Is it that time of the year to sign your teaching contract and you just don't know what to do? Are you confused - thinking how much you loved teaching but now it just doesn't seem feasible? Maybe you wonder if you've reached the point of no return. I get it. And while I love supporting teachers in reigniting their passion for teaching, I love supporting teachers in recovery from burnout even more. That means, I'm never going to tell you to stay in a profession if you are ready to hang up the towel. I want to help you recover from burnout - however that looks for you. And I realize that some teachers may not want to stay in it longterm and that's perfectly fine! Actually, I recommend exploring your options so that you can bring passion and joy back into your life.
That's why I am interviewing my good friend Amber Harper, who you might know as The Burned In Teacher in today's episode because she's done just that. She left teaching. Not once but TWICE. In this episode, we are going to ask her the biggest questions around what made her leave, what on earth made her go back, and how she went from burned out to burned in.
Amber Harper is a long-time educator, author, speaker, and podcaster. She’s the founder of www.burnedinteacher.com and author of Hacking Teacher Burnout which gives struggling teachers a path to follow as they navigate their way out of burnout. Amber is a Teacher Burnout Coach working with educators to help them grow through their burnout and take their next, best steps toward what they want from their career in education and in life.
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[0:53] Hey, Amber, welcome to the Resilient Teacher Podcast. I am so excited to have another teacher mental health advocate here on the show.
And you know I'm a huge fan.
Well, thank you. And I am a fan of yours. So thank you so much for having me.
Yeah. So I gave a little brief introduction about you, but I would love it if you would just introduce yourself to the listeners, share a little bit about how you began the whole burned in teacher movement.
Yes, sure. I'll try to keep it short and sweet for you. So my name's Amber Harper.
I am a kindergarten teacher in Northeast Indiana. This is my 14th year teaching, but not consecutively as we might get into.
I've left teaching twice and returned twice. So I've taught grades fifth, first, second, third, back to first, and now in kindergarten.
And so in addition to teaching kindergarten full-time, I do, I run burned in teacher.
So that is my way of serving teachers through my book, my course, my podcast, my website, speaking all of the things, as I know you can relate to Brittany, you're doing all that great stuff too.
And so I advocate and help teachers to empower themselves to take their next best steps so they can live a happy and fulfilled life. And really that came from my own.
[2:14] Terribly horrible burnout story that I really lived out for close to 10 years of my, my first 10 years of my career.
And I just got so sick of feeling miserable and accepting that as my forever reality.
And I got tired of Googling things and not finding anything that really worked for me.And in:
[3:21] And as I started to do that inner work on myself, I started to, you know, talk about these things I was learning and no one really knew what the heck I was talking about.And then in:
I wanted to become a Google certified educator, an innovator, and a trainer.
And so that really reignited my spark for teaching and for life again, if I'm being completely honest.And so that, in:
And started blogging and telling my story in addition to sharing the things that I was doing in my life to change it, to change my life and to really enjoy teaching and enjoy living again because I was just really stuck in a terrible cycle.
[4:09] Yeah, I can, I can relate to that. I mean, I was, I was there doing, I mean, I bought the t-shirt, I got the snow globe, I got all the things that says you are completely burned out. And I know that sharing my transformation and sharing the things that I did, it really brought that joy back. And I, and with you, like, it just sounds exactly the same. But one of the things that you talked about in your story is that you quit teaching. And I think that's such a big thing.
Because I can't relate to that part, you know, and so I have to know more about it.
And you did it not once, but twice. So I know really any teacher who is burned out has the same question.
Why did you come back to teaching?
[4:55] Great question. So the first time I left and then returned, I actually did not want to return because I had had such a volatile and toxic relationship with my administration.school that I was in back in:
So I felt like I had failed my students. I had failed my team that I left.
I had failed my profession as a teacher leaving mid-year. And now I failed very publicly.
[6:11] I mean, it was in the newspaper. It was just very, very, very embarrassing.
And so I'm like, all right, well, I tried.
I failed. There's nothing else I can do. I have to go back to the classroom.
