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Advice for New Teachers or Colleagues Facing Burnout


chat archive

Moderator
Welcome to this month's online chat with NCTM President Cathy Seeley. This is Cathy's first chat since becoming President in April, and we've received an unusually large number of advance submissions. We'll try to answer as many of them as possible as we fit them in with live questions over the next hour.

All the questions related to the topic submitted in advance and during the chat will be included in the final transcript, which will be posted on the NCTM Web site next week.

Cathy Seeley:
Welcome to my first chat as President of NCTM. This chat is a bit different from those in the past, since I asked people to share their ideas as well as ask questions. So for those of you who have shared or will share your suggestions, thanks for helping all of us feel like there is hope for the future. And for those of you who are writing for ideas and suggestions, be sure to read what others have sent, as well as my responses.

Thanks for the great messages we've received. It seems clear that within each of us is the power to fire up without burning out.

Question from:
Monsey, New York
Hello,
I have a great passion for teaching math. What should I do?

Cathy Seeley:
Do it! Do math, and you can do anything (that's an NCTM slogan).

If you're already a teacher, then you should keep following your passion. If you are not a teacher, then you should absolutely find a teacher education program or a good alternative certification program if you are a mid-career professional. A good alternative certification program is one that connects you to master teachers, lots of classroom experience before you start teaching, and induction support as you start your career, among other things.

Question from:
Leapwood, Tennessee

What advice do you have to convince an experienced teacher that there is a real need to stay active—regardless of the years of service?

Cathy Seeley:
One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to keep on learning. In fact, not to do so is to hold our students back. It is our responsibility as professional teachers of mathematics to stay up to date on best practices, new programs, and current research on effective mathematics teaching and learning. The best experienced mathematics teachers I know tell me that they continue to learn new things, even new mathematics, after 10, 20 or even 30 years of teaching. The most successful teachers search out quality professional development opportunities, whether from colleges and universities, school districts, or other educational outreach organizations. It's hard for me to imagine teaching without this kind of professional learning. And staying connected to NCTM is obviously one of the best ways to continue learning.

If you are talking about yourself, and if you are not feeling motivated to keep on learning or to be involved in your local mathematics organization, I can share with you something I learned a few years ago. That is that action precedes motivation. Sometimes if you don't feel like doing something, the way to feel motivated is to just do it first. Usually in the process of doing it (if it's a quality experience), you will become motivated! Taking action when I haven't felt like it has worked for me more times than I can count.

Question from:
Indianapolis, Indiana

I look forward to any advice you all have to offer. I begin my first year of teaching this coming 2004-2005 school year. I am particularly nervous about teaching - yep, math! I love math, but students comprehend on different levels. Thanks for your support!

Cathy Seeley:
Congratulations on beginning your first year of teaching, and welcome to the profession! Your love of mathematics will be one of the most important keys to your success. This will come through in all that you do. Dealing with different levels of mathematics understanding is one of the hardest things to do in teaching. But if you have a good mathematics program in your school, and with the encouragement of your colleagues, you will learn over time how to know which students need what type of encouragement or intervention. As some of the other messages we are receiving are indicating, this professional networking and surrounding yourself with positive, knowledgeable colleagues is a great key to success. I also encourage you to continue your learning. As you begin to know more about what students need, learning and refining techniques and approaches will become increasingly useful to you. NCTM can be one of your best resources in this regard, especially through journals and conferences, in addition to your local resources. I look forward to your many years in this incredibly challenging and rewarding career.

Question from:
Newport News, Virginia

Try to reinvent how you teach your subject matter or how you run your class. I constantly look for new ideas to implement. On the lighter side, get a massage and pray for a better day. It always works for me.

Cathy Seeley:
This is one of the suggestions that are starting to come in from educators in many locations in response to the focus of this chat.

I like this combination—ongoing growth in how you teach, taking care of your body, and not forgetting your soul. Great suggestions!

Question from:
Phoenix, Arizona

Burnout is certainly a fact(or) in education. Been there, done that, got the shirt. I think that as educators, it is important to build a support system among our colleagues to discuss items of concern. While this certainly happens at Friday happy hours—alcohol can sometimes fan the flames—it is important that teachers have a support system at schools where they can talk in a nonjudgmental environment and reflect on the vast factors that impact their job. And while we certainly want our students to do well on "the test" we need to remember that it is just a test and the students are more important than the scores, and the labels a school receives are not the only indication of our performance as educators.

Cathy Seeley:
What I like about these suggestions is focusing on constructive networking with colleagues about real issues, rather than just venting, and also remembering to put testing in perspective. I continue to believe that if we teach a good mathematics program in the ways we believe to be best (student engagement, balanced curriculum, lots of experience solving problems, etc.), our test scores will take care of themselves. And thanks for reiterating that common theme—it's our students who matter most.

