How to avoid burnout

Those familiar words by Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) have been with me all my life. Knowledge is infinite; there is never any end to our learning new things. Sure, the longer we work the more confident we become. All the answers seem to be on the tip of our tongues even before the questions are asked; all the techniques are familiar; all the coping mechanisms are in place. It is quite possible to conduct the same types of lessons year in, year out. Not only is the national curriculum rather a stable thing; the main grammar themes do not change much either. The article for instance has been that ubiquitous and yet almost elusive element since times immemorial; this phenomenon does not exist in several languages, like Russian or Japanese, and so it remains a continuous challenge. We start with the alphabet, the simple topics like “my Family”, “My Pet”, “My toys”. The sounds, that pesky /th/; the intonation; customs and traditions... Teaching numbers is a recurrent joy. The English often count in dozens. For a Russian child the idea of having a dozen eggs sold in a container, a dozen roses in a bouquet, not to mention the baker’s dozen, is a strange concept which needs to be explained and illustrated. Why? Because eggs are sold in tens, not dozens; nobody would even dream of arranging a bunch of flowers in equal numbers; and the baker’s dozen does not even exist. Those are just a few random examples from my considerable stock, my professional treasure trove. No, I don’t have to do any new research for them; I can go on and on about the differences and peculiarities, the similarities and oddities.

Discipline and motivation are of course our staples for discussion, for sharing and coping. An experienced teacher can manage any class, solve any problems, nip a disruption in the bud and find the motivational tools needed for any group or individual. All of us manage those problems in our own ways. For some they simply never arise due to the level of authority exuded, and/or to the respect children and adults may feel for the extensive knowledge of the subject. Yes, infrequently it is even fear that helps keep the classroom quiet. Remember Professor Snape from the Harry Potter books?

I have heard teachers and pediatricians with decades of work behind them utter very similar remarks. They say there are never any new children, only new names. True, this child may remind me of the one I used to have in my class many years ago. I believe the secret to maintain our own motivation, the means by which we can not only escape that “plateau” but never even find ourselves on it, is in constant motion, in our own progress. Every year before September 1, which is the official start of the academic year at any level in my country, I receive lots of emails from beginner colleagues. It seems to me that their questions are the same, and sometimes I catch myself thinking: I have conducted numerous seminars, delivered lectures and arranged workshops. I have also been writing a lot in the national educational publications. Haven’t I already answered those questions? Then it dawned on me: every year a number of new teachers come to any school – and they all face the same difficulties, the same challenges. I look at the situation anew, check the national curriculum, and try to find an innovative approach, a better point of view.

For me, human beings of any age are always a fascinating subject. I never tire of meeting new classes, new university students, and new colleagues. There is no way we can predict how any new class may behave, what their abilities and needs may be. Each child is a unique entity, an inimitable personality, a mystery to be solved, and of course a person to be developed. If we manage to help shape those new generations, good for us!

Reading, writing, watching new shows, surfing the web and developing one’s own technical skills are all good occupations for the mind. Checking the news to stay abreast of the happenings in the world, to be aware of the levels of anxiety in modern children, thinking out the ways and means by which we can help them cope takes time, effort and the ability to analyze. We need to work to stay in shape; we also need to remain calm in the face of adversity, to be able to cope with any crisis. And I’m not even going into the whole “How to deal with the parents” theme which is currently on my agenda. I was recently asked to deliver a talk on the subject; it needs not only a lot of thinking but also careful handling.

Today we often hear that children are different. Naturally they differ from us. The world at large is not static either. And yet children remain children, that is little humans whom we try to teach about the world.

How to avoid a burnout or worse, how to escape placidity, that creeping indifference and/or exhaustion? This is what works for me. If I am to make a presentation on a familiar topic which does not demand any new research, I still look through it and check if there is anything new. Usually there is plenty! The internet is constantly evolving; the sites I use regularly add something new even while I type these words. Sometimes a word or a phrase or a picture arrests my eye. If time permits I click on that to learn more about it. No, it is not necessarily connected to EL teaching or to my upcoming lecture. It is however fascinating for me. Study the things that interest you. They will all come in handy eventually.

Knowledge indeed is power. The process of educating oneself is infinite.

Nina MK, Ph.D.

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