And so I went back, but not to the same district. I went to a different district, actually the district that I work in now.
But it was a different building.
[6:29] And I was like, this is it for me. And when I say this is it for me, and when I say, you know, and part of my story was that I felt like I was being called to do something else or do something more, but I didn't know what it was. It wasn't that teaching isn't good.
It was never like teaching wasn't good enough.
I just always had this pull that like, are you meant to do something else?
Are you meant to work with other people?
Like, I always felt like I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
And that just really, it didn't propel me forward.
It kept holding me back is how I felt. And so I went back to this.
I went to a new district, new grade level. I went from third to first.
And it was actually okay. It really was.And then in: ]:
I didn't feel like I had any friends, didn't know, didn't have anybody that really knew me or cared to know me.
And my husband was like, go. you'll meet some new, you know, teachers from different buildings. And, you know, and I did. And just got super inspired. And that's when I, you know, bought the domain, built Burnin Teacher. And then so for the next two and a half years after I bought the domain and I was blogging and becoming a Google certified educator and trainer, I started to lead some trainings for Google at, you know, different places at our local education service centers, and different buildings around Indiana.
But I was having to say no a lot.
And I had in my head then all of these dreams of where I wanted to take burned-in teacher and who I wanted to serve. And I had this idea of turning burned-in into a process because it wasn't one.
And I was just – I had all these big dreams and goals.And so in summer of:
So I left the second time not because of burnout, but because I wanted to say yes to these opportunities that were knocking on my door that I was having to say no to previously.] So I left in:
So I, number one, I'm an extrovert.
And but, you know, being at home and working from home and traveling to these different places sounded super sexy and super fun. And it was.And then:
It was me and my dog. And especially after COVID, schools didn't need Google training the way that they did before. They had learned all of those things by necessity, which is great.
And my passion wasn't really into Google anymore.
I had really fully evolved into wanting to run this, you know, run Burn In Teacher and serve teachers who were feeling so frustrated, so burned out, so miserable, because that was really where my heart lay the whole time was for these teachers that needed something, needed a path and needed a way for them to step out of this burned out state.So spring of:
And I specifically wanted to go back to the district that I had left the second time that I left teaching because I really loved it.
I loved the schedule. My husband works here in this district and I wanted to be on the same calendar as him.
So there happened to be a kindergarten opening.[:
And I was like, I really like everybody that Jeff worked with, so I'm gonna go for it.
Kindergarten, I don't really know, but we're gonna go for it.
And it has been the best experience.
I have never felt so content and so happy and just so fulfilled being a teacher in my entire life. And I really did return because I'm not the type of person that can work from home.
And I really was going through, I'm going to say a slight depression with it being so quiet, so lonely, so isolated essentially in my home office.
And I'm so happy to be doing Burn In Teacher in tandem with teaching full time.
I feel like I get to practice what I preach as well. I get to show people that I'm not full of it.
Like, I really, I'm doing the thing and I'm doing the things that I talk about so much.
So it really has been the best experience.[:
I'm like, Oh, I'd have to say no to this and I have to say no to this.
But then in the end of your story, I'm like, yeah.
Then the fulfillment that you get from teaching and being able to show you're still in the classroom and you're still doing all of these things, and having to work through your burned-in process while that's all occurring is, is a.[:
Well, number one, you know, you have, of course, and I want to be careful with this, you have your why to teach. Like, why were you a teacher in the first place? I would really begin where you are, this is what the process is set up to do is really to help you to process these thoughts that you're having and these possibilities that lay ahead of you.
So number one, like, number one, what brought you here? Like what brought you to the place of maybe considering leaving?
So number one, why did you become a teacher in the first place?[:
And I mean both metaphorically and physically.
Like, how long have you been teaching? How long have you been teaching in this building?
How long have you been in this grade level? Because essentially, and what I have learned through my own experience of leaving twice, returning twice, is that sometimes leaving just sounds like the only option.[:
Absolutely. Mm-hmm. So, and maybe that is your reality. But there, I have talked to way too many teachers who have said, my principal's amazing.