Question from:
Dallas, Texas

How effective have you found multi-tiered or differentiated instructional methods to be in helping nearly all students to satisfy standardized testing requirements?

Cathy Seeley:
Today more than ever, teachers are expected to meet the needs of students with many different backgrounds. If you are talking about including students of many levels within the same classroom, this can present many challenges, especially if we try to teach using a traditional lecture-and-listen approach. But the challenges are significantly less if we teach in line with the vision of NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. By using engaging tasks and encouraging student discussion, many more students can find success than in a traditional classroom. This success can show up on standardized tests, even if those tests are at a rote or lower level, if the learning is deep.

If you are talking about offering different courses or tracks for different levels of students, this has the danger of limiting opportunities for some students. Often, students who have not found success in computational skills are placed in low-level courses, never having the opportunity to experience rich problem solving or higher level mathematics. My own teaching experience has shown me more than one student who could not do arithmetic, but who was great at thinking algebraically.

Question from:
Riverside, California
I was advised early in my career that you can't tackle everything at the same time, therefore FOCUS. Each year I have picked a topic or idea related to teaching and tried to become an expert. In my first years it was working with different kinds of manipulatives. Later I explored problem solving. I have spent time looking at the way advanced learners tackle and understand math. I spent one year just making sure I understood mathematical language. I have always had something new to excite me and didn't feel so overwhelmed when I was a new teacher. My expertise has moved my career into a mathematical specialist position helping other teachers.

Cathy Seeley:
I really like this idea and have also found it to be a useful tool in my own professional growth. When we spend a year of focused attention on a particular topic or area, we can see how much we learn and we can make improvements in our practice. I like doing this when I attend conferences as well. In fact, NCTM likes this idea so much that beginning next year, the Council is inaugurating a professional development "Focus of the Year." Watch for information in the July/August NCTM News Bulletin about the Focus of the Year for 2004–2005 on Developing Algebraic Thinking—A Journey from Prekindergarten through High School.

Question from:
San Jose, California

As I attempt to think about the questions, I have to ask each new teacher their perspectives on what are the challenges and the opportunities. It is then a function of interactions like this to help the teachers link their perceptions of the challenges and opportunities they are aware of. It is our role to also provide additional opportunities or resources to opportunities as is needed.

Cathy Seeley:
This is a great way to help new teachers approach their task in a realistic way. There will always be challenges, and always opportunities. The trick is to focus on the opportunities even when the challenges seem great, and to approach the challenges always with the students' learning in mind. And, yes, the biggest responsibility for the rest of us is to arm our newest colleagues with the best tools we can.

Thanks for sharing this insight.

Question from:
West Valley City, Utah

That is a good topic. I would like to know. I am a district K-2 Math Specialist and I am really burned out. Teachers are so frustrated with NCLB and they are draining me.

Cathy Seeley:
You play a critical role as a primary mathematics specialist, and I can understand why you are feeling discouraged. You are not alone. No Child Left Behind has placed additional burdens on everyone involved in education. It is ironic that those most frustrated are often among the most dedicated to the goal of a high-quality mathematics education for every child, in fact, sharing the very goals of NCLB. I have noticed in several of the comments sent in for this chat some ideas that I hope you will consider. From my own perspective, I would like to encourage you to take a look at both the big picture and the close-up.

On a large scale, perhaps you can work with your district-level colleagues on making sure the system is supporting teachers with a strong mathematics program (curriculum and textbooks) and with opportunities for positive professional development and networking. It is easy for a system to react to accountability mandates by paying too much attention on tests at the expense of teaching and learning. I think it is important to push the system from within to let administrators know your professional opinion about what direction the system needs to move. Your voice is important, especially since you have been recognized as an expert in K–2 mathematics, a level of particular attention these days. This may be an opportunity to focus resources where they can do the most good. After all, your best argument is that you have to arm teachers to "leave no child behind" at the level where a system can do the most about it.

On a smaller level, what about identifying a few teachers who make you feel valued and positive when you work with them? Perhaps you can make sure your schedule always allows time to spend with teachers like these, where you can do the work that you know will make a difference. It is important to respond to people who are negative or feeling frustrated, if there is something you can do to help. But spending too much time trying to be a resource to someone who does not really want help or who is not ready for it may not be the best use of your time, and you may end up absorbing a lot of negativity. Instead, think about balance—about helping people who are interested and ready for it, doing a little with the most recalcitrant of your colleagues, and being sure not to forget those who are doing the best and making you feel like you are part of a positive effort toward improving mathematics learning. And don't forget to spend at least some time in classrooms with real children, reminding yourself why you are in this profession. And if you get tempted to go back into a single classroom and just close the door, well, you can do that, and it is definitely a better choice than leaving the profession. But many years ago when I first left the classroom, a very wise mentor of mine reminded me that I could multiply my efforts by hundreds through working with teachers. Either way, education is absolutely the most important profession on this earth, and mathematics will open doors for students for the rest of their lives. Good luck in your next steps, and let me know what you decide to do.

