From the Magazine

A TikToker Shares Secrets to Avoiding Burnout

TikTok isn’t just for kids.

Maria, aka TwentiesTikTokTeacher, took the platform by storm, sharing advice ranging from how to avoid teacher burnout to what to wear on your first day of school. We virtually sat down with her to learn how she copes with burnout, how she became a TikTok star, and how the pandemic has affected her mental state.

AW: So, a big thing that we hear about is teacher burnout. Have you seen that in your peers? Why do you think the burnout rate is so high in teachers?

Maria: So I have definitely seen that. I’ve known that I wanted to teach middle school since I was in middle school. My mom works and has worked for a while in a middle school. So, she used to work in the special education guidance department, and so she would see, especially within that department, a high turnover rate of teachers because of the burnout being so strong. 

Year one was really hard for me with being in charge of two grade levels and being in a self-contained classroom in a new state. It was just a lot of newness thrown at me with not as much support as I had been hoping to receive.

By November, I felt like I was burnt out. Not to the point of like ‘I’m going to leave this career,’ but to the point of, ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ or ‘I don’t want to do this today, I’m tired, and it’s only Tuesday.’

In my three years of teaching, I’ve seen that so often with young teachers, being kind of whack-a-moled down into, ‘No, we don’t want to hear your new ideas,” ‘No, we don’t want your energy and spunk.’ When speaking with veteran teachers who are facing that burnout, they are pushing those feelings onto people who are excited to be in the workspace when they are maybe at a point that they should be exiting the workspace.

I’m feeling that strongly this year because of the craziness that we’re experiencing. I love teaching, and at this point in my life, I don’t see myself doing anything else. But, it really is a constant battle to try to face that burnout.

I’m a naturally optimistic and positive person. It is so exhausting to be in that culture sometimes, where it’s constant complaining about students, or admin, or schools, or district, or teaching as a whole. You can get into those complaining traps so easily, and it’s so hard to pull out of them.

AW: What are some of the strategies that you use to stay positive and avoid burnout?

Maria: I am such an advocate for breaking up your identity. Like yeah, you’re a teacher, but you are so much more than just a teacher. I had someone tell me last year, ‘you need to find buckets to fill outside of your teaching bucket, because if you choose to pour everything into that teaching bucket, you’re going to have nothing left.” I really internalized that and have come to realize that there are a lot of teachers out there who find their sole identity in being a teacher. They pour so much of themselves, their time, energy, money, and thoughts; they pour everything they have into that identity of being a teacher.

There are some days that I just want to remove everything that happened during the school day out of me. I’m like, ‘I need to step away from this right now.’ But, if you don’t have an identity outside of that, how do you step away from it? It can become a very toxic environment inside of you. I strive to create identities and be someone who has more in life than just being a teacher. 

I am really driven by health and fitness. I am really into exercise and movement. I’m into healthy eating and different practices that make me feel healthy, like yoga and meditation. I pour a lot of time and energy into that to make me feel like the best version of myself. 

I’m also not afraid to use personal or sick days as a mental health day. This past weekend I took Friday off and created a four-day weekend for myself to take a trip. I was hitting a place of burnout right before that trip, and I knew I needed to go somewhere to be the best version of myself stepping into this next week. I’m huge on using mental health days when you can.  

It’s about recognizing you are so much more than a teacher, and there are so many other areas of life you can enjoy and be a part of.

Like, I’m 25, and I do normal 25-year-old things on the weekend. I feel like sometimes there’s a stigma around teachers being themselves on the weekend! I’ve gotten DM’s from people like, “I see you wearing crop tops all the time. I’m afraid to wear crop tops in my town ‘cause I’m afraid someone is going to see me.” I say, “You do you! You’re not on the clock.”

Obviously, don’t post things you don’t want your admin or students’ parents to see on social that are inappropriate, but if you are a young person, do what you want, and you can do what you want in your free time. 

AW: What sort of challenges have you had to face this year with the pandemic?

Maria: The lack of connection. I got into teaching because of the connection that my teachers provided for me when I was a student. Whether that be the relationship that I had with my teachers or the relationships that I was able to create with my peers in the classroom; everything’s been taken away from me that I loved about teaching. I complain to my boyfriend all the time, “this is not what I signed up for” “I’m not meant to be at a desk or a computer all day.” 

The students don’t like it either — they don’t want to talk behind their screens. You hear the same voices in class every day. You don’t hear all of their voices; you aren’t getting that rapport that you normally get in class. It’s a huge lack of connection. I don’t even know what my students look like at this point. If I saw them on the street, I could not even recognize them. 

With 20-30 kids in my virtual class, I can’t walk by a desk and crouch down and say, “Hey, how are you doing today? I know you had a fun weekend. How was that?” or “Hey, you look tired today. Is everything going okay?” There’s no sense of connection, and that’s really been the toughest part because virtual learning — it is what it is — kids know how to use technology. They can use Google slides, Google docs. They’re equipped with the skills they need to be a smart virtual learner. It’s a lot of intrinsic motivation on their end, and that’s definitely lacking this year as well. 

I am huge on relationships over content. I think they are just as important. We’re not seeing the same connections as we have in the past. We’re going on almost a year of it, and I am losing it on this tiny little computer screen because this is not what I signed up for. 

AW: How did you get started on TikTok? Do you have advice for teachers who might want to get started there?

Maria: So, I’m an only child, and I had to make my own fun as a kid all the time. My parents used to give me this old VCR camera in my basement. I was a dancer when I was a child, so I had boxes upon boxes of costumes. I used to go to my basement and pretend I had my own TV show and would film myself doing whatever I wanted to do that day. I’d make music videos to like Hillary Duff and Lizzie McGuire, and that was like my favorite hobby as a kid up until like 8th grade.

When TikTok came out, I was just scrolling and consuming content for about a year, and then I started to see more and more teachers on the platform. I said to myself, “I could do this.” I started making funny little videos like, “Hey, I’m a 24-year-old teacher doing Renegade.” 

I’m also very into fashion. I did an outfit compilation video of all my outfits during the week. On that Friday, I posted it and, looking back, that was the last Friday that I was in my classroom. That video just blew up. Over 100,000 views by the next morning and I was like, “oh my gosh!”. I started saying, “I could have a platform.” 

I have always said that I would love a platform to positively influence people. Whether that’s in a teaching space, or fitness space, or mental health space, at this point, I like to think of myself in all three. So, I started really building up teacher content, and I started doing advice videos and more outfit videos. Then I had 30k followers, then 50k, and I was like, “wow, people actually want to see and hear what I have to say.” It has been one of the most fun experiences I’ve manifested for myself that I’ve ever had.

I say, if you want to make a TikTok for your teaching life or an Instagram for your teaching life, then just do it! Many people are messaging me asking how I know what to post, but it’s such a simple answer, and I always feel bad saying it: “just be you.”

Don’t try to be anything else. That person already exists, and people follow them for that reason, but people are going to be following you and gravitating for you because what makes you, you, is so special! If you’re willing to put yourself out there and if you’re open to people being in your business, then I say, “Go for it!”

Quickfire Questions:

What are you watching on Netflix? Bridgerton.

What’s your favorite prep period snack? Coffee — not a big snacker.

Starbucks order? Black coffee.

Where do you shop? Target and small boutiques. 

Any funny stories from this weird school year? Have to ask kids to put shirts on a lot. 

Alex Winter is a graduate of Valparaiso University and a member of the Empowered team.