My team is incredible.
I just can't keep going at this pace. So no matter where you are, I would start with where you are.
So again, coming back to, OK, how long have you felt this way?
All right, what triggered these emotions?[:
Have you been teaching the same grade level for 12 years and maybe you just need a grade level change? Does any of that sound appealing to you? And if yes, great, like, let's kind of lean into that. If no, all right, let's lean into, all right, if you want to leave, if you think that's the best choice for you, are you wanting to leave for a different building? Are you wanting to leave for a different district? Are you wanting to leave for a different role, a different, a different workplace, you know, a different title. I think just allowing people and teachers to explore the idea of change, giving them permission is, is the best thing. Giving yourself permission to explore, because you just exploring and seeing how this feels, there's nothing wrong with that. You're not, you're not cheating on your profession. This is just the beginning of you really thinking about what could be. And the possibilities really are endless, but it really does begin and end with you believing that change is possible.
And that change can be any number of things. It doesn't have to be one finite, I quit, like I leave.
It can be any number of possibilities.[:
Like I had somebody go through the Individualized Educare Program, and they were like, you know, I'm thinking about leaving the profession.
I can't do this anymore. I really just cannot do this.
And what she found through that process was that she had a knack for technology.
She was passionate about technology, but she was teaching English.
And so she wasn't really able to do that. And what she did through that process was realize, here are my strengths.[: [:
So absolutely what you're saying is so, so on point.
And just kind of piggybacking off of that too, like teachers often think, you know, I can – I'm only qualified to teach English.
Like in my state, like all you have to do is pass a test to do another, you know, get certified in something else.
You don't have to go back to school to do that. You can just kind of do a little extra something and teach something else if that's what you want to do.
And I think so often they have that imposter syndrome. well, I'm only qualified for this or I'm only, you know, I've only done this before. I only have this experience. But with.[: [:
And I've heard it said on many different channels. On Instagram, I've heard people talking about it.
And on podcasts of how in a lot of situations now in different schools and districts, you, can negotiate your contract now.
Yeah. That's something that has never been possible in education.
Or you could have another teacher who is saying, yeah, I could do that, but I'm sure that there is so much to do. I'm sure there are so many hoops to jump through.
I'm sure I would have to go back to school.[:
Put up these walls and they believe a certain – they have a certain belief about how hard it's going to be and they don't even try, which just breaks my heart because we are capable of so much more.
And typically, like you said, things are not typically as difficult as they may seem.
Yeah. And you know, like, I think a lot of teachers that are thinking of leaving the profession, they often don't have the authentic boundaries, things that are really good for them.
So for those teachers who are considering leaving the profession, what are like three boundaries that you would tell them to set before actually getting out?[:
Create some of that mental and time space that maybe they don't feel like they have to quit. Is that what you're saying?
Yeah. Okay. So the number one thing that I would say is setting time boundaries.
And I have made that very, very easy with what I call a time budgeter.
So I can quickly explain that to you.
So a way that you can easily set time boundaries, and you could use this as well if you are convinced that you want to look for other teaching opportunities or other work opportunities, is you have to make time to do that work.
Like, and you have to make time. Like, if they're going through your program or my program or whatever it is that they're trying to do to grow themselves, you have to make the time for it. You can't find it.
You're never going to find more time, but you can make more time.
So what you can do is you can create a time allowance. So essentially, let's say your contract is, mine for example, is 730 to 330, OK?
So I have to be at school during those hours, right? But as we all know, there is much more time involved in teaching than just your contract hours. And I'm not advocating for working past them.[:
But we do this typically really blindly, and that can lead to absolutely no boundaries.
We just work ourselves until we feel like we're going to fall on the floor or we have to leave for, you know, etc.
So let's say, obviously, our contract hours are 40 hours a week, okay?
And let's say maybe that's your goal. I want to work 40 hours a week.
Okay, that's a totally valid goal. Let's go with that. So that's your time allowance.