Question from:
United Arab Emirates University

My advice to a new teacher is to keep in mind that our first priority is the students. From the beginning, get to know your students, learn about their background and experience, learn about their prior knowledge, and more importantly, make a connection between them and you. Let them believe in themselves, and show them how much you care about their own success. Always keep in mind that all students are capable of learning mathematics. Finally, set your goal, and keep focus.

For burned out colleagues I would say step back and reevaluate your performance, look for new strategies, try different techniques, read what others in education have tried and are happy with the results. We have a great responsibility, and there is always a room for improvement.

Cathy Seeley:
More great suggestions. New teachers, and all of us for that matter, surely need to keep students at the forefront of their thinking. And all of us can certainly gain from trying new things and learning from others. Just reading the ideas in this chat is getting me pretty fired up about doing good work!

Question from:
Rockville, Maryland

I have 22+ years of math teaching experience and I hadn't been to an NCTM conference in years...so I went with a co-worker to Philadelphia in April. I came back re-inspired and full of ideas. I have encouraged five other members (new and "old" teachers) of our department to attend the next regional conference. This is a great way to overcome burnout and gain insights and ideas.

Second comment: I have done a lot of new teacher mentoring in the past. A suggestion that I give over and over again is for new teachers to observe as many other teachers as possible throughout the year. Most principals are supportive of this and it's an excellent way to learn/observe a variety of teaching styles and strategies.

Cathy Seeley:
I have to echo your comments about attending the NCTM annual meeting. Since I first started attending these conferences in the 1970s, I have missed two. One was when I simply was not allowed to leave my job to attend, and the second was my first year in the Peace Corps. Both times, I have felt something missing in terms of the renewal I have come to expect. I have always found the conference to be a tremendous energizer. Often, I get a similar experience with regional, state, and local conferences as well.

For new teachers to observe many others is tremendously valuable. In fact, I like this idea on a modified scale for teachers at any point in their career. When I first became a mathematics coordinator, our visionary assistant superintendent insisted that each of us who supported teachers should spend five days a year substituting in classrooms. As a supervisor, it helped keep me fresh in remembering a bit of reality in the classroom. Teachers could then use their "free day" to observe other teachers, even outside the district. Perhaps there are ways we can support teachers, especially new teachers, in having such an opportunity.

Questions from:
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

I am a 45-year-old professional enrolled in a Transition to Teaching Program. The program does NOT contain a student teaching component. Would you recommend a period of substitute teaching before taking on a fulltime position? Is there any research on success factors related to professionals transitioning into teaching?

Findlay, Ohio

I'm entering the teaching profession (math 7-12) after many years in industry. I'm both excited and nervous. Do you have any words of wisdom about being one of the oldest and one of the newest?

Cathy Seeley:
I welcome both of you to the most important profession on earth! And congratulations on discovering NCTM, a wonderful professional community that can provide all kinds of support for you as you begin this grand adventure. Making the move to teaching at mid-career has both advantages and challenges. In my mind, there are a few critical areas of knowledge, experience, and expertise required to succeed as a mathematics teacher. First, it is certainly important to know mathematics. I am guessing that this may be an area where you already have some strength. Second, it is equally important to understand how humans learn and how teaching can affect that learning. This is generally more challenging for those who have not been through a high-quality teacher education program. Third, I think it is critical to not be caught off guard by the reality of a classroom today. For the first of these two areas, coursework and professional development may be appropriate ways to gain this knowledge. These experiences can be especially beneficial if they allow you to network with and learn with colleagues. You bring a wonderful source of expertise to the profession, and we can all learn from you. We can learn how mathematics is really used, and have some sense of where the mathematics we do in classrooms can lead.

For the classroom reality aspect, I think you are wise to recognize the importance of spending time in classrooms. Substitute teaching can present its own challenges, depending on the school and the particular situation. It is generally far less rewarding than full-time teaching, since you have little control over the program being taught and generally no opportunity to get to know your students. But it can help you enter your own classroom with your eyes wider open than if you had never spent time in a classroom. Other options are to observe classrooms as an active helper or tutor or volunteer in a school that has a successful program for involving volunteers in classroom activities.

The most important thing to realize is that becoming an effective teacher takes time, patience, commitment, and an inner strength to stick it out through the difficult times. Teaching is challenging in the 21st century. It can also be tremendously rewarding. We welcome you both as colleagues and look forward to working side by side through this next stage of your career.

