You trained to teach English online (or other languages) because you’re passionate about language learning and helping others.
When your work motivates and enthuses you then you might assume teacher burnout won’t be a problem.
But hard-working and motivated teachers are at risk of burnout because they give too much – to their students, school, colleagues – and neglect themselves.
In this post, you’ll discover:
- what teacher burnout is
- signs you might be suffering from burnout
- how to prevent and manage teacher stress and teacher burnout
If you want to become a qualified online language teacher and earn a living from home, I recommend checking out CeOLT (Certificate of Online Language Teaching).
What Is Teacher Burnout?
According to the World Health Organisation, burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition. But some argue that burnout should be classed as a mental disorder.
In the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is defined as: “…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
The ICD-11 characterizes burnout along three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to it
- reduced professional efficacy
Burnout is thought to be on the rise worldwide and teaching is one of the occupations where workers are likely to experience burnout.
What Are The Signs Of Teacher Burnout?
Many teachers choose this profession because they want to make a difference.
Teachers work hard to deliver engaging lessons so they can inspire their students. Many will go into the profession with boundless enthusiasm and energy.
So, losing that enthusiasm, feeling cynical and performing less well at your teaching job are all signs that you may be suffering from teacher burnout.
According to Psychology Today, burnout creeps up on you slowly, so you won’t go from motivated and full of energy to exhausted and cynical overnight.
Some of the symptoms of burnout they suggest to look out for are:
- Energy depletion, exhaustion
- Chronic fatigue
- Impaired attention and forgetfulness
- Physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, headaches. Make sure you consult a medical professional if suffering from any of these signs.
- Weakened immune system and increased illness
- Lack of appetite
- Feeling anxious
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism
- Loss of enjoyment
- Detachment from your job and other people
- Reduced professional efficacy
- Feelings of apathy
- Lack of productivity
The Causes Of Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout can have several causes including overwork, overplanning and overgiving.
My colleague Maria Glazunova shares her story of teacher burnout in her book, “How To Reduce Your Time Preparing for Online Classes and Prevent Emotional Burnout”.
In her case, as you can guess from the title, her teacher burnout came from over planning her lessons.
She would spend hours preparing beautiful Powerpoint slides. But her students weren’t particularly interested in them.
When she switched to the Dogme approach, which focuses less on materials and more on learner needs, she was able to recover.
Overwork can come from overplanning. But it can also be due to taking on too much:
- giving too many lessons
- being too available to cover for colleagues
- responding to student requests at all hours
Connected to overplanning and overwork is overgiving, or an inability to set boundaries and say “no”.
If you’re a naturally giving and helpful person, “no” might not be part of your vocabulary. But saying “yes” to everything, including things you don’t want to do, may lead to burnout.
Let’s discover what to do about this dangerous trio of overwork, overplanning and overgiving.
How To Manage Teacher Stress And Prevent Burnout
Overwork can be at the origin of teacher burnout. If teaching is your calling, then it makes sense that you enjoy your work. Perhaps your work even feels like play.
But everyone needs breaks, especially when you teach languages online. It’s so easy to give back-to-back lessons for hours on end and finish the day exhausted!
Here are some idea to avoid falling into the trap of overworking:
- Limit your availability. Don’t open lesson slots at all hours of the day and night. It may sound counter-intuitive, but by limiting your availability, you become a more scarce and therefore desirable resource! If you find limiting your availability hard, start by blocking off one half day a week and then increase to one day. You can use this time for admin tasks or lesson planning.
- Batch your work. Blocking off specific times to teach, do admin or plan means working more efficiently. Batching a bunch of invoices, clearing your inbox or planning in batches is much more efficient than task hopping.
- Plan your breaks. Take your time off as seriously as your work time. A great way to get off the computer is by planning analogue activities like going to an in-person class or event.
You’ve heard me share Maria’s story of the dangers of putting too much energy into planning your lessons.
When you work for yourself, overplanning can become a serious issue, especially if you haven’t factored planning into your fees. You can become resentful of the planning to lesson time ratio.
So, you need to ensure that your lesson planning is as easy, quick and effective as possible for you by:
- Using published materials in ESL books or those shared by ESL bloggers
- Recycling your lesson plans – having a teaching niche is especially useful so that you don’t have to plan for lessons with kids and then business English classes
- Planning a series of lessons and integrating what you do in class with what students do at home
I have a detailed guide on how to create lesson plans without the stress that you can check out for more ideas on lightening your planning load.
I also recommend my post on ESL homework ideas which will show you how to integrate homework as part of classwork and reduce planning as a result.
If you teach for a living, it’s because you care about others. And when you’re a giver by nature, you may find that people take advantage of you.
Perhaps you’re always available to cover for colleagues or to take on more work at your school or academy.
An inability to say “no” can harm you as you end up taking on too much, leading to overwork and a risk of burnout.
If you’ve built an identity around being a loving and giving person, it can be hard to start saying “no” to others’ demands.
Some people won’t like the new, more assertive version of you who says “no” to lessons late in the evening or working with kids.
But other people’s emotions and reactions are not your responsibility – they belong to them. And you may discover that other people don’t actually mind the new way of doing things and are happy to accept.
When it comes to developing an ability to say “no”, the best advice I’ve seen is: do you want to feel guilty or resentful?
Saying no to a demand from a student, fellow teacher or school owner may cause some short-term guilt. And yes, guilt doesn’t feel good.
But saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do, like teaching on a Saturday morning, will create resentment which can harm your relationships. And harm you.
And isn’t the kindest, most generous thing to look after yourself first? Then, when you do show up for the things you want to do, you can bring your best, most energized self, not a resentful person!
Teacher Burnout: Take Care Of Yourself, Not Just Your Students
So, now you know what teacher burnout is, the signs you may be developing burnout or are already in it, and what to do to manage teacher stress and prevent teacher burnout.
Preventing teacher burnout comes down to putting yourself and your needs first. Prioritise your breaks and your own well-being.
That way, you'll bring your best self to your students and classes. And you'll be a more effective teacher and a happier human being!