You're saying, I'm allowing myself 40 hours a week to work on school.
This includes, by the way, checking your email on your phone.
Yes. Take it off.[:
You know, do you budget your money?
You know, you can budget your time as well. Time and money are some of our most important resources that we have.
We budget our money, or we protect it in banks, we protect it with passwords, but we don't protect our time.[:
Look at how are you going to budget those hours? So if you want to work 40 to 45 hours, how many hours are you going to work on Monday?
This causes you to look at your calendar. This causes you to plan ahead.[:
That takes away your teacher guilt. It takes away your mom guilt.
It takes away just what it does is it creates, like you said, those boundaries so that you have to tell yourself enough.
Enough. If you don't know how to tell yourself enough, it's going to be really hard for you to verbalize enough and set boundaries, like personal boundaries or spatial boundaries. So this is a great practice for yourself. So what I would say is, OK, Monday, I'm going to say I will work from 7 to 3.30. All right. Maybe I have to leave to get my kids by 3.30, 3.45. Okay, so Tuesday, maybe I'm going to come in 6.45. So again, I can leave right away at 3.30. All right, maybe on Wednesday, I can stay a little later. Maybe that's gonna be my late day. So I'm going to show up at 7.30 in my contract time, I'm going to leave at 4. So you can balance all of this time budgeting out and then add up the amount of hours that you're working. So you can see it like seeing it on paper is just mind-blowing and so eye opening because before you were just kind of leaving it to whoever or whatever wants to take of your time.
Yeah. Now it's going to cause you to say, no, I'm sorry. I can't commit to that because I really do have to leave at this time.[:
You know, when I was realizing that a lot of my time was spent doing things that weren't valuable to me, not valuable to my students, that I was doing these repetitive things, I created automations.
And I'm sure you have automations like for your classroom or for your business, but using them in my business really had me entering them into my classroom.
And I'm like, why am I doing all of these things that are taking this brain power where I could be using the time that I would be spending in the mornings or in the afternoons.
And now I don't have to do those things in the mornings and the afternoons or stay late or anything like that because I'm actually getting what I need to get done during the day.
So I think, I just think that's really powerful to be able to time budget.
Oh my gosh, that is, that is really cool.[:
I really need to rethink, do I need to adjust this thing that I tell myself I I have to do? Do I need to abandon it? Or do I need to adopt a new way of doing things?
It really is a great starting point. I love that we are just like, this is why I am such a big fan of yours is because I feel validated in the thought process and everything and it just, it feels good to talk to somebody who gets it like that. And so We're both teachers, we're both podcast hosts, we're both parents.
I'd love to hear from your side how you maintain that work-life balance or that work-life alignment, doing all the things without returning to burnout because that is a struggle for me personally.
I have to, I don't do a time budget like you do, but like I have to block certain times for certain.[:
So it's interesting. I feel like you were just in my house recently as my husband and I were chatting.
So number one, I have to tell you, one reason that I'm not afraid of burnout is because I love the work that I do, and I feel like everything that I do is worthwhile, and I feel like it's making a difference.
And again, like I talked about earlier, I feel like the possibilities are endless.
And really for me, I do believe that about being a kindergarten teacher too.
And I think that's essentially because I have chosen to work in a really wonderful, empowering workplace.
But then for burned-in teacher, I mean, and you know this because of what you do, like this is my baby. Like I built everything that is burned-in teacher.
So I have to start off with that. I love the work.
With that being said, there is a ton to be done. And just like teaching, wearing all the hats with your kids in your classroom, you wear all the hats in your business too when you're a CEO, especially starting out.
So one thing that I have done to create work-life balance so that I'm not working all the time, although I really believe that I could because I really do love it, I have help.[:
I very carefully selected people who are either current teachers or who are former teachers who know the life, who know the struggle, and they help me.
And to create, they help me to organize. And I couldn't do it without them, quite honestly.
So number one, just like we tell teachers who are struggling, ask for help.
So that's what I do.