Question from:
Austin, Texas

I was faced with the overwhelming feeling of not wanting to go back to work one summer. So I took a reflective look at my life. I thought about other vocations—I even talked to my bishop about the ministry. But my real love was teaching students! I decided to focus on my students on the first day of school, and that was the first year I learned every name of all my students (85) on the first day of school!

Cathy Seeley:
Focusing on your students... I love this! This is exactly why we went into teaching in the first place. Sometimes, in the middle of mandates and politics and pressure, it's easy to forget the main focus. But thanks for reminding us that our students are where it should start and end.

Question from:
Seabrook, Texas

Remember every day is a new start. Just because one day didn't go well doesn't mean the next won't. I can't even count the number of bad days I have had, and most of them were followed by lovely days. Always remember to seek help from colleagues and supportive Administrators. We are all in this together. When all else fails, do a favorite activity that kids love... a game, or a fun activity from the Internet. Seeing kids having fun and being actively engaged in learning will make any teacher feel better, don't you think?

Cathy Seeley:
This is a great common theme—looking for ways to surround ourselves with the positive energy that really does exist in our schools when we look for it. Positive, caring colleagues and energetic, engaged students must surely be the heart of surviving all the stresses of teaching. Thanks for sharing this thought.

Question from:
Fort Worth, Texas

Create your own professional portfolio! The best accountability happens when great teachers showcase their great accomplishments in the classroom!

Cathy Seeley:
Creating a portfolio is a good exercise in and of itself. It also may be a great first step toward considering National Board certification. Not only does it improve your accountability, it can also advance the profession. See the next question...

Question from:
Chesapeake, Virginia

I can't join you on Thursday—that's graduation at my high school...and my son is one of the graduates! However I wanted to throw a comment into the mail. If I was speaking to a colleague who was a good teacher who was starting to burn out I would suggest they consider National Board Certification. I did it in 1997 and I wasn't burned out then, nor am I now...however the process really helped me focus on being a better teacher. In fact I am constantly looking at new ideas and redesigning my lessons. It helped me to recognize what I love about teaching. Since then I've gotten involved in so many more facets of teaching that I may overextend myself, but I'll never burn out!

Cathy Seeley:
This is a tremendous way to not only keep yourself fresh, but to reaffirm the profession and to build a mounting base of evidence of high-quality professionals working to provide high-quality learning for every student. National Board certification is challenging and time consuming. But I think you point to the reason to do it—to renew yourself, to grow, and to build the profession. Thanks for being part of the solution.

Question from:
Sewell, New Jersey

Remember every year is different. Every class is different, every student is different, and every day is different. Step back, take a deep breath, and go back in as if it is the best day of your teaching career. Keep thinking positive and it will get better.

Cathy Seeley:
Positive thinking, and choosing your positive attitude absolutely make it better. Thanks for sharing.

Question from:
San Jose, California

Linking classroom instruction and assessment is critical. A lot of research has been done on the issue of differentiated instruction. Overall, there seem to be more advantages for heterogeneous classroom instruction. It is certainly more difficult for the teacher but adds dimensions to both the instruction and student learning. It is a complex issue to link classroom environments and instructions to a general category of "standardized tests." It would be hoped that a more careful description of the tests could be given.

Cathy Seeley:
I think you are right on several counts, as I understand your comments. There are definitely advantages for nearly all students in being taught in heterogeneous classrooms, as you observe, provided that the teacher is teaching in ways that can help students at various levels to learn.

In terms of preparing for standardized tests, there are many types of such tests, as you mention. Some large-scale tests (such as state tests) may be criterion referenced and may include both short answer and open-ended items. However, such tests are very expensive to develop and to grade, so they are not common across the states. Other tests may be more limited in their format and even in the scope of content addressed. Sometimes these support curriculum goals, and unfortunately, sometimes they do not.

In my thinking, the best way to prepare students to achieve well on any test, whether it is low-level or more complex, is to teach a good mathematics program well. I believe that students will perform well on tests when they really understand mathematics. I say this in order to reinforce the importance of putting testing into perspective and not letting an excessive emphasis on testing derail good mathematics teaching.

Question from:
Thousand Oaks, California
If a burnt out teacher teaches in the elementary grades, it would be beneficial to ask for a grade change every few years or so. Many veteran teachers at my school become tired of the curriculum quickly, yet they feel too competent to put in the necessary effort to make the material more interesting. Changing a grade may spark more creativity because you are constantly on edge!

Cathy Seeley:
I think this is appropriate for secondary teachers as well. Not only is this a great way to prevent burnout, it's a great way to do your job better! By changing grade levels (or courses) from time to time, you have a better sense of where your students have been and where they are going. You are going to continually gain a better sense of the connected, coherent curriculum across the grades. This can help you prioritize the most important topics and know when you may only have to introduce or review a topic.

