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Breaking Free From the Teacher Martyr Myth : the Foundation of Teacher Self-Care

podcast Nov 03, 2023

What is the Teacher Martyr Myth: The #1 Reason for Teacher Burn Out

You know those Hollywood movies, where the teacher who sacrifices everything for their students is glorified? Cue the rousing soundtrack! Yeah, not so helpful. While the music plays and we see lovely images of connection with students and lives being impacted, what we don't see is the impact that this myth of self-sacrifice has on a teacher's mental, emotional and physical health, as well as the damage it causes in their life outside of school. 

So it's time to ask yourself, do you wear your overwork like a badge of honor? Do you believe educators are destined to be exhausted and under appreciated? If so, you've subscribed to the teacher martyr myth.

This damaging mindset not only hurts your relationships and health, but it also damages your effectiveness as an educator. I'll preach it again, "Your energy teaches more than your lesson plans."

In this post, I'll examine how we got here and five steps to achieve better work-life balance and stress that you can empower yourself to teach sustainably without sacrificing your whole life.

How Did The Expectation of Teacher Self-Sacrifice Come About?

Teaching was historically a male-dominated profession. But long periods of war and industrialization led to a shortage of teachers. By the 1930s, over 80% of teachers were women. As women began to dominate the field, teaching became seen as an extension of caregiving roles. The profession decreased in prestige and pay accordingly.

Deeply entrenched gender biases pushed women into roles expecting self-sacrifice. The media perpetuates this myth by glorifying teachers working late into the night. But this isn't the reality. Teacher martyrs damage relationships, resent their workload, and eventually burn out. Cultural norms equate dedication with self-destruction. But it's time to empower ourselves with a more sustainable mindset. 

5 Steps to Set Healthier Boundaries in Teaching

1. Understand that the martyr myth isn't only bad for you - it's ineffective for your students

The teacher martyr mentality doesn't just hurt you. It damages your closest relationships. Resentment builds when you're never home and too exhausted to engage with your family. Prioritize balancing your life, even if you feel teaching is your calling. An overwhelmed, burnt out teacher isn't effective. The most effective teachers show up every day well-rested, confident, and patient. When you set healthy boundaries for yourself you are more creative, engaging and less likely to be reactive to student behavior. Your students are counting on you to bring the best of yourself every day, and that's hard to do when you're overextended and exhausted.

2. Examine the Emotional Toll

Look at overworking holistically. Even if you mostly keep school work at school, do you drag it around emotionally? There's no use being proud that you left your lesson plan books, your grading and your laptop at school, if you bring home with you the emotional weight of student trauma. Losing sleep over situations over which you have no control is not helpful. Dwelling on the worst parts of your day is draining. Making sure that you have school and life balance and have the energy left at the end of the day to engage on activities that are fulfilling will be more resourceful than grinding away at school long after the bell has rung.

3. Improve Your Boundary Setting Skills

As educators, it's in our nature to want to help, to fix and to be problem solvers. Saying "no" to enrichment duties and other responsibilities that directly effect student does not come naturally to us. But the average teacher in the United States works between 12-15 hours a week beyond their contract hours UNPAID. That's craziness, and it's unsustainable. NO wonder 70% of educators say they have experienced burnout!

We need to learn to say no to extra unpaid duties without being crippled with guilt. We need to prioritize setting boundaries on our time at work and home. No one should have to apologize for having family responsibilities and interests outside of teaching. We are humans first, teachers second.

4. Stop the Comparisons

Don't get into conversations competing over who's more exhausted and overwhelmed. This just fuels negativity and burnout. Respond honestly, but don't engage in the one-upping. When a colleague mentions they're having an issue with a student or a parent (or another co-worker) validate their experience, empathize, but don't prolong the conversation by sharing your own story. Doing so rarely helps you feel empowered, it just leaves you feeling more drained and demoralized.

5. Hold the Judgement 

Be real. Do you judge others who leave work on time? This mindset change starts with you. Celebrate colleagues who model work-life balance. We need to champion sustainable teaching, not criticize it.

Rewrite the narrative that says that teachers who aren't the "last car in the parking lot" are lazy, unmotivated and not doing the best for their students. First, you have no idea what other responsibilities they may have outside of school. Look to these teachers for strategies - what are they doing to organize their time and prioritize their work life balance that you aren't? Stop arguing for your limitations. If someone else can do it, you can too. 

Decide to Ditch the Teacher Martyr Myth Once and For All

Teachers need lives outside the classroom to be our best selves. Break the martyr mentality cycle for yourself. Implementing these five steps to honor your needs while serving students is the foundation of authentic teacher self-care and will help overcome teacher burn out.


Educator Friend, are you ready to take back control of your time and energy? Do you need a CRASH COURSE in:

  • Overcoming your blocks setting healthy boundaries?
  • The exact steps and scripts needed to "say" no in a student-focused way to demanding administrators and parents?
  • How to set boundaries with your teacher besties who interrupt your prep time?
  • The ULTIMATE boundary playbook with scripts for every situation in your educator life?

I GOT YOU! Give me 90 minutes - I'll give you results!


Learn More About the Self-Paced Mini Course