of January 2022, according to a survey from the RAND Corporation .What is the black poppy syndrome? ›
It derives its name from the tendency to cut down the “tallest poppy” in a group as women often face work environments where they feel undermined, criticized for their achievements, and inadequately acknowledged for their successes.What is tow poppy syndrome? ›
What is Tall Poppy Syndrome? Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when a person's success causes them to be attacked, resented, or criticized. Cutting people down devalues someone else's achievement by suggesting that they did not deserve the attention.What is Rett syndrome in school? ›
Students with Rett Syndrome should be given work appropriate to their cognitive ability. The students should also be involved in activities with peers. Children with Rett Syndrome have ways of communicating and all students would benefit from different forms of social interaction.Where are teachers quitting the most? ›
In Washington state, more teachers left the classroom after last school year than at any point in the last three decades. Maryland and Louisiana saw more teachers depart than any time in the last decade. And North Carolina saw a particularly alarming trend of more teachers leaving mid-school year.What should I do after I quit teaching? ›
- Educational Policy Expert. ...
- Curriculum Writer/Creator. ...
- Coach/Mentor. ...
- Educational Technology Consultant. ...
- Online Educator. ...
- Community Director. ...
- School Counselor. ...
- Corporate Trainer.
Teachers often cite working conditions, such as the support of their principals and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, as the top reason for leaving. More than 1 in 4 teachers who leave say they do so to pursue other career opportunities.Why do teachers not want to teach anymore? ›
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why teachers quit. Many enter the profession wanting to make a difference in the community and their students' lives. However, they quickly realize they are stifled by unrealistic expectations, ever-changing initiatives, limited opportunity for growth, and lack of support.What makes a poor teacher? ›
Lack of organization and classroom management
If a teacher is unorganized, they can not properly outline their students' daily activities and thus inhibit their learning substantially. Also, if teachers can not manage their students, they will be less than effective at instructing any given subject or class.
It requires a lot of dedication
Compared to other professions that also require training and education, the stress that teachers go through each day can be significantly greater. Sometimes, they even have to spend their own money on school supplies. They don't really go on vacation during summers.
Georgia had the highest number of vacancies (3,112) for the 2019-2020 school year. More recently, during the 2021-2022 school year, Florida had the most vacancies with 3,911 positions unfulfilled. That same school year, Mississippi and Alabama had over 3,000 vacancies.Why are so many teachers depressed? ›
high job demands. lack of resources or support from school districts. stress from juggling teaching and other responsibilities.How do you know if teaching is not for you? ›
- Sunday Scaries. ...
- Life Out of Balance. ...
- Taking Stress Home. ...
- Low-Self Esteem. ...
- It's Not Meant to Be. ...
- Leaving Teaching because the Spark is Gone.
- Career Quicksand. ...
- Leaving Teaching because you've become a Negative Nelly.
The most effective way to tackle burnout is to focus on changes at the team level. There are four pillars to resilient teams: awareness, autonomy, rejuvenation and community.What does compassion fatigue look like? ›
Watch for these symptoms of compassion fatigue
Feeling helpless, hopeless or powerless. Feeling irritable, angry, sad or numb. A sense of being detached or having decreased pleasure in activities. Ruminating about the suffering of others and feeling anger towards the events or people causing the suffering.
- Breathe (properly) The classroom can cause sensory overload. ...
- Embrace the stress. ...
- Be imperfect. ...
- Practice emotional first aid. ...
- Be grateful. ...
- Limit “grass is greener” thinking. ...
- Work smarter, not harder. ...
- Ask for help.
The main cause for stressed out students is the heavy coursework they are taking on. Teens who want to get a jump on college may also sign up for extra classes, only adding to the burden. Too often, the teen takes on subjects that exceed their academic ability, causing added stress. Not enough sleep.What is the highest cause of school staff stress? ›
Excessive workload and working hours are continually cited by teachers as one of the main causes of their workplace stress.How do you reverse a teacher burnout? ›
- Stay healthy.
- Indulge in personal time.
- Talk to your colleagues.
- Recognize what you do well.
- Prepare ahead of schedule.
- Leave schoolwork at school.
- Make yourself a priority.
If this persists, educators can experience emotional exhaustion. They may begin to feel powerless and develop feelings of detachment, depression, and apathy, among other symptoms. Physical symptoms, such as weight loss or gain and lack of sleep, may also manifest.What is teacher burnout called? ›
Burnout is often a more temporary condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to to the job. Demoralization occurs when an educator believes she is unable to perform the work in ways that uphold the high standards of the profession.Why do new teachers struggle? ›
New teachers who don't plan are often overwhelmed. They won't have effective classroom management because they have not managed their classroom time well. Further, new teachers often lack the skills to tie standards and ideas together without an intentional effort.Why do so many new teachers quit? ›
Beyond compensation, these educators also feel overworked and undervalued. Nearly 75 percent of respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren't enough teachers to carry the workload.Why do teachers have imposter syndrome? ›
Sometimes, before teachers have figured out what suits them best, they may not feel authentic in the classroom. This can provoke imposter syndrome feelings. Such situations give teachers the perfect opportunity to try out different teaching styles until they find their own classroom personality.Why are we losing so many teachers? ›
This data also suggests that spiking stress levels, student behavior challenges, and a harsh political spotlight have all taken their toll on many American teachers. “Education had changed so dramatically since COVID.Why less people are becoming teachers? ›
Employers have more job openings than ever before, and there are fewer potential employees to fill those roles. The unemployment rate is near pre-pandemic lows, and there are few working-age adults who are not already employed. These labor problems are hitting schools particularly hard.
- Teaching leaves you more exhausted than it leaves you energized/excited.
- Your personal life is suffering due to the stress of the position.
- You are certain that switching grades, schools, or districts will not help you.
That's a turnover rate of 14%, up from between 11% and 12% in a typical pre-pandemic year.Who is most affected by imposter syndrome? ›
Clance originally identified the syndrome among high-achieving professional women, but more recent research has documented these feelings of inadequacy among men and women, in many professional settings, and among multiple ethnic and racial groups.Who is more prone to imposter syndrome? ›
A new study by Stanford Medicine researchers demonstrates that, among U.S. workers, physicians are more likely than others to feel the effects of imposter syndrome, a phenomenon in which someone feels inadequate despite a track record of competence.How old do girls with Rett syndrome live? ›
On average, most individuals with the condition survive into their 40s or 50s.Can girls with Rett syndrome talk? ›
Rett syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects girls almost exclusively, and the way their brains develop, causing a progressive loss of motor skills and speech.What happens to boys with Rett syndrome? ›
Children with Rett syndrome typically begin to lose the ability to speak, to make eye contact and to communicate in other ways. They may become disinterested in other people, toys and their surroundings. Some children have rapid changes, such as a sudden loss of language.