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The Start of a New Academic Year: Maximize the Excitement, Minimize the Burnout

Molly Jameson, PhD
August 08, 2023

The start of a new academic year always brings promise, aspirations, and vitality...along with stress, time pressure, and feelings of burnout. Burnout is one of the biggest problems facing the American education system today, and experiencing burnout is obviously bad for you and your students. As a profound believer in the power of education to quite literally transform lives, I believe we are in a unique position to have big impacts on our students. So, how do we emphasize the promise, aspirations, and vitality of the start of a new academic year instead of the burnout? I remind myself of these ideas to help me feel inspired.

  1. Identify the impact of the work you’re doing.
    Generally speaking, we want to do the best for our students, our professional lives, and the university. We also want to be good at what we do. This means that we sometimes (often!) take on more than we should. But this then leads to burnout. Instead of piling on more and more, think about the impact of the work you are taking on.
  2. Accept that sometimes you just have to say no.
    It is okay to say that you can’t do something, whether it is due to limited time, an already huge task list, or the limited impact of the work. We wear many hats in academia, and we are often siloed away from one another. It can be challenging to know colleagues’ workloads, the focus of their work, and their availability. You will likely be asked to do more work than you are capable of. Keep in mind that saying "yes" to something often means saying "no" to other things, including personal and family activities. I like to remind myself that “no” is a complete sentence.
  3. Recognize what you do well.
    It is easy to focus on the negative aspects or outcomes of life; in fact, humans are exceptionally good at this. But pride in what you do well can quickly make you happier. As a self-efficacy researcher, I can tell you that feeling confident in your ability to be successful is critical to actually being successful. And recognizing what you do well is an important part to building that self-efficacy. I keep sticky notes in visible spots in my office recognizing my own strengths in the classroom such as, “You give really meaningful feedback” and “You help your students feel more confident in themselves”. Every time I see and read them, I feel a sense of pride in my teaching.
  4. Remember, done is better than perfect.
    Many of us are likely perfectionists, or at the very least have perfectionistic tendencies. But it is literally impossible to do everything in your life at a perfect level. Trying to reach perfection just contributes to feelings of burnout. While there are some tasks and products that must be done perfectly, there are also some that simply must be done. To feel inspired, I identify what tasks are “perfect” tasks and what tasks are “done” tasks. While identifying these levels of perfection is personal to your role, your self- and career expectations, and your tasks, I find it important to categorize and then complete tasks according to these categories. It helps me prioritize, manage my time, and feel excited about what I'm doing as an educator.  
  5. Get support when you need it.
    Community is what we intentionally practice by gathering in classrooms, in laboratory and field settings, in professional development opportunities. Community is entirely possible and powerful in any context. And community and support are essential to fighting against burnout and feeling inspired. CETL is always here to support your teaching and learning needs! In addition to our group events, you can schedule a one-on-one consultation with CETL to get that support.

Our university is a unique and special place, with an extraordinary range of creative talent, bold thinking, and connectivity to the issues of our time. I urge you to bring your full and authentic self into this teaching and learning experience. As we start a new academic year, I leave you with words from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, in his novel 11/22/63, and encourage you all to feel inspiration this year, to dance into your students' lives.

We did not ask for this room,
       or this music;
       we were invited in.
because the dark surrounds us,
       let us turn our faces toward the light.
Let us endure hardship
       to be grateful for plenty.
We have been given pain
       to be astounded by joy.
We have been given life
       to deny death.
We did not ask for this room,
       or this music.
But because we are here,
       let us dance.