8 Strategies to Avoid Burnout When Teaching OnlineBy Coleen Monroe
November 16, 2020
Your writing teachers in high school may have told you to avoid clichés, but 2020 is certainly proving to be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s been a difficult year for many around the world, but in the teaching space, it’s also been a time to rapidly adapt to big changes, such as working remotely. As a classroom-based teacher in China, I was one of the many who shifted their classes online, which has now become the norm. We’re all doing our best to weather these transitions, but sometimes we experience online fatigue, so this article will lay out some simple processes to help you avoid burnout when teaching online.
1. Set your working hours and keep them
Although it may seem like a “duh” statement, working too much is a ticket straight to Burnout Station. There is a pervasive perception, nevertheless incorrect, that the longer the hours one works, the more work one will get done. But in the case of online teaching, it’s not the case.
If you’re teaching with an online company, you may be working a flexible schedule and not know when your classes will be booked through the system that the company uses. The temptation can be to remain open to any class, at any time, simply because you don’t want to “turn down” work (especially if you’re being paid per hour or per class).
We discussed setting a schedule in an article that came out earlier in the crisis about maintaining work-life balance while teaching online from home, but it remains the #1 tip that we could give you in terms of how to avoid burnout when teaching online. In general, set hours that you work each day (i.e., Monday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday 4 p.m. – 12 p.m.), even if the actual “shift” has to swing from one day to the next. This remains the most common advice from those who work from home.
2. Maintain a sleeping schedule that is consistent
Online teacher burnout is also up because of the strain of working odd hours. This may be the first time that you’ve ever worked a night shift, in order to keep your hours consistent for your students who happen to be thousands of miles and 10-15 time zones away from your location. As a teacher myself, I’ve learned this firsthand and also heard from many of my colleagues that this is the most draining part of their work.
Working a night shift is psychologically and physically challenging, but it can be done with relative health if you find ways to keep your sleeping consistent.
3. Spend time outdoors whenever possible
Early in the pandemic, I read a meme that said, “Make sure you drink water and get some sunlight every day. You are basically a houseplant with complex emotions.”
That rang true at the time, and it’s even more important as the time drags onward. Studies have consistently shown that we humans need to have exposure to the outdoors in order to function at our best, and it is known that the brain and body use cues from the natural world to maintain equilibrium.
4. Use habit-tracking apps to keep healthy
You may be able to get a grip on what’s causing your ESL teacher burnout by tracking your habits for a few weeks. Sometimes it may appear to us that we’re already doing everything that we can to remain healthy and mentally sharp, but there are hidden habits that aren’t actually serving us.
Setting a simple goal and tracking it each day for a month is a proven way to build resilience and good habits that help keep you from burning out.
5. Recognize and mitigate potential physical, mental, and professional hazards when working from home
It can be difficult to see the potential for danger in online teaching, especially since you may be teaching from your own home. But the negative effects of being overly sedentary, dealing with possible abuse directed at you or your students, or even just navigating cultural differences between you and employers may affect your physical or mental health during your time teaching online.
Bridge offers a new, free course that will help you identify these risks and avoid them: Health, Safety, and Mental Attitudes while Teaching English Online Micro-credential course. In this course, the cohort of other teachers with whom you study will become a supportive network as well, a key help to avoiding teacher burnout during coronavirus.
6. Practice mindfulness through formal meditation or other means
It’s a simple thing, or so it seems.
Meditation and mindfulness were already having a moment of popularity among the heavy-hitters of industry, such as Google and Facebook, before the pandemic. This ancient practice, common in one form or another across cultures and times, is one of the best ways to hack your brain and keep yourself from burning out. It doesn’t need to involve chanting, incense, or any “woo woo” at all; the completely secular practice of mindfulness is effective and relatively easy to implement.
There are plenty of books and apps to help teach you to meditate or practice mindfulness, but one popular book/brand/app is 10 Percent Happier.
7. Establish routines and rituals that center you
We don’t need to make an article about self-care; it’s a hot topic on the Internet and tons of resources are available about how to take care of yourself. But the most important part of the self-care movement is that you establish routines and rituals that make your days centered and to which you can return, regardless of how well or how badly things are going with work.
It might seem a little silly at first, but once you’ve established your self-care rituals you’ll find them automatic and grounding. For example:
8. Find a narrative that you can hold on to and work to live in line with it
We live in stories. Humans are hard-wired to seek patterns and to make narratives about the world we live in, going back through time. This doesn’t change when we encounter ESL teacher burnout during the coronavirus pandemic. You need a story to help you to keep going when things get hard, but the good news is that you can shape this narrative and choose how to live with it.
One way to work within a narrative is to build rapport when teaching English online. Sharing your abilities and your care for the students will go a long way toward making you feel better about your own part to play in the big story, and this is within your control (unlike so many things these days).
Use symbols in your narrative
For my narrative, I often lit a candle to keep out of sight next to my computer while I was teaching online. It reminded me that I am one person living this history, but that I can contribute whatever good I can through teaching online and participate in the wider story of the coronavirus pandemic. For me, it was key in warding off ESL teacher burnout. I was better able to keep perspective about the ups and downs of individual classes and the boredom that can come with teaching the same lesson over and over.
Find a story to tell yourself about the moment we are living in and try to stick with it. Each step we take now is a step toward the future. This will not last forever.
As the months continue, it may be difficult to avoid burnout when teaching online. Remember that you’re not alone; many people around the world are in a similar situation, trying to maintain mental and physical health while what used to be normal is disrupted. With a few of these strategies in place, however, you’ll be able to keep going for as long as you need to and stay physically and mentally healthy.