Burned-In Teacher: How one woman is de-stigmatizing teacher mental health

Amber Harper is enthusiastic, upbeat and beams with excitement when she talks about her passion project, Burned-In Teacher. It's a consulting business that’s focused on helping educators stay engaged in their careers, through tools and coaching. 

Amber Harper is on a mission to help teachers take control of burnout.But it wasn’t always that way. Harper entered the teaching profession in 2007. She worked in a school system in northeast Indiana for about eight years. The job proved to be trying at times. 

“I experienced a roller coaster of burnout,” she says. “Everything would be okay, and then I’d go through a random burnout period and it would repeat. Through my research and working with teachers, it's very normal to go through seasons or stages like that in your career, in any career.”

The turning point was when she realized that these feelings were valid but no longer served her or her students. As it was an “internal struggle,” as she put it, but one that pushed her into her current trajectory. December 2014 was her last month of teaching and she eventually took a job at a nonprofit in 2016. It was around that time she became interested in podcasts, particularly entrepreneur-focused ones. 

“I had always had this idea that I wanted to own my own business, be the boss, make the decisions and do what I knew was right,” she explains. 

It proved to be only a matter of time. The nonprofit ended up closing its doors six months into the job and Harper found herself at a crossroads professionally. She re-entered the classroom at a different school system, but she felt unfulfilled and eventually sunk into a depression. 

A specific opportunity brought her out of a funk. She was invited to attend a Google technology summit in Franklin, south of Indianapolis. Although reluctant at first because she was drained, she decided to give it a go. The experience proved to be life changing; she walked away with a realization.

“I had to quit holding on to all of these roller coaster of emotions inside and and bring it to light, because no one's talking about burnout,” she says. “Everybody's talking about how bad teacher attrition is and how teachers just aren't respected. In some schools, turnover is as high as 50 percent because educator burnout is not getting addressed.”

That figure is no exaggeration, as one article explains: "More than 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years, according to the National Education Association, leaving teacher shortages across the country."

Harper decided to take it upon herself to tell that story. She purchased her current domain and started blogging immediately about her professional struggles. She continued to teach while working on the business on the side before taking the leap to pursue it full-time. 

Her core product is a virtual 8-week teacher training program that requires a commitment of an hour a week. Clients can participate live or listen to the recorded calls at their convenience, wherever they are located. There’s also a Facebook group so teachers can engage, commiserate and collaborate that way. 

According to Harper, the concept is simple yet profound: “Let's connect you with other people who are struggling with educator burnout and let's figure it out together. They can share frustrations, ask for support and share resources they've created related to burnout and teacher support. It's pretty great.”

Speaking of resources, Harper still maintains a blog, hosts a podcast and has a two-day retreat in the works. All of this relates back to her larger mission of supporting teachers and their mental health. 

In her words, “I want to offer long-term solutions. I want to empower people. And that's what it's become.”

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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