Question from:
La Quinta, California
I suggest to escape burnout: shop for a new school district that wants your talents.
I was about to quit teaching last year when I went for an interview in this unbelievable public school that really loves my methods, validates their teachers and students at all times and yes, pays a little less than my previous job, but it has been well worth the move!

Cathy Seeley:
Sometimes a change of scenery is a better choice than giving up what you love. I'm glad you found a place to thrive, and I'm looking forward to having you in the profession for years to come!

Question from:
Campbell, California
Fall in love with the art of teaching again by trying new activities that are engaging and stimulating for the students. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Focus on the classroom, not the outside demands. Get those auxiliary tasks done in a timely manner and find closure there. Teaching Children Mathematics gives me new activities to try constantly. If possible, find a teacher you admire to buddy with and plan with.

Cathy Seeley:
Trying new things, continuing to grow, and focusing on students—these are great ingredients in a recipe for firing up instead of burning out. We have to put the rest into perspective, don't we? I love it that the journal does for you exactly what is intended—inspires you to try new ideas in your classroom. A constructive buddy to work with can help you take those new ideas even further.

Question from:
Los Angeles, California
Mountain climbers don't scale the tallest peak first, they start on smaller mountains to get in shape, and I have tried to learn from their example. Students are successful incrementally, and I look for their successes every day instead of at the end of the unit or school year. I am pleasantly surprised that my students know more than I thought, and this makes my job a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable. Every kid can do something right, why not celebrate when you find it?

Cathy Seeley:
I think there is something here about how to live life—to look for those small miracles that happen every day. Teaching mathematics definitely involves celebrating those daily student successes that build toward the high-quality mathematics learning for all students we all believe in.

Question from:
Fairfax County, Virginia
1. Take a year off and refresh yourself. Do something else.
2. Read, exercise, and spend time with family and friends. Rejuvenate.
3. Transfer to a different location so that things are different and new.

Cathy Seeley:
Making a change for the short term can often help revitalize you for the long term. Transferring to a new school is often just what the doctor ordered. It makes us take a look at what we are doing and can put us in a positive environment where we can thrive.

Question from:
Glastonbury, Connecticut
1. Prioritize
2. Set a reachable goal to accomplish
3. Take time to have fun.

Cathy Seeley:
We do indeed have to make decisions about what is most important. Setting goals and celebrating reaching them is a great idea!

Question from:
Houston, Texas
I have found that one of the main reasons for burnout is the lack of support of the building administrator. And I put it in the single person because, bottom line, the principal of the building is the one to decide and lead the team. I have seen teachers leave like flies in the past three years with an experienced administrator at a school. Why am I still there? We have a team of around 10 teachers that work with the same students (clusters) and goals; we are very strong and have decided that our goal is more important than the moment. We have a dream to fulfill. I can offer to those teachers that are feeling burned out to do one of two things:
1. Learn not to take any reprimand personally, or
2. Plan looking for another job early in the year, and do not quit until you find one.

Have a plan. We might have to make decisions we did not plan this soon, but we still have a choice.

Cathy Seeley:
Finding strength in our colleagues, and working together toward the common goal of student learning is certainly a way to make it through the tough times. And when you need to look elsewhere, find a place where you can do good work and teach toward that goal of a high-quality mathematics education for every student. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Question from:
New York City

I am a first-year teacher in a high school in BK (East New York, N.Y., supposedly one of the worst schools in New York City, based on police incidents/student and academia). First, on my worst days when all I wan to do is run, leave, and even give up, I repeat some things that were said to me by Ms. Linda Faucetta, a professor at St. John's University where I attend graduate classes.

My Golden Rules of Teaching:
First, "If you taught them, then they know it."
Second, "This one is for someone else." (I often feel like I have a responsibility to save all of my kids.)
Third, "Treat them as you would your own children. Love them all equally, and be consistent and fair."
How profound are these three statements?

Cathy Seeley:
These three statements are indeed profound. How fortunate for a first-year teacher to have the benefit of such a mentor. And what good advice for even experienced teachers. Thanks for sharing these thoughts that focus our attention where it needs to be—on our students.

Question from:
Palm Beach, Florida
Follow your heart and surround yourself with only positive people! This is a calling. It's a tough thing to do year after year. If you focus on the kiddos, you'll enjoy your job a lot more than if you focus on the paperwork and/or testing.

Cathy Seeley:
It sounds like a couple of common themes here, surrounding yourself with positive energy and focusing on the students. Great ideas from successful teachers!

