Columbia College–Fort Worth associate director battles teacher burnout.

They're everywhere: in your town, your neighborhood, on your streets.

In your children's classroom.

They are burnt out, negative teachers, what Dr. Brenda Cole, associate director, Columbia College–Fort Worth and a veteran teacher and administrator, calls "babysitter teachers," there to meet minimum curriculum and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements as they trudge through their day.

Yet almost every one of these weary, pessimistic teachers started out as an enthusiastic education student raring to ignite a spark of learning in students.
"I see it all the time," says Cole from Fort Worth, where Columbia College has a campus on a naval air station joint reserve base. "My students are so excited about teaching," she says. "They even have emails like 'love2beteaching' and 'want2teach.'"

A complex educational bureaucracy, the non-stop testing of NCLB, crushing paperwork and homework overload all contribute to teacher burnout. To keep the spark alive, Cole has co-authored, "Learn to Love Teaching Again: Tips and Tools for Every Educator."

Cole wrote her doctoral thesis on preventing teacher burnout. So when she and a former colleague were asked to present on teacher stress at a conference in Anaheim, Calif., last spring, they were ready.

Dr. Brenda Cole

"It was a break-out session where teachers could choose which session they wanted to attend," she says. "Our ballroom had 500 seats. We thought we would only fill half the room but to our surprise teachers were lined up outside the room!"

Here are a few of Cole's tips, as applicable to teaching as it is to your profession:
  • Stay positive.
You know that ubiquitous smiley face? Cole draws them on whiteboards and in her office because she says they reinforce positive energy. Happiness is energizing; negativity not only drags you down but those around you, too.

In her presentations, Cole demonstrates the literal power of positive thinking with a classic behavioral arm strength test: She asks for a volunteer, has them face a smiley face or something equally positive, and extend their arm horizontally. She then tries to force it down. It's usually pretty hard to do when the volunteer is facing or thinking something happy. When faced with an angry face, the volunteer's arm drops easily.

"People don't believe it – they think it's rigged," she says. "So we pick people from the audience who are skeptics. It works every time."
  • Don't be a bag person.
A teacher bag person is one whose bags are packed with tests and homework at 4:30 p.m., ready for another exhausting night of grading. Leave it all in the classroom, Cole says; structure your time more wisely to make it happen. Give students immediate feedback on homework, tests and quizzes. Doing so not only reduces workload but helps students who struggle break erroneous patterns of thinking. Lack of swift corrective feedback may be one reason American students do so poorly in math, she says.
  • Play games.
Cole has her students play human tic-tac-toe. She also has been known to toss out beach balls and uses "this really humungous timer" during timed exercises. Other Columbia College education teachers lead their classes in sing-a-longs.
  • Stay away from the teachers' lounge.
The teachers' lounge is a hotbed of negativity and complaints and may take a new teacher down, Cole says, especially during their first year. Instead, take a sack lunch. Walk around the school track. Shut the door and put on good music. Your colleagues might think you standoffish, but they'll come around, she says.

Her tactics work, too: Columbia College–Fort Worth graduates Maria Hannah '08 and Randy Summerhill '06 were recently named White Settlement Independent School District, west Fort Worth metro area, teachers of the year. "People want to be around people who are positive," Cole says. "Principals like to see a happy teacher teaching happy kids."

"I want all veteran teachers to rejuvenate that same spirit our Columbia College students hold in their hearts," she says.

"Learn to Love Teaching Again" can be ordered from, and


Robert Pine said...

Riding Dirt Bikes is a Great Stress relief :)
Robert Pine
Director-FT Sill
"If you ain't wrecken, you ain't riden hard enough"

Athena said...

I think this is a wonderful idea.

I recently saw the Anderson show with Anderson Cooper and on this episode there was a teacher who had written an offbeat post on Facebook for which she lost her job.

She explained that she had a really bad day and was simply venting. She apologized for and regretted doing what she had done.

I've always regarded teachers as special people. Who else can handle having 20-30 or even more students to deal with all day long?

I'm not surprised that teachers can become stressed out at times and need to find a release.

Stress is one of the areas that I do research on and blog about so maybe teachers, and others, can find their solution here Ways to Relieve Stress.