With teaching, the job never stops. However, you will come to a screeching halt if you burn yourself out. In this article, let's consider the difference between working with passion and working until you are fried.
The term 'workaholic' is tossed around quite a bit – and some people wear it like a badge of honor, others use it as a derogatory comment, others try to hire people who are self-described by the term, and others have full coaching and consulting practices built around the concept. Since I'm a person who happens to love work (and always have) and find that work and achieving through work is not something to be derided, then I tend not to use the term workaholic. Burned out, however, that is something that can happen in teaching and that's what we want to prevent.
As the article title suggests, workaholic behavior, Ie, working that has all the attributes of an addiction, is lauded and applauded by other people … especially if they are the beneficiaries of your addiction. People who may "applaud" you include
- your principal who knows that she can always ask you to take on one more committee (even though you already serve on seven committees and task forces at your school);
- your grade level teaching partners who get you to run to the library and gather all the books for the upcoming social studies unit that you designed and that they will all be teaching in their classrooms;
- your students 'parents who love the fact that you have told them that they can call anytime of the day or night (or weekend) to ask for help with their students' homework;
- people at your church, mosque, synagogue or other place of worship who "count on you" to organize the phone tree every year when it has to be redone;
- neighbors who do not hesitate to ask you for help regardless of the task (or the time involved); and so on.
But, here are the ones who are not applauding – because they are not the beneficiaries, but rather are bearing the brunt of your workaholism when it leads to 'burn out':
- your own family, either immediate or extended;
- your students who may get the short attention span or short fuse that a workaholic often has;
- your body, mind, and soul because the workaholic takes no time to focus on personal needs or downtime. The long-term toll that you pay for this neglect is nearly incalculable.
When you work with passion and professionalism, Ie, going above and beyond in terms of your commitment, drive, creativity, knowledge base, dedication, and sense of mission, then you make a difference in the lives of others every day – and you are fulfilled. Yet, teaching at this high level requires that we take a little 'down' time here and there and focus on some other aspect of our lives besides teaching. It requires that we tend to our own needs – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – so that we are whole and 'full' and then able to bring the zeal and zest we feel for students and learning to our work.
If you neglect taking care of yourself, then before long, you are tired, resentful, 'hungry,' empty, and emotionally weary. And fairly soon, you'll been to experience the signs of burnout. If you do not make changes swiftly, it could become an essentially-permanent condition – and that's sad and is a loss the profession can not afford.
When teachers are healthy – physically, emotionally, and mentally – they are better able to serve those around them. If necessary, reframe your thinking if you have believed that being a workaholic (Ie, working to the point of exhaustion day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and …) is normal behavior. Your students admire you and want you around as their vibrant teacher. When and if you become burned out, you do not bring your best to the classroom – or anywhere else. Stop now, while you can.