Question from:
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Amnesty Day is a good thing. My first year of teaching, a colleague told me about amnesty days. Held usually once per marking period, toward the end. It's a day of reprieve, usually occurring with no warning. When students come in on that day, you tell them any late/missing/poor assignment can be done/redone and turned in that class period for full credit. I found students worked feverishly all period, and it gives you, the teacher, a day off. It also boosts the morale of the students as they watch their grade bump up—even if only slightly.

Cathy Seeley:
This one is a new one for me, and I love it! The teacher gets a break without shirking responsibility; the students get an opportunity to improve their grade; and most of all, students probably learn something in the process. Great suggestion!

Question from:
Jacksonville, Florida
Research "Best Practices" to update your teaching methods.

Cathy Seeley:
Renewing yourself with proven methods is a great way to avoid going stale. Your students will be the beneficiaries! Thanks for this constructive suggestion about the benefits of continuing professional growth.

Question from:
Fremont, California
A possible cure for burnout: Take a multimedia technology class and challenge yourself in learning something you can use to jazz up your lesson plans and excite your students. You'll meet other motivated teachers and probably get so on fire with learning how to do cool things that you'll be regenerated too.

Cathy Seeley:
Professional community, something new to learn, continuing to grow, networking with positive people, and becoming a bit of a high-tech wizard...Great idea!

Question from:
Tokyo, Japan
Unfortunately I'm not be able to chat with Cathy Seeley because of my job. So I wish to send a message about the topic. I have two pieces of advice for a new teacher. One is to make the mathematics curriculum by yourself. The other is to develop the ability to make sense of pupils. However, I don't have any advice for a colleague facing burnout. I hope to get such advice by joining NCTM.

Cathy Seeley:
Thanks for your suggestions for new teachers, especially from so far away! Developing the curriculum by yourself can be pretty challenging, and I might encourage a new teacher to work with colleagues on that and to get a sense of the curriculum that is there. But developing lessons and not relying simply on the textbook can certainly help a new teacher become involved with the mathematics he or she is teaching. And clearly the focus on students is an important one and something that has been mentioned by others in this chat.

You have come to the right place (NCTM) for ideas on avoiding burnout. As others have suggested, this professional community can connect each of us with wonderful resources, ideas and colleagues.

Question from:
Mandeville, Louisiana
For the new teacher: Be on the lookout for other teachers who are full of energy about your subject. Share ideas with that person. Attend professional meetings that focus on your grade level and subject matter. Learn all you can about your students. Don't sweat the small stuff, pick your battles, and make them worthwhile. Be honest with your students when things don't go the way you expect.

For the colleague facing burnout: Attend professional meetings and try something new each semester even if it is only one thing. Ask to teach something different. Pamper yourself every now and then.

Cathy Seeley:
It sounds like you are talking about being an energetic, positive, involved professional, and being a smart human being. Focus on the students and on your professional growth. Choose those battles carefully, and know what to let go. I love your suggestion of honesty, since it reminds us (and our students) that we are human beings. To those teachers facing burnout: do be gentle with yourself!

Question from:
Floresville, Texas
Find an ear!!! My second year of teaching I was part of a Teacher Mentoring program that assigned me a veteran teacher as my mentor. She was not on my campus (which was "plus" number one) but we met once a week for about an hour and just talked. Many times I just vented, other times I had seemingly "stupid' questions. She was my lifeline. It was wonderful. I wish I had had that my first year. She and I are still friends and talk occasionally. I think everyone in their first 4-5 years of teaching needs to have someone to just listen and be a sounding board for all those questions and frustrations that go with being a new teacher. I survived and am still sane!

Cathy Seeley:
I believe in mentoring more than almost any other tool we can offer to new colleagues. What a great opportunity for both you and your mentor! I would like to see this profession tap into the expertise of master teachers and build the strengths of new teachers in just this way. We need more programs for mentoring and induction support, whether teachers come from teacher education programs or from alternative certification. Knowledgeable, positive, caring, professional colleagues can make all the difference in the world.

These next two questions are similar, so I am responding to them together:

Questions from:
Arlington, Virginia
The best advice I have for both new teachers and those who are facing burnout is to attend a professional development conference! Of course, I prefer NCTM above all...I know that every time that I attend a conference, it rejuvenates me like nothing else. Seeing new ideas and old friends is a real boost to the spirit!

Sparta, New Jersey
People experiencing burnout (and at some point we all do) need to find balance in their professional and personal lives. Find a conference or event that will allow you to socialize with people in your profession. Sharing your emotions and feelings with other professionals can ignite the spark that brought you into education to begin with.

Cathy Seeley:
I like your thinking! NCTM is such a wonderful lifeline to give us ideas every month in journals, online and in publications, as well as through conferences where we meet terrific people and continue to learn. Networking with professional friends is both rewarding and invigorating. Reading your message boosts my spirit!

