One of the major challenges in online teaching is finding a balance in all that I do. I juggle the different formats available to me, including private lessons, paid courses, and social media; I do my best to have a presence on multiple social media platforms; I search for the right topics that engage and help my learners; and I try to remember that although the Internet is available 24/7, I can’t be.
That last balancing act is one that I’m still working on. The scales usually tip in favor of taking care of others rather than myself. It’s easy for me to ignore a nagging voice that tells me I should rest. An interesting question in the comments, a request for help by email, or an assignment that just hit my Inbox and needs feedback can convince me to stay at my desk just a little bit longer. Suddenly, another half hour has passed.
As teachers, helping is in our nature, and we love to connect with others meaningfully and know we’ve done something beneficial. But there’s no indicator bar above our heads like the icon we see on the screens of our cell phones telling us it’s time to recharge the battery. Too bad. A visual reminder like that would be harder to ignore.
Instead, we must learn to cultivate healthy habits and hold on to lessons we’ve learned from past incidents where we’ve pushed too hard and tried to give more than our mind and body were able to.
Patrice Palmer, author, teacher, and a chair of the Materials Writers Interest Section in TESOL, has spoken openly and wisely about the need for self-care. She has some good advice for online teachers. See her article posted earlier this month on Off2Class as well as this post for teacher self-care in general, which was published by EFLMagazine. I appreciate the whole concept of establishing the right mindset. “Let go of perfection,” says Patrice. I roll that thought together with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.” (The full quote hangs on my wall.) Words like these help me to step away from my desk and turn off the light in my office. There’s always tomorrow.
The lights in my office can turn on and off, but my passion for teaching is more like a constant flame. I can fan it and make it grow strong. This can happen in my excitement over a new project or my anticipation of a live class. On the flip side, I can get carried away and throw too much on the fire. There’s the real danger of burning out.
One thing I’ve been doing each month is making a posting schedule that helps me commit to a manageable amount of social media content, keeping in mind my commitment to private lessons and paid courses. Family life changes from season to season, and being independent, I know I have the freedom to cut back. For example, I have a new game plan for my Instagram posts during summer vacation. It’s one small way I can achieve a better balance between work and family. I’ll implement the lighter posting schedule in June.
Another thing that helps me stay positive is experimenting and exploring. Not everything I try meets with success, but if I had to do the same thing over and over again, I would have already burned out by now. Since starting on Instagram last November, I’ve been posting twice a week, sharing a gapped dictation on Monday and a pronunciation task on Wednesday. A learner’s request for lessons on U.S. history prompted me to consider a new format. I still plan to target listening skills, but I’d like to shift my focus from everyday life in the U.S. to history. And instead of a gapped dictation, I’ll challenge viewers to listen for details. I’m not a history expert, so I plan to share information that I feel is commonly known in a language that is more conversational than academic.
Along the same lines, I’ll likely try my first live experience on Instagram in June. There’s a large number of young English language teachers on this platform, and their enthusiasm is contagious. This middle-aged lady can learn from that younger crop of teachers. I’ve found over the years that connecting with new and old colleagues has helped me rekindle my passion for teaching and, more than that, I grow as a person and a teacher through each collaboration.
Photo credit: Candle, Bamboo, Flame, Flower by Sonja Paetow. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/photos/candle-bamboo-flame-flower-1021137/.