The other thing that I do is I do time budget. How often I work on Burn-In Teacher, and I'm talking like setting down in front of the computer to do the work, whether it's answering emails, recording podcasts, you know, all.[:
And so I typically, like right now, I'm podcasting from my classroom.tarted teaching again back in:
And I learned after a few weeks that that's not the best scenario.
Me getting it done here at school is – because I was afraid I would be distracted by all the things there are to do in my classroom.
But it actually has been – I've been able to set a really clear boundary, like 3.30 hits.
That's when I schedule podcast interviews between 3.30 and 4, or I'm podcasting, or I'm getting all those things done.
And my typical time to leave is either between 5 or 5.30, depending, again, time budgeting on whether or not I need to pick my daughter up from practice, or I need to be home to go for a walk with my husband, or whatever that is.
So typically I work for about an hour and a half to two hours a school day on burn-in teacher after school.[:
And if they're not urgent or important, that's typically something I would pass to my team or make sure that I have it laid out very clearly on a calendar and my priority, and my priority planner to make sure that I have those things, you know, that I know those things are coming up.
And then I don't know if you use this at all, Brittany, but I use Asana.
It's a project management system.
I used to look it up. Yeah, OK.
So it just, it's a really fantastic way to like keep all of the mini-projects, all of the tasks, everything organized. And it really is a balancing act.
It really is.
Yeah, yeah. I can, I can totally relate to that. And really, that was like a selfish question from my point of view, because when I was creating this outline, I was like...[:
And one thing that I've learned about myself specifically because I do get burned and bored, and we can go into the details of the quiz if you'd like to in a little bit or whatnot.
I find myself getting burned and bored. Like that is my most consistent burnout type.[:
I love serving teachers through the podcast, but it becomes something that is a lot of work and it's overwhelming. And sometimes I'm just like, I just don't want to do it.
That means something, I need to do something new with it. It means I need to spice it up.[:
Because nothing's going to come and, especially in Burnin' Teacher, nothing is going to, nobody's gonna come and save me there. Like, I have to save myself. I have to think about what is our next best step as a team, as Vernon teacher, and myself as a teacher in the classroom. So that's something that I really preach hardcore, because I know it's true. Like, it's our responsibility. Like, our burnout's not our fault, but it is, it is our responsibility to decide what our next step is going to be.
Yeah. And so you were talking about the burnout-type quiz. And before you kind of tell a little bit about this, I, heard you say most consistently you are burned and bored. So when you take this quiz, it's really eye-opening. You're, going to tell a little bit about it. But you can change types. Is that what I'm hearing?
Absolutely. Yeah. So, for sure, you can be a mixture of both or all three.
Yeah, yeah. So tell us a little bit about the quiz and like how the listeners can get support just from doing that quiz and and finding their unique type.[: [:
They were treating all these different burnout types the same.
And no wonder because I was a hot mess, Brittany.
I really needed super-specific strategies for my type. And so after you take these, or answer these 6 questions, you will get, you'll get to sign up to see what your results are. So you could be burned and over it, burned and unbalanced, burned and bored, or not burned out, not burned out, but something is off or something, you know, is out of balance. So burned and over it is simply being surrounded by apathy all day, whether it be your students, your team, your workplace culture, maybe it's yourself. You're just surrounded by negativity. You're feeling super negative yourself and hopeless about your, your choice in career.[: [:
Burned and bored is exactly what it sounds like.
You may have great systems. You're not working all the time.
You have great relationships.
You should feel like you have it all together, but you're really discontent and you need a change.
And that kind of sounds like what we were talking about earlier, that burned and bored, where something – you just need a shift somewhere. It could be a change in the way you're doing things in your classroom, a change in systems, a change in grade level.
It could mean many, many things. And then not burned out but something is off means that there could have been something that has begun to trigger these feelings.
Like maybe you've never had the Sunday scaries before, but now you're not sleeping on Sunday night anymore for some reason.
And this has just started to happen in the last couple of months or last couple of weeks.