Question from:
Yonkers, New York
As someone who does mentoring to math teachers, I have advised those in this situation to throw out all their old notes and to start all over again. If they can switch to a different level, all the better. One of the causes of burnout, I have found, is that teachers stay with the same subject too long, and use the same material over and over again. For the new teachers, I have them keep track of what works and what doesn't, and to start fresh each year until they build up a library of things that work for their classrooms.

Cathy Seeley:
Giving yourself a fresh perspective and a motivation to rethink what you are doing is a great idea. Effective teachers have to keep growing, and often a change in assignment can help move a teacher in that direction. Thanks for sharing this suggestion to head off burnout.

Question from:
Salem, Virginia
To the New Teacher:
Start a "Smile File" right away. Each time you receive a card, a nice note, etc. from a student, a parent, administrator or fellow colleague, put it in the file. When you're having a low period, pull out the file and read through them.

Cathy Seeley:
One of my mentors, a former boss of mine, called it riff raff. He kept a special riff-raff file in his desk drawer with these things in it. Mine is in a pink folder in my desk, and it often makes me smile (and occasionally brings a tear).

Question from:
Streator, Illinois
What a great question! So many of us have been there, and many give up and quit teaching. It is so disheartening to see really good teachers and those with potential to be great teachers surrender to burnout. Taking a class, workshop, or seminar helps for short term (a day or a week).

I use my summers for a real vacation, a vacation from school, travel, camp, etc. Generally, this helps start the year off fresh and invigorated. During the year when I feel drained, sometimes the middle of October or sooner, I like seminars especially on "How to Relieve Stress." Some of us teased a colleague who was close to retirement and signed up for this seminar. He said it was the best thing he had done in years. He made it to retirement! Also, classes or weekend meetings unrelated to your subject area are wonderful. One of my fellow math teachers likes to take Community College classes on cake decorating, soap making, etc and this keeps her fresh and invigorated.

The past couple of years we have had the chance to give input into our schedules. This has given each person a chance to teach a different course and a different level than we were hired to teach. It gives the newer teachers a break from all freshmen level courses and buoys their spirits.

Teaching is a wonderful profession and I hate to see anyone burn out.

Cathy Seeley:
So that's why I took that cake decorating class 30 years ago... You have a lot of great suggestions, and they seem to focus on continuing to grow, both in our profession and outside those school walls. I love the idea of changing your course assignments. What a great opportunity to work together to create a positive work environment for both new teachers and "more experienced" ones. I hope you enjoyed the chat as much as I did!

Question from:
Niceville, Florida
Take a sabbatical. Travel, read, wait tables, whatever. School districts would be wise to encourage this.

Cathy Seeley:
This is a wonderful concept, and I have heard of a few districts that do it. I agree that it would be a good model for others to follow as we continue to improve our profession.

Question from:
Detroit, Michigan
I have conducted a research survey with new teachers in Michigan. We are losing 50 percent of our new teachers after only 5 years! The area of major concern is the lack of support by districts for teacher induction and the lack of collaboration found especially in our high-priority schools. As an urban teacher for 30 years, I was "saved" by a kind teacher mentor across the hall who informally assisted me in getting through my first year. My research indicates that it's still the number one key to keeping our new teachers in urban areas.

Cathy Seeley:
Mentoring, induction programs, and other support structures for new teachers are essential if we are to retain our talented young professionals. Where such programs do not exist, I encourage our members to work together through both school systems and universities to provide such support programs. A nice option is for a professional organization, such as an NCTM Affiliate or statewide organization, to provide a service of connecting each new teacher in the state (or local area) with a potential mentor. This can be a great service for all of the profession and can also bring new teachers into the professional community.

For any new teacher reading this, check out your local NCTM Affiliate—the local or state organization of mathematics teachers. Ask how you might connect with a mentor. Take advantage of the rich professional community that may lie outside your school.

Question from:
Conway, South Carolina
Burnout is the result of demands beyond one's ability to develop solutions. The answer lies in others' abilities to help. Being part of a mathematics learning community is an answer. Therefore, other teachers can aid another teacher to solve the frustrations leading to burnout.

Cathy Seeley:
The key in what you suggest, in my opinion, is being part of a professional community. As colleagues, we absolutely can and should work together to get through the hard times. Local and state NCTM Affiliates (groups of mathematics educators), as well as NCTM, can keep us connected so that we can support each other. Thanks for this important reminder.

Question from:
Dayton, Ohio
Be sure that you spend time with colleagues from other schools and districts. Very often we think that a situation is unique to only one person when it has been faced by many.

I personally have faced some difficult decisions on curriculum and found that I had much support outside the school. This support included assistant superintendents! Hang in there, don't give up, and if you're allowed or feel like it, send a prayer to a higher being.

