Informal educators emote for a living. The constant need to be emotionally aware and expressive can be exhausting to sustain day after day — even for the most committed educator. Burn-out is more serious than being bored by a topic, finding it hard to express your emotions in a show you’ve done hundreds of times before or being temporarily distracted by a personal problem. If you allow yourself to get to the stage of burn-out, it will damage every presentation you give. It’s a career-limiting condition.
There are many factors which contribute to informal educators becoming disengaged with their job. Some of these are widespread problems experienced by the sector, e.g. poor pay; feeling unappreciated by your organisation; lack of a clear career progression; limited training opportunities; the difficulty of evaluating your impact. However, there are other factors which may be more within your control, e.g. physical exhaustion; making too many presentations each week; struggling to manage the behaviour of certain types of audience; not having enough variety in the programmes you deliver; feeling isolated; and letting stresses from your personal life build-up (3.6).
Burn-out happens slowly and often without us being consciously aware of it. Until one day, you have a couple of nightmare presentations and you suddenly realise that, somewhere along the way, you’ve lost interest in the reasons you became an informal educator.
Burn-out treatment plan
Presenting is such a personal activity that our general emotional and physical health can have a major impact on our delivery. So, it’s important to nurture yourself at times when you know you’re under greater stress than usual. Try to pay attention to the warning signs as early as possible, e.g. becoming impatient with your volunteers; presenting your favourite routines on autopilot; or finding yourself complaining more than normal.
These are some suggestions to consider when you start experiencing symptoms of burn-out:
- remind yourself what you most love about your job — most educators are driven by their values more than anything else. Write down your core values as an informal educator — what drives you to do your job in the long-term? Which aspects do you most enjoy about your role? Reflect on these motivations. When we’re most stressed, we can forget these fundamentals. Review them regularly. Some educators find it helps to keep a short journal of their reflections. This allows them to capture, and re-live, those golden moments where they feel they have made a real difference to the lives of their learners.
- monitor your energy levels — in the same way you already pay attention to your hydration level, check how expressive you are during presentations. Look for any trends of declining enthusiasm and motivation.
- be alert for a series of difficult audiences — recurring negative traits or emotions coming from your learners might mean that your attitude towards them has changed.
- seek support early — when you talk honestly about your concerns with your colleagues, you’ll realise that you are not alone in sometimes feeling like this. Also, nowadays, there are online communities for informal educators to share ideas and support each other.
- take regular breaks from presenting — if possible, consider doing more programme development work for a while. If you are trapped in the annual academic cycle of working with schools, try to pace yourself during term time and recuperate as much as possible during holiday periods. No matter whether you are employed or freelance, don’t be a hero — switch off completely during your holidays. You need these breaks to sustain your commitment, and the difference you make with your audiences, in the longer-term.
- refresh yourself with ongoing professional development — seeing other educators present and exchanging ideas with your peers can recharge your batteries. Are there training courses which address the challenges which cause you the most stress in your job? Would learning new skills from professionals in a related field reinvigorate you, e.g. improv, storytelling, stand-up?