The Place Where Burnout Meets Your Calling

I’m midway through Spring Break and finally feeling like I can start to form a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to express for quite some time now. The purpose of this blog has always been to promote positivity among educators, families and students. Today that will not change. Although I’ve contemplated many ways that I could express what I’ve been feeling over this past year, I believe that the most beneficial expression of my ideas would be that of honesty and sincerity. Thanks for taking your time to read my thoughts. (Please be aware that when I speak of the “educational system”, I’m speaking of the national system. Not my current workplace, which I love dearly.)

Did you know that in SC, at least 30% of educators leave the teaching field within the first five years of employment? The number continues to rise each year.

I’m now in my fifth year of teaching and I have a few comments to make about our current state of education and the big picture that I think we are missing. I’m very sorry to say that I have reached my “Five Year Burn-out”. I NEVER thought that I would say those words. Steven Furtick describes burnout as the time when “the demands placed upon you exceed the resources available to you.”

When I started teaching, I saw it as the best thing in the world. I couldn’t wait to lead generation after generation by helping them build knowledge and express their dreams in my classroom. It was my greatest passion and all that I ever talked about. And then I continued my time in the educational system and I found that all aspects of the educational field were not exactly the way that they had been presented to me.

There were a lot of broken parts. Pieces that were missing. Holes that had been there before I came and holes that were made bigger after my arrival. Children were treated as numbers. Data. Teachers were treated as replaceable. Robots. All along, I pressed through and tried to find the positive in every aspect of the job. I loved my kids! That was all that it took. No matter how crazy things were outside of the classroom, I knew that the moment I stepped foot into my classroom, I was building family. I was building community. We were together with one purpose!

Over time, I have watched exceptional educators leave the field. I’m not talking about retirement. I’m talking about “get out while I can” exits. Those who build dreams and foster creative thinking, were leaving because of the high-stress of the broken system. They were unable to afford their family or unable to teach without feeling like their every move was monitored and scrutinized. The heartbreaking reality was that our kids were the ones losing.

Over the five years that I’ve taught, there has been one thing that has kept me going — the children. They make every stressful piece worth it. They love more than most adults could ever love. They believe in people more than most adults will ever believe in anything. I’m not ashamed to say that they inspire me… and they are six years old.

Needless to say, when I return to work in a few days, I will gladly walk into my classroom and completely pour my everything into my students. I will teach. I will love. I will show compassion. Then, they will be administered a computerized assessment that will make a “determination” about their ability level in math and reading. Basically, this computer program will label my students abilities over the past year based on 52 multiple choice questions. And along with that, I will receive a “number” for my effectiveness in the classroom based on these computerized assessments.

Keep in mind, these assessments do not monitor the home life of my students. These assessments do not monitor the creativity of my students. It will not know that one of my little guys cannot help but dance when music plays. It will not know that one of my little girls cannot wait to become a Veterinarian because she cares for even the smallest creatures every day at recess. This test will not measure the love of reading that each student has gained since the beginning of the year. This assessment will not understand that one of my little girls is a gifted artist. It will not understand any of these aspects of my students, yet they will be labeled, nonetheless.

As I’ve had time to reflect these past few days, I’m reminded of the same call that I answered when I became a teacher. I took my decision to teach very seriously. I saw it as my mission field. I knew that this was the career where God placed me for a very specific reason. Over these five years, I have laughed until my side hurts. I have cried until there were no more tears. I have felt deep sadness when my students endured difficult circumstances. I have felt overwhelming joy when my students became passionate learners. I have been honored with the recognition of Teacher of the Year, three years into my career.  And above all, I have prayed.

I have prayed for their families. I have prayed for their circumstances. I have prayed for their safety. I have prayed for their future. This has been my mission field. This has been the place where God has called me and it will remain for as long as He wants me here. Have I had moments of doubt and discouragement along the way? Absolutely. Do I still wish some things could change? You bet! But at this moment, I will not abandon my students. I will not walk away from them because the system is struggling. I will stand up and walk with them, hand-in-hand. I cannot fix the system. I cannot change the world. But I can change their world! Isn’t that what we have been called to do? Change the world, if even for one.

When the world tries to throw labels on my students, I will continue to speak affirmation into their lives. You are a gifted artist. You are a wonderful story teller. You have a beautiful heart. You are going to change the world!

Inside of my classroom, my students are excited to learn. Inside of those four walls, creativity is encouraged. Inside our community, we love each other and care for each other. My hope is that these are the aspects of education that they will remember. I want them to remember the first time they read a book that used to feel impossible. I want them to remember our goofy songs that we wrote together to learn about plants. I want them to remember how if someone was sad, we took time as a class to listen and express how we care for them.

Do I see myself in the classroom forever? Not necessarily. God places you in certain areas for certain seasons of your life. One day, I dream of running a non-profit with my beautiful wife that benefits children in need. Without the experience that I’ve had, I would not bring the same skill set to the table for that non-profit we dream of.

Right now, I will continue to teach! I cannot become weighed down with the political aspect of education. I will remember the call on my life that was placed at a very young age. I have determined that my job isn’t to fix this system. My job is to shield my amazing students from knowing that the system is broken in the first place. They will be my priority. I will give them my best because they deserve no less! I will continue to follow the calling placed on my life. I hope in some way this will encourage you to do the same!

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3 thoughts on “The Place Where Burnout Meets Your Calling”

  1. Remembering your job is not to fix the system but to help the children not see that their system broken is wise advice. God shines His light through you, Justin.

  2. Excellent post, Justin. After 36 years in the educational field, I am still in it not because it’s a job but because the difference I can make in a child’s life. Standardardized tests and the data driven system will continue but as I walk into classrooms, I continue to be inspired by those like you who are their students teacher and mentor, instilling knowledge and a love of learning within a social context. What higher honor can be bestowed on one? Unfortunately, society is yet to acknowledge the value of this noble profession. Doctors save lives, provide cures and provide preventative medicine. Well so do we. And as you all too well know, our job does not start at 8 or end at 4 or 5. Age old question, why are other professions valued and compensated financially accordingly but ours is not? The flaws are many but our impact on a child is priceless. Thank you for making a difference, Justin!

  3. Justin, thank you for your beautiful, insightful post. A few years ago, I wrote a book for new teachers coming into the field, and throughout the process, I received similar messages through interviews and surveys I was doing. After 43 years in education, I still wonder sometimes if it’s ethical to encourage thinking, caring people to come into a profession that is designed to break the very people it needs most. And yet, if not people like you, then who will be teaching our next generation of children? So I want to ask you to stay, to shut your door to the tests and the labels and the evaluations that know nothing of who your students are or the difference you are making in their lives, to stand up to the political and corporate interests by simply making the kinds of connections you seem to be making, and doing your job in spite of the obstacles placed before you. I’ve often said in my trainings that we have to be smarter than the system, and the best ways we touch the lives of our students can never truly be measured (or sometimes even known). Remember what drew you to the work. Know that you are not alone, and that our hearts are with you. ?

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