How to Avoid Burnout

I love to teach, and you must love it too since you’re spending your free time reading ESL-related blogs. But the truth is that any teacher can easily burn out. The two most basic reasons for losing your focus and your passion are because you’re either doing too much or you’re doing too little.

TOO MUCH?

You may be exhausted from doing too much if your school has burdened you with too many administrative responsibilities or too much lesson preparation. Perhaps your class load is too high and you’re correcting homework into the wee hours of the morning all too often. Maybe the classes you’ve been assigned demand a lot of research and planning on a weekly or even daily basis. Here’s the way I see it: Just as you can’t eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can’t be expected think about teaching 24-7, preparing and correcting without a reasonable number of breaks. What can you do?

  • Find peer support. Talk to other instructors. Ask how they manage their time. It could be that you’re creating too many steps for a given administrative task. You might also not be aware of some resources such as a good website that can help you with lesson planning. In any case, knowing how others are faring will give you perspective.
  • Talk to your supervisor. It seems logical to me that bosses don’t want to lose good employees. Losing good workers weakens the team, affects productivity, and creates unhappy clients. Academic settings are not so far removed from corporate settings in this respect. Your supervisor should be aware of your mental and physical state. If you have a solid performance record under your belt, there shouldn’t be any fear about disclosing your present concern about the workload. Maybe the supervisor knows that you’ve been handling more than usual, but assumed from your silence that you were willing and able to carry the load.
  • Take a mental health day. You may find your own solutions by allowing some distance between yourself and your work. Can you take off a Monday or a Friday and enjoy a long weekend? Do you have some vacation time that you can claim? Try to find time for rest and reflection.

TOO LITTLE?

You may be bored because you’re doing too little. Are the textbooks and all other resources handed to you, leaving you with no say in the curriculum? Is the syllabus written in such detail that you feel restrained or confined? It’s my belief that teaching is an art. Even strictly defined curriculums should allow for instructors to personalize the experience: instructors can be asked to modify but not discard their individual teaching approaches. If there’s no room to put yourself into your teaching, it’s not teaching. It’s simply information distribution. I’m not talking about telling personal anecdotes and playing your favorite songs for listening and pronunciation practice. I’m talking about being able to put your heart into the delivery of each lesson.  Do your lessons reflect your beliefs about language learning? Does the material being used excite you so that you in turn can stimulate thought among your students? What can you do if you feel that your heart isn’t in your work?

  • Talk to your supervisor. Find out to what degree you are allowed to supplement assigned course material. As a former administrator myself, I can say that the ideal school teacher is one who finds a balance between working with the system and being resourceful. I wanted cooperative and creative teachers on my staff. I didn’t want teachers who threw the course syllabi out the window and taught whatever they felt was interesting and useful – institution be damned. I also didn’t want teachers who looked to me for ready-made lesson plans for every class because they were either too lazy or too unimaginative. Communicate with your supervisor and work out a way to follow the curriculum while introducing new elements. Ask for approval rather than demand acceptance and make suggestions rather than complain or criticize. You’ll more likely find the support you need from above to be the teacher you want to be.
  • Break away from routine. Perhaps you have a decent amount of creative freedom in your workplace, but you don’t take advantage of it. Have you been using the same material and activities from semester to semester? Maybe it’s time to replace a few things…just for a while. Even the best song can be overplayed on the radio. It doesn’t take away from the quality of the song, but its power to affect diminishes. If your material seems stale to you, then you won’t be able to convey enthusiasm to your students. If you aren’t excited about your lessons, how can you expect your student to be? Take the time to jazz things up with the help of new resources.
  • Look for inspiration. Observe a colleague who seems happy in and out of the classroom. Explain that you’re looking for new ideas and you think he or she’s the one to inspire you. Your colleague will be more comfortable inviting you into his or her classroom if you make your needs clear. You can also try the magic of Hollywood. There are some good films that can rekindle your passion for teaching. One of my favorites is Mr. Holland’s Opus with Richard Dreyfuss.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lucy says:

    Very interesting post. Thanks for the suggestions; they’re realistic and important. Burnout can literally take everything from you; your health, passion, time, and career. What usually works for me is to abruptly change my routine once a month. this usually means that I do a total lesson transformation- I may change location, activity, time and structure. This ignites new interest and energy every time.

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