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February 5, 2009 / Ben Chun

Burnout (Or Maybe Just Lack of Caffeine)

I think every teacher has probably seen this graph-as-cartoon image at some point. I couldn’t find the original source, but it’s one of those images that’s amusing enough that people xerox it and tape it up or attach it to emails or stick it into newsletters to be funny.


It’s funny because it’s true, funny in that way that you laugh about because it’s uncomfortable and you don’t really know how else to respond. Teaching is a job that has phases, and a job that is emotionally involved. Last year, for the first time, when I inevitably hit the “disillusionment” phase, it actually felt like there might be a forseeable end to this cycle or at least an attenuation. I could imagine not crashing like that, with the right systems and mindsets in place. And this year I’ve been on a pretty even keel, taking my new courses and working on them without getting too upset that the lessons aren’t perfect yet, keeping a good balance between focusing on academic issues and focusing on student relationships.

But suddenly here we are in February and I’m sliding right down. Perhaps it wasn’t a change in amplitude of this graph, but merely a phase shift. I’m not sure yet. But the “disillusionment” section now has an “annoyance” sub-label. I’ve gone from questioning my own decision to take this career path, questioning my ability to do the job at all, to wondering what’s wrong with the people and systems I see every day. Of course, the hopeful and idealistic say that this is my work, then, to take on and to participate in as my way of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off and beginning again the hard work of remaking schools. I’d like these people to come to work with me daily and then we can see how they’re feeling today.

I remember seeing that cartoon my very first year teaching, and thinking about how cliches become overused for reasons beyond people’s habits of speech. Maybe now I’m ready to see the next issue of the cynical cartoon series — I assume it shows a multi-year path in teaching. My fear is that it looks less like the rollercoaster above and more like the stock market in 2008.



Leave a Comment
  1. Steven Chun / Feb 7 2009 7:50 am

    Flipping the graph over and thinking bicycles … it’s like a hill-climb with a grunt-, ahhh- and a wheeee-phase.

  2. peretz / Feb 13 2009 5:42 am

    i think the trick is to plot it over successive years and see if experience raises the altitude in disillusionment valley.


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