One way to do just this is to connect with your local or state association of mathematics educators. Professional community goes a long way toward giving us all a shot in the arm and a shoulder to lean on. Thanks for your encouraging words.

Question from:
Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada
Avoiding burnout:
Prevention: Pace yourself throughout the year. Don't work until midnight. Go home! Make sure you spend time with your partner/family, and continue with whatever your favorite leisure activity is. Keep physically active. Believe your colleagues when they let you know you look run down. If in crisis, get professional help, often offered through your professional association.

Cathy Seeley:
This suggestion reinforces the importance of balance in our lives. Teachers tend to be very caring, dedicated people, and it's important to make sure we balance our profession with personal and family needs. Great reminder!

Question from:
Plainville, Connecticut
For a new teacher, be sure to have a mentor to help you through the paperwork, familiarize you with curriculum and be there when you feel overwhelmed. Ask questions of colleagues; they are great resources. Don't come on as overpowering and that you have all the answers. It may turn off veteran colleagues. We are there to learn from each other.

Cathy Seeley:
Learning from each other is perhaps the most important element of a professional community. Every time I meet with teachers and other mathematics educators, I get rejuvenated. Look for those colleagues and mentors in your school or through your local NCTM Affiliate (professional organization of mathematics educators). Thanks for reminding us how interconnected we can be.

Question from:
Norfolk, Virginia
For a new teacher—Find a seasoned teacher you admire; someone who still loves teaching, despite having been at it a while, and "adopt" them as a mentor. Then don't be afraid to ask questions, or to share worries.

For a colleague facing burnout—Make a change, to a new grade level, a new school, or even a new type of professional development. Maybe it is boredom that is getting you down.

Cathy Seeley:
I see some recurring themes among the great suggestions we are receiving. Mentoring, either initiated by the mentor or the mentee, is a great support mechanism. For those veteran colleagues facing burnout, a change of assignment can be just what you need. And quality professional development will always be one of the most important things we can do. I contend that we must all be lifelong learners if we are to be effective educators.

Question from:
Dallas, Texas

I am a professional in an alternate certification program. I will be a math K-5 teacher. What advice do you have for me after several years in the computing industry to better help the students to learn?


Cathy Seeley:
Welcome to the most important job on the planet! It's a pleasure to see someone with strong work experience and big-picture sense enter teaching. Aside from my remarks below, be sure and look at the great suggestions sent by various folks as part of this chat.

My first piece of advice is to connect to your professional community. Especially as a person in an alternative certification program, developing connections with other professional teachers is critical. Your local organization of mathematics teachers is one source for doing this. On another level, NCTM can help with this by keeping you abreast of current issues, resources, and teaching ideas shared by others.

A theme you may have noticed throughout this chat is to work with a mentor. Ideally, this will happen as part of your program, but if not, you may want to find someone in your school or beyond with whom you can share experiences, ask questions, vent frustrations, or just chat. This can be tremendously helpful.

Also, I hope you will have considerable time in classrooms before you assume your own full-time teaching responsibilities. This can help prepare you for what to expect so that you will not be blindsided by the reality of the classroom.

Finally, I think it is important to recognize the key role that your own professional growth will play as you move through your career. Regardless of where your strengths lie now, a commitment to lifelong learning will be the only way to have this potentially rewarding career continue to be rewarding. It is the only way a teacher can grow and improve so that all your students can also grow and learn.

Thanks for taking a step by being part of this chat. I will hope to hear more from you in the future. Keep a positive attitude.

Question from:
Papillion, Nebraska
One piece of advice I would give to both a new teacher as well as a colleague facing burnout is to share with another teacher. Share ideas, share humor, share energy, share materials...just don't try to go it alone. Networking is essential for all of us, and professional organizations such as NCTM can help us make those connections.

Cathy Seeley:
What a great way to wrap up this chat! It's all about connecting with each other. There's that idea of a professional community again. We don't have to go it alone. There are colleagues in our school, in our local and state organizations of mathematics educators and certainly in NCTM. Thanks to all of you for being part of this professional community and for sharing some wonderful thoughts that remind us why this community is such an important part of our lives.

Moderator:
Thank you all for your participation. The questions submitted in advance that we did not have time to post during the one-hour online chat are included in the final transcript posted online.

Cathy Seeley:
Thanks so much for all the questions and for all the great ideas and suggestions submitted as part of this chat. I have enjoyed my first Presidential chat, and I look forward to interacting with you all again in the future.

My next chat is on accountability and will be at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 25. Be sure and read the President's Message in the July/August NCTM News Bulletin to get your ideas going.

Your feedback is important! Comments or concerns regarding the content of this page may be sent to nctm@nctm.org. Thank you.