And this is like the perfect scenario to find someone like you, Brittany, or someone like me because it hasn't gotten so bad that you are like crying in your car every day, to and from school, you're not feeling hopeless, you're just like, why do I feel different?
Like, I used to love doing this thing, X, Y, or Z, and now I'm like dreading it.
What the heck? And so this is a perfect time for you to find, you know, find some solutions that are specific to you. So when you get your result, you will automatically get, you will land on a page that gives you specific steps for your type.
And this is all free, by the way. So it gives you kind of a starting off point of things that you can do specifically for your type.[: [:
So that's really the quiz in a gist, and that is really just the beginning.
And for a lot of teachers, I get a lot of replies to these automatic emails that get sent to them that they're like, I feel so seen. This was like right on target.
Like I'm smiling about my burnout, which is so crazy. Like I've heard that so many times.
And I've watched teachers take this quiz in a live setting. I've done breakout sessions at conferences doing this.
And they come in like, I hope my principal didn't see me because I don't want them to know that I'm feeling burned out.
There's like taboo there, right? And then they take this quiz and they go from hunched over, their shoulders relaxed, and they sit back and they're like, oh, I'm not crazy. They'll look at their teacher friend that they came in with and they're like, oh my God, that's me. Like, I'm not crazy.
I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. You're like, you feel so crazy.
Like you don't feel like yourself.
You don't feel like you're in your own body sometimes. And it's just – it's a real relief to know that someone out there understands where you've been and they can put a name to it.
And Dan Segal says, if you can name it, you can tame it. And that is such a huge part of our healing process is being able to name how we're feeling.because when I was struggling: [:
And to be able to offer that to people, and I know you know because you have struggled yourself in your own journey, to be able to offer that help because you've been there and you found an answer and you found a solution, it is just like nothing else. Yes. Gosh. You know, I was listening to you talk about these, the quiz, the answers and all of that, and I was thinking, I've been there.
I've been that one, and I've been that one, and that one too.
And so, lead to the other because if you're burned and unbalanced for years and you've put in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours and not to mention free hours of free labor, you keep having more and more work to do no matter how much work you do, you feel like you're on the hamster wheel, you are going to become burned and over it because you're just like, what is the point?
I have worked my life away and I'm not seeing any benefits to all of this work.[:
You can be burning on balance and burned and bored at the same time.
You could be working yourself to death but then also be like, man, I'm just really tired of doing all this work. like mad about it, but like, I don't want to do this work anymore.
I'm going to do something else.
Yeah. So, so all these can work together as well.
Yes. So I'm going to link that in the show notes as well because I know that it is such a powerful tool just to be able to name it, like you said, like to have that something that you're like, oh gosh, see, I'm not crazy.
I'm not crazy. This is what I, this is what it is. Well, and there's an answer.
There's an answer for it.
Yeah. I just think a lot of teachers just needed.
This reminder today that they're not alone in their feelings, you know of burnout knowing that they have teachers like us in their corner.[:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So you can learn more about me at burned in teacher comm that's my website You can follow me on instagram at burned in teacher and I have several free resources says you can get a free chapter of my book, Hacking Teacher Burnout, at burninteacher.com slash free chapter.
So you can test it out and see how you're feeling just by reading that one tiny chapter.
It can really change a lot for you.
Yeah, I mean, you can reach out to me at support at burninteacher if you have any questions.
I answer, I read and answer all of my own emails.
So that's one thing I have not delegated yet. But I love talking to teachers, especially when it's their first, like they just found me. And there's just so much hope in their voice of their emails. I'm sure you know what that's like, Brittany. Yes.
I just love hearing from you all. So yes, reach out in any way that you feel comfortable.
I love it. So I'm going to put all of those links in the show notes, as well as a link to your podcast, which I was on your podcast not too long ago. So, so I will put that in the show notes for people to go and check out those links, check out your resources, learn more about you and from you.
Thank you so much, Amber, for coming onto the show and talking with me today.
I just love your energy. I love everything that you have and offer.[:
And it was very fun to talk with you and to see you again. Yes!