Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers or students*?
These are some of the questions you should ask yourself according to the article “Job burnout: How to spot it and take action” (Sept. 17, 2015), by the Staff at the highly-regarded Mayo Clinic, to discover if you’re at risk of burning out or not. (*I purposefully changed the words ‘customers or clients’ to ‘students.’) If you said yes to any of those questions, then this post should help you.
(For the complete article and more information on the subject, check the links at the end of the post.)
Accumulating responsibilities is easy. For freelance teachers, it gets more complicated because we also handle all the administrative and pedagogical aspects of our business. Besides, there’s our professional development, our families and so on. How do we find time for everything? We want to believe we can do it all, but we can’t. So we start neglecting something here, something there. Instead of slowing down, we keep pushing to the breaking point. The good news is that you can prevent it from happening with a few changes in your routine.
This past week, a freelance teacher asked in a FB group how many hours we worked in a week. The answers varied. Some worked between 5-6 hours a day. Most teachers said that this number was ideal, but since they also worked part-time at schools, they pulled between 8-10h total. There were those who worked 10-12 hours a day, including the person who asked the question. All of those who worked 8+ hours complained about exhaustion. The chance these individuals burn out is real unless they rethink their busy schedule.
Work overload is one of the causes of burnout syndrome. In our profession, much like in healthcare, it’s important to remember that we must help ourselves before we can help other people. We, educators, tend to say yes and help everyone, worry about our learners as we should, but to what extent? There is a balance that we must keep. We can’t go so far as to make ourselves sick! How can we help anyone or make a difference in anyone’s life if we’re bedridden?
What can you do not to fall into this trap?
1. Set Achievable Goals
Watch the number of hours you commit to work per week. Don’t push yourself too hard! Maybe you can do it for a few months to save some money for a trip, to buy something, but don’t do it for a long time. You’ll regret it, and you’ll get sick!
2. Learn to Say No
Sometimes you think you know it all, but when you least expect it, you’ll be reminded about the core values in your life. Turning down that job offer that will cost you two hours of sleep, or saying no to another private student so that you can have time to exercise, may be good ideas for your mental and physical health in the long run.
3. Take Care of Yourself
We neglect ourselves when we are stressed. We’re the last ones on our to-do list. So, make sure you add a “Me time” to your schedule every week. Go out, do something you like. If you work from home, go out! Take a walk and see people, get a massage, go to the movies, get a drink with a friend or a loved one, do something nice for yourself! If you go to your students and prefer to stay in and rest, take a nap, order some food, watch TV, just don’t check emails or deal with work-related issues!
4. Reduce the Stressors in Your Life
Here are some examples:
- Giving yourself unrealistic deadlines will only cause stress.
Telling yourself that you’ll have time to prepare lesson plans, write articles, and teach full-time before taking a trip.
You should have an idea how long it takes you to prepare a lesson, or to write an article. Give yourself enough time to do what needs to be done. Plan accordingly. If you don’t know how long it’ll take you, double or triple the time to be safe.
- Not setting boundaries with your students (not having a contract of any kind)
Example: Allowing a student who didn’t pay in advance to attend a class, and then not getting paid immediately after, and then having to ask for payment again.
Charge in advance! No payment = no class = no stress.
Be firm. Have a contract, have rules, enforce them. Students will respect you. You will look professional. Isn’t that your goal? Being firm doesn’t mean being rude. It says I value my work; I value my time and these rules will make sure I can offer you the best service to you.
- Accepting a job that you’re not prepared or qualified for
If you’re not sure if you can deliver what is expected of you, it will not only be bad for your nerves but also your reputation.
You should politely decline the offer and if that is the case, recommend a colleague who’s qualified for the job.
- Accepting a student who doesn’t fit your profile.
Teaching 1:1 requires establishing rapport and trust. If you can’t build rapport from the beginning, it won’t work. Not every student will be a match. If there’s no mutual respect and trust from the start, forget it. Come up with an excuse and move on.
5. Body & Mind
Go to the gym, lift weights, do yoga, martial arts, bike, run, just get moving! It’s important to do some kind of physical activity. Any doctor will tell you that. You need to find something you like. I see it now as a necessity, much like wearing sunscreen when I go out, or a hat. It’s about staying healthy and the relaxation that comes with the release of endorphins – our body’s natural pain and stress fighters. So if you’re stressed because of work, go for a run, ride a bicycle, do some exercise, and you should feel better.
Meditation is another way to relieve stress and to improve your concentration. I haven’t tried it myself though, but I know teachers who practice it and love it. They say it helps them focus and relax. Why not give it a try? Here’s a link to free apps that you can try. I have used Calm to relax and fall sleep.
My final piece of advice is to listen to yourself, to your body, and if you’re not feeling well, physically or emotionally, don’t wait! Seek medical help.
For more information on the Burnout Syndrome, and the link to the article I cited:
How to spot it and take action, from the Mayo Clinic.
The tell tale signs you have burnout syndrome, from Psychology Today.
A thoughtful article I recommend from a teacher’s perspective, entitled ‘Learning to Say No’ by Isabela Villas Boas.
Till next time! Thanks for reading!