What To Do When You Have a Professional Breakdown

This past week wasn’t the best of weeks. As the weather has been getting progressively better, state exams are looming, final marking periods and important deadlines are coming up, the promise of summer around the corner; let’s just say it is a transitional period for educators and students alike. I can feel the excitement and anxiety from my students as I am also in a transitional period of my career. Since this is my fourth year teaching, I am eligible to apply for tenure on top of having new administrators in my school to get adjusted to. It is a big year for myself and my students.


However, there comes a time when even the best teacher is tested more than usual and for me this happened last week. One day my students just were not demonstrating their best selves and whether it was a mixture of emotions surrounding some of my own deadlines and responsibilities or disappointment in their level of behavior or anxiety of their state exams approaching rather soon, I broke down. As my last class of the day was leaving for their next period, I began to cry. Some students were still in the room. It was definitely not my finest moment and one I instantly regretted as it was happening.


Of course nobody likes crying in front of others nor do they mean for it to happen but sometimes it can be hard to regain control. Even as it was happening, I was immediately filled with despair – why is this happening? Oh no, you’ve blown it! Try to hold it in until they leave! This was supposed to be a great year! As I struggled to keep it together a few students noticed and offered their condolences, apologized immediately for their and their classmates’ behavior and actions and hugged me. This in turn only made me feel worse as I felt as though I had failed them and made me question why I was crying in the first place. I certainly have had worst years, in fact this year was my best year as I felt I was finding my groove as a teacher, had amazingly capable students, was getting great reviews from admin and was doing it all without a co-teacher. In other words, prior to this incident, this was my year! Why was I suddenly losing it a little?


Even as I write this blog post, I can only really attribute it stress and feeling overwhelmed and perhaps at that moment it just needed to be released. I regained my composure, calmly ushered the remaining students to their next period and sat at my desk to really reflect on what just happened. Even the best of teachers have their moments and in what was an otherwise great year for me, it was extremely important for me to figure out what was going on. We all have those moments when we’re pushed to the brink and so when you feel as though you may be having a ‘professional breakdown’, consider these tips:


  1. Breathe and let it out. This may seem obvious and intuitive but it helps to remember to breathe and release your emotions. Whether it means having a good cry (which can be extremely cathartic and has many benefits on your health) or finding an outlet like kickboxing or journalling or yoga, it is unhealthy to keep pent up emotions inside. I struggle with this sometimes because I’m a naturally reserved person anyway and don’t always like to share how I’m feeling but in a demanding job like teaching, it helps to find ways to relieve stress in healthy ways.
  2. Reflect. Notice how immediately when I regained composure and was able to sit at my desk to think, I knew I had to find out the cause of what just happened. It was stress, it was that I was feeling overwhelmed with making sure my classes were prepared for their upcoming state exams and my recent formal observation and my looming tenure decision and letting weak moments in the day get to me personally and wanting to do well and….I care so much about my career and doing my best for my students and advancing in my career, that I let all the recent stresses get to me. Now that I knew this was the cause for why this happened, it was now time for an action plan so this didn’t happen again, which brings me to my next point…
  3. Take things one step or day at a time. It’s funny because once I realized how I was feeling, I almost immediately knew what to do next. I thought to myself, tomorrow is a new day and a fresh slate, let’s get back on track then! My students’ state exams are in about another week and a half and we’ve been in test prep mode for the past month. My tenure binder is due in about  two weeks. For now, my main focus will be on making sure I continue to plan effective and engaging lessons (even though test prep can be a chore) and break down my requirements for my tenure binder in smaller steps. In other words, time management is key and once my allotted time is done for a particular task then just move on and enjoy the rest of my time by doing things I love most like spending time with my husband and dog, baking, reading, watching movies, etc. I will say I have done a better job this year of keeping work at work so I can really enjoy my downtime but have found myself slipping lately in that I tend to overthink in my downtime rather than enjoy the moment. Now it’s time to get back on track.
  4. Move on and let go. This is easier said than done because of course while I knew what I had to do next, I still felt embarrassed that some students saw me in that manner and knowing middle school kids, word would get around quick. However, what’s done is done.  They can no more un-see what had happened than I can take back what did happen (though I so wish I could). The best thing then, and the only thing to do, is to move on. The next day, I came in ready to work and tackle on the new day’s challenges. Many students apologized for the previous day’s behavior and then we just proceeded with the day’s lesson and that was that. I had learned over the years as an educator that when you don’t emphasize or harp over unwanted or negative behaviors, the students won’t either and that’s exactly what happened. In fact, the rest of the week actually went by pretty good after that.


So while nobody wants to be seen in a negative light or to have any sort of breakdown, professional or otherwise, it is important to know that we are human at the end of the day and sometimes we do have slip-ups. How we address those and move forward though, makes all the difference. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed it is important too to employ self-care as best as possible by doing some of your favorite things. Our mental and overall health is crucial to upkeep so that we can remain as effective as possible.


I hope some, if not all, of these tips have resonated with you and that you take time to take care of your well-being. Here’s hoping to a better rest of the year and stronger self-care!

14 Replies to “What To Do When You Have a Professional Breakdown”

  1. Great tips! However I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the ‘let it go’ and ‘move on’ part. Makes most sense to me

  2. Oh I hear you! I’ve cried in so many “wrong” situations, mainly because I am quick to tears when I get mad or frustrated.

  3. I think these are great suggestions for anytime when life gets overwhelming. I think recognizing that it happens to everyone is an important first step.

  4. So sorry you went through that! I have had many professional breakdowns and it’s always been due to multiple small stresses that just build up. I found it so helpful to reflect on what was making me so stressed and then letting it go. Hope the rest of your year is amazing!

  5. These are great tips in any stressful situation. I find that pausing and breathing is most helpful as well as walking away for a few minutes.

  6. I’ve really love reading this kind of article of inspiration. It definitely gives and boost our motivation to never give up whatever happen.

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