Taking Care of #1: YOURSELF!
Teaching online ESL from the comfort of our homes is a dream job. Thus, we don’t realize the insidious threat of burn-out.
Teachers, no matter the institution, have one trait in common. They spend the better part of their lives helping others. Online ESL teachers have neither a better or worse experience–just different. A large number of us provide services to clientele who live on other continents, requiring us to be awake at odd times of the day. When we are teaching, we must be exuberant, alert, and attentive for several hours at a time.
Furthermore, we have duties including, but not limited to, taking care of kids, ailing parents, pets, other jobs, endless household chores, and nurturing friendships. While we feel fortunate to have a coveted remote job, we often overlook how taxing the hours and the work can be on our bodies. Preventing burn-out and stress is one-part strategy and two-parts mind over matter. Don’t underestimate the value of changing the expectations you have of yourself!
If this is you, it’s time to reevaluate!
Just because Teacher X can work ten hours straight without a break doesn’t mean Teacher Y can do the same thing. And…Teacher Y shouldn’t feel dejected about that! We all do what we can with the gifts we’ve been given. Comparison, being the “thief of joy”, is one of the most demoralizing things we can do to ourselves. For example, when we are on social media, it is natural to compare ourselves to other teachers. Some feel bad if they can’t wake up at 3 a.m. to complete 14 back-to-back classes. In reality, our competence is entirely unrelated to how many online classes we can handle in one day.
We Can’t Help Others Until We Help Ourselves
This is a mantra we should say to ourselves at least a dozen times a day. Because online ESL is a decently paying job, teachers are tempted to push themselves to the limit in order to make staggering amounts of money each month. This is a job that is almost solely performance-based, so it is difficult to decline the incredible financial rewards we can reap. Yet, the detriment lies in making ourselves so sick or exhausted, thus incurring those dreaded Teacher No-Shows! In this case, exhaustion would set you back further, as Teacher No-Shows usually incur a penalty.
More importantly, our personal lives suffer too! Chores aren’t finished, we’re short-tempered, or we’re napping too much. Perhaps you don’t do fun activities as frequently anymore, such as having lunch with a friend or taking your kids to the park. When our normal routines change too much for comfort, it’s time to reevaluate what we are doing.
Meditation might not be your thing, but you must find an outlet to relieve stress.
Join Social Media
Although platforms such as Facebook or Instagram can be a double-edged sword, they help to provide quick and up-to-date answers about everything related to online ESL. Whether you’re looking for a good vitamin supplement or tips on how to work smarter (not harder), social media is going to be the most effective way to answer those questions. VIPKid and gogokid both have their own official pages only for hired teachers. If you haven’t joined VIPKid’s Facebook group, click here. For gogokid teachers, click here.
Literally thousands of online ESL educators have Instagram accounts. The best way to find those teachers is to follow some of the top accounts, such as VIPKid’s account and gogokid’s account. There is a wealth of information to be found on Instagram, particularly related to health and preventing burn-out. It’s not enough to simply advise you to exercise more, sleep more, and eat more healthfully. When you’re working strange hours at the crack of dawn, all of that goes out the window! We need more creative ideas from people who are in the same boat. We can use the success of other teachers to inspire us and to give us goals to work towards. Maybe you aren’t able to work ten hours straight now, but you can discover how other teachers have structured their lives in order to make such a workload possible.
One of the best ways to relieve stress is to find a good group of teacher friends! Mara came to visit me in Florida. We also went on a five-day cruise! She and I first met on Instagram. We have a similar interest in animal welfare and plant-based foods!
From left to right: Paula, Kayra, Katie, Amanda, Gabrielle (that’s me!), and Dana! We visited the Happiest Place on Earth, aka Disney World Orlando. We called this the “Insta Meet-Up” –we got to know each other on social media before we met in person! Don’t underestimate the value of social media in finding like-minded teacher friends to hang out with!
Schedule a Day Off!
It’s easier said than done, but just ask yourself this: Wouldn’t one scheduled day off be better than having unscheduled absences from illness (and possibly incurring penalties)? We must know our limits and not exceed them. Making immediate cash is always irresistible, but wreaking havoc on our bodies can compound the negative consequences later on down the road. Just as we must train for a marathon, we must also train for the long, early morning hours which online ESL regularly demands. Most of us start out slowly and build our way up to high productivity.
Another way of ensuring days off is to rework your schedule. Don’t be afraid to change your availability to suit your lifestyle more. I have changed my schedule so many times to find that perfect fit. Now, I work lightly during the week and heavily during the weekends. I have stopped working straight through, and I take thirty-minute breaks between stretches. For me, waking up earlier and taking breaks throughout my “workday” is much more manageable than waking up later and then working ten classes straight through.
I’ve also resorted to taking only priority booking requests from regular students, and then opening the rest of my availability as Short Notice. This means that I open my Short Notice slots within 24-hours of the class time. I do Short Notice for many reasons, but the primary reason is that I am not held to those slots unless I open them 24 hours in advance (and they book). If I’m just too tired or sick to work the next day, I now have the ultimate flexibility to keep the next day free. To learn more about opening Short Notice with VIPKid, click here.
You Do You
The sacred utterance of online teachers, “You do you,” is pithy yet so profound. In the end, we have to be very honest with ourselves. What can we reasonably endure? Is charging through eight hours worth the fall-out later on? Only you can decide where your boundaries lie.
Did you know there are a lucky few people in the world who inherited a specific gene that allows them to function their whole lives on about four hours of sleep per night? I am not one of these people. I feel the lack of sleep deeply the next day. Chances are, you are like me. We cannot survive working eight-to-ten hours in the early morning, only to get three-to-six hours of sleep that same night. We can do this intermittently, but we wouldn’t be able to sustain this pace without making substantial sacrifices in other areas of our lives–especially our physical and mental well-being.