Rachael Roberts - staying motivated and avoiding burnout as a teacher
Not just physically (standing up, walking around and lugging books and equipment is demanding), but mentally and emotionally. When a lesson goes well, you feel on top of the world, and, when it goes badly…well, let’s just say many of us struggle not to take it personally.
People who want to teach tend to be quite caring, sensitive, perfectionist types, and those are just the kind of people who can find themselves burning out. (I know, I’ve been there.)
So, how can you stay motivated and avoid burnout?
- Switch off. There’s a terrible tendency for teachers to be always ‘on’. Can’t watch a TV programme or read a newspaper without thinking, ‘that would make a good lesson’? You are not alone, but, for goodness sake, take some time not to be a teacher. You’ll enjoy it more when you come back to it.
- Take care of your health. Eat well (not a bar of chocolate from the vending machine because you didn’t have time for lunch) and go for a short walk at lunchtime. Get some sleep.
- Practice mindfulness. This simply means becoming more aware of how you are feeling both in and out of class. The more you do it, the more you will notice stress, irritation, frustration building (so you can do something about them), and equally, the more you’ll notice the joy that seeing that light-bulb come on over someone’s head can bring.
- Learn something new. (like mindfulness!) Actually, updating your skills and knowledge in any way can give you a fresh lease of life on enthusiasm to teach. Or maybe just go back and try something you haven’t done for a while, like teaching complete Beginners, or an Advanced class, to challenge yourself, and get some (good) adrenalin flowing.
- Notice how far you’ve come. Reflect on your past teaching experiences (either to yourself or over a coffee with a colleague) or try teaching an old lesson plan, and see how much better you can do it now.
- Get someone in to observe you. This might mean doing a further qualification (nearly always a good motivator) but equally you could just ask a colleague to come in and observe you and give you some helpful feedback. You could also return the favour and see what you can learn from observing a different way of doing things.
- Help other teachers. This is related to the previous point. Using your experience to help others can be incredibly motivating, and seeing their enthusiasm can kick start yours. Pushing yourself a bit is good too, so try giving teacher development workshops, writing articles or blog posts (on the British Council site?) and so on.
- Get to know your students. After a few years, groups of students can all start to blur into one. Make an effort to find out more about your students. This doesn’t necessarily mean socialising with them (after all, don’t forget you’re also switching off from teaching mode from time to time), but just listening more carefully and asking more questions.
- Do some action research. Take the opportunity to find out more about the teaching and learning process. Set yourself some research questions and enjoy being a researcher as well as a teacher. Share your findings, either in the staffroom, or write them up.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Last but not least. No-one can consistently produce perfect lessons and if you aim for that, you’re setting yourself up for becoming demotivated and disillusioned as you realise how impossible it is. It also isn’t entirely your responsibility. Of course, you’re paying a large part in the success or otherwise of a class, but everyone in there has responsibility as well.