ESL Teacher Burnout: Here’s How you Can Avoid It

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Now, I realize the irony of this post on ESL teacher burnout. I, myself, am totally and completely burnt out on the teaching and am in fact moving to Canada in about a month after living in Korea for a decade.

However, I did have a really solid nine years where I liked my job and truly didn’t mind going into work each day. I’m not going lie to you: A big part of that solid run was the five months of paid vacation I got every year. See: How to Get a University Job in South Korea.

However, I also did a few things to help myself out and I’ll talk about a few of them here. Enjoy! And may your teaching days be without stress! And life in Korea too.

Are you Feeling the Stress? A Little ESL Teacher Burnout?

You know that feeling you get when you teach the simple past for the 57th time, or that unit in the book about hobbies or chores for the 32nd time? Or, the students who email you asking for a higher grade when they’ve done nothing to deserve it and their email is copied straight from Google translate? Or, admin at your school who tell you some vitally important thing at the very last second and then get annoyed at you for not knowing about it sooner.

These things can add up and you’ll find yourself a pretty unhappy foreign English teacher in no time. But, here are a few tips that have helped me get through a decade teaching English in Korea, which is often not that easy of a place to be for a foreign teacher. Believe it or not, I’ve been positive and upbeat almost all of the time,

Tip #1: Look after Yourself to Avoid ESL Teacher Burnout

If you want to avoid being burnt out, you’ll need to look after your health. This involves getting enough sleep, drinking only in moderation, exercising and eating healthy food. A full day of teaching on a hangover, or with a bad cold, especially with kids can be extremely difficult and will make you feel very unhappy.

Teaching English isn’t exactly difficult in terms of brainpower required, but it can be hard if you have a lot of hours and aren’t in top condition with lots of energy to face the day.

Make sure you’re in good physical condition for that long day of teaching.

Tip #2: Just Use the Textbook!

Most textbooks that you’re given to use have at least a few good pages that you can use. Use them for most of your class and then, if necessary, put time and effort into making up one fabulous extra activity. Don’t even think about doing more than one of these supplemental things for each class.

It just takes too much time and your goal should be to plan an awesome of lessons as possible in the shortest amount of time. A ton of lesson planning hours does not always equal better lessons.

If you need some help in choosing the right textbook for you, please check out:

ESL Textbooks for Adults

ESL Textbooks for University Students who Don’t Really Speak English

English Textbooks for Children

Also remember to keep track of your lesson plans and extra games/activities in Google Drive or DropBox so you can recycle them with different classes or if you end up teaching the same course again. Check out this blog entry I did for some advice on that:

Google Drive for Teachers: How and Why I Use It

And no, you’re not a bad teacher for using the book. You’re a smart one.

10 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

Check out these quick tips:

Tip #3: Tests, Simple is Best!

I have some colleagues who record speaking tests and go back and listen to them later on to grade them. This is double the amount of work I want to do! Plus, it’s the worst kind-extremely boring and tedious. I listen and grade at the same time while students are speaking to each other and find it easy enough. The key is to have students talk to each other, instead of you because it can be quite difficult to keep the conversation going and evaluate at the same time.

Another tip is to make the test out of the same number of points as the total percentage. For example, if my final is worth 30% of the final grade, I’ll make the test 30%, with each question being worth one point. If homework is worth 6%, I’ll grade it out of six points. This saves me an extra step at the end because I don’t have to convert things.

See:ESL Speaking Tests: Some Options

Tip #4: Learn to Say No

You’ll always get asked to do lots of stuff that is not really part of your job. For example, do some extra teaching or go on a field trip that lasts all weekend. If you want to do it, you should. If it’s reasonable and won’t take up much of your time, you should do it just to make sure things go smoothly at work. But, if it’s going to take up way too much of your time and energy, just say no.

Don’t be that pushover who gets all the stuff dumped on them that others are smart enough not to touch with a 10 foot pole! Of course, you should have a good excuse like a promise with a friend or something like that. And be sure to do a stellar job at everything that is part of your job, such as lesson planning, grading, phone calls to students, etc.

Avoid the ESL Teacher Burnout!

By following these simple tips, hopefully you’ll be able to finish your time teaching abroad happily and with a bit of energy left for whatever is coming later for you-grad school, travel or another job of some kind.

Totally Burnt Out? Nothing to be Done Except Go Home?

You really should check out this book over on Amazon, Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning HomeThere’s advice from 55 teachers who’ve successfully made the transition about employment, relationships, culture shock, and a variety of other things.

If you’re planning on going back to your home country, but aren’t sure what to do for work, it’s the book you can’t afford not to buy.

You can check it out for yourself over on Amazon. The book is available in both digital and print formats. Pick up a coy for yourself:

—>Buy Life After ESL: Foreigners Teachers Returning Home on Amazon<—

English Teacher Burnout: Have your Say!

What do you do to avoid the ESL teacher burnout? Or, when you are burnt out, what do you do to help yourself out of it?

Leave a comment below and share your wisdom with us!

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  1. My wife has been the biggest barrier between sanity and teacher burnout. Just having a family member there to talk to about your day, and more importantly, talk about things other than your day at work is really helpful. Otherwise, even in your off-hours your train of thought goes back to that annoying that happened at work. That kind of relationship staves of depression and anxiety, as well.

    No spouse? Make as many deep connections with other people as you can. Getting to know non-teachers is important since they are unlikely to want to talk about teacher problems and this will help you snap out of that burnout funk that’s so easy to fall into.

    1. admin

      Having non-teaching friends can be really useful, or teacher friends who are interested in other stuff. One of my big pet peeves was going out with teachers who just ended up talking about teaching and their students the whole night. Ah! It used to drive me crazy, and even though I’d try to change the subject, or say something like, “I’m not at work right now! Let’s talk about something besides that,” it sometimes wouldn’t work.

  2. As you were in Korea, I am really curious if you were assailed with requests to help people improve their English.

    Part of my burnout came from that very thing: every time I’d go out – walking, riding a bus, having a coffee or a meal in a restaurant, invariably, several English hopefuls would express their desire to have me help them improve their English (or teach their child English).

    It got to be where I didn’t want to go out anymore and, if I did, it was with head down and earbuds in my ears…

    Feedback, please?

    1. admin

      I felt the exact same way…I’d always contemplate whether or not it was worth leaving my house. And yes, when I did…I had the earbuds going on, plus sunglasses even on the subway. It helped with avoiding the eye contact!

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