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 to work each day. I’m not going to 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, an admin at your school who tells you some vitally important thing at the very last second and then gets 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 of 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.
Tips for Burnt Out Teacher
Here are a few tips for ESL instructors who are struggling with teacher burnout. Read through, try out, and tell me if any of these solutions work. The point is to make your life a bit easier, lessen the stress, and hopefully, beat the teacher burnout.
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 as awesome of lessons as possible in the shortest amount of time. A ton of lesson planning hours does not always equal better lessons. Make your life a bit easier to avoid teacher burnout.
If you need some help in choosing the right textbook for you, please check out:
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.
And no, you’re not a bad teacher for using the book. You’re a smart one.
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.
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 to 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.
Nothing to be Done Except Go Home as a Burnt out Teacher?
You really should check out this book over on Amazon, Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning Home. There’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 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 copy for yourself:
FAQs About Teacher Burnout
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about ESL teacher burnout.
What does teacher burnout feel like?
Psychologists define burnout as the physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment resulting from chronic stress. The ineffective communications with students and school admins, repetitive work, and other sources of stress from school can add up and result in teacher burnout.
Is being an ESL teacher stressful?
Don’t get this wrong. Teaching can be very rewarding as you are helping students learn and be successful. However, it is tough. ESL teaching means challenging the language barrier. Especially, things get worse when you are teaching unmotivated students.
What is the most common cause of teacher burnout?
Some of the most common causes of teacher burnout include lack of school funding, dealing with difficult parents, difficult classroom management, emphasis on outcomes, feeling underappreciated, and dealing with unmotivated students.
How do you fix teacher burnout?
Although there are many great tips out there, the following list is the tips that helped me as an ESL instructor at a Korean university: look after yourself, use the textbook instead of coming up with extra activities, keep tests simple, and learn to say no.
English Teacher Burnout: Have your Say!
What do you do to avoid ESL teacher burnout? Or, when you are experiencing a tough time as a burnt out teacher, what do you do to help yourself out of it?
Leave a comment below and share your wisdom with us!