With the school year reaching a close I decided it was the right time to reflect on the year that has passed: learned, failed, improved etc. It hasn’t been an easy one, if anything, it’s been one of the toughest I’ve ever had to get through. I reached close to burnout because I simply took on too much, and I have already mentioned in a previous post on how important it is to manage our time properly when it comes to lessons and our working schedules. Of course that goes for anything in life, free time or professional, but if you teach outside of business and school, private lessons can be tricky when deciding to take on more and also which students to teach or pass on.
When vacation comes to an end and work resumes I always feel energized and ready to get back to work and rock it. The first couple of months began at a frenzy and I dived in with full force, ready to give it my all and prepare methodically. I spent time organizing my lessons for the whole week, looking for new and original topics, vocabulary and activities/exercises that I could incorporate into old stuff I have come to rely on year after year. ESL has the benefit of allowing you to cover pretty much any topic imaginable and if you read a lot you’ll always find something new, or a different perspective to introduce to students of a second language. With that said, I find that after those first couple of months I began to start feeling the wear and tear of teaching. That means that by the time December rolls around I am already thinking about the end-of-the-year school breaks and how I desperately need the time to recuperate and recharge. This past year I remember telling myself that once 2015 comes to a close, the New Year will bring a less hectic schedule and the grind will subside. As it turned out, that didn’t happen. I realized that if you start thinking you are a workaholic, than you probably are, and that it isn’t easy to stop that speeding train as it races out of control.
It’s a key moment, because what happens when you get there isn’t pretty. You start to really dread the lessons or don’t put in your all when you need to. It’s high time then to take a step back and reassess your situation. Change the schedule, lessen the lesson-load and find the equilibrium necessary to return to an efficient and workable schedule that provides still the maximum output at cruise speed efficiency. What does that all mean? I guess it’s just my way of saying that teacher working hours need to be balanced: kids, adults, business, school, private lessons need to be organized and synchronized even. That means taking into consideration the different levels you teach, how much you have to commute and making sure that the needs of each (student) are not spread across a wide spectrum. In other words, I try to group lessons into categories. If it’s private students then they need to be near a similar level, or if it’s exam preparation, the same exam. For business, I keep the subjects the same for the whole week: presentations for week 1, writing emails for week 2, discussing probability and likelihood in week 3 and so on. In this way, I maintain sanity and stay efficient and organized.
I read somewhere that a good way to deal with overload, is to sit in the evening in the dark of your living room and just don’t think about anything, take some deep breaths and do that for like 5 minutes. No thinking, no reflection, just silence and deep breaths. Method two that worked for me this year was exercise. For each of us it can be something different, but for myself I found that running for an hour or doing some weight training really helped me relax. Both of these activities helped me forget about work, school, lessons and overall stress in general because I needed to focus on the exercise. My body physically thanked me afterwards working it out or sweating it out. Being active in this way 3 to 4 times a week made a big difference for me. If you can get outside and into some wilderness for runs it’s transformative, a remedy like no other. Being in the woods where there is the silence of nature and away from the noise of the city was the best medicine. I know it might seem a bit unorthodox for adults, but playing a game also helps. Video games that are easy to play and not too challenging can be a real pleasure. It allows you to unwind and forget about a bad lesson, or a nasty student that gave you some attitude.
As another school year ends it’s important to take time to reflect on the students and classes we teach. It’s easy to forget about a lot of them when we have so many but it’s a way of giving value to your accomplishments as a teacher. Look at how your students improved, what they learned, how they did on the exam you prepared them for. Give yourself some credit for what was accomplished and how goals were reached thanks to your dedication and hard work. Being self-employed myself, means that I have no boss that will heap praise or criticism on me so I believe if you are a teacher in this position you should take time to assess how it all went. This also allows you the chance to see your missteps and what you could have done better, what you learned and how you’ll be more prepared next time. It’s a valuable process, indeed. If you enjoy what you do you will be honest with yourself and analyze accordingly. Each year I take time to do this and remind myself who I taught, where we started and how we finished, what my students enjoyed/ disliked, who was appreciative, who was nasty etc. Teaching can be a thankless job at times, teaching teenagers in particular, you have to find a way to rise above it and persevere. It’s how it goes ESL teacher, for each obstacle we overcome we are better prepared for the next. So….
Finally it’s over! Rejoice. Celebrate. Tip your hat and have a freakin’ drink! Listen to some new music, or some old classics. Travel. Have a delicious meal. Sleep in (but only for the first week). Take a drive to a faraway place and rest easy in the sunshine of summer. There’s more excitement to come. Tighten your seatbelts………