Stress from teaching is a very real thing and impacts all teachers at some point in time. The key is to make sure that when you are dealing with stressful periods, whether from issues outside the classroom or from the inside, that you keep it outside the classroom and away from your students.
Do ESL teachers really have stress?
Teaching English is a fun job. It really is. In addition to being fun, it’s also very rewarding to see your students develop. More than that, it’s very encouraging when students reciprocate all you’ve done for them with a thank you of some sort. Whether it’s a gift, or simply saying the words. But like any job, teaching isn’t free from stress. And more often than not, the stress one gets as a teacher doesn’t even come from students, but from life outside of the classroom. Worrying about finances, health, family, personal relationships, coworkers, or thinking about the future. Sometimes, stress does come from students, especially when students are not on board with your lesson or when they disrupt your class, making work unnecessarily more challenging than it needs to be. Then, there’s lesson planning, grading exams and assignments, students not showing up to classes, and the list goes on. The challenge with teaching English is that it demands a lot of energy. And when you’re low on energy, your performance in the classroom starts to suffer, along with your health and possibly everything else.
What steps can you take to reduce stress from teaching English?
No matter where your stress is coming from, there are a number of things that you can do to make sure it doesn’t affect your classroom performance. These steps and techniques can help you to keep under control and the make sure that your students see the best side of you on the outside no matter how you feel on the inside.
Evaluate Your Workload
If your stress is coming from work then the first thing you need to do is evaluate your workload and decide what work you need to reduce or turn down. While this might sound counterproductive, it is actually easier than it seems, and better for your mental and physical health. In fact, turning down extra work allows you to recalibrate and focus on being a better teacher. In turn, being a better teacher means you can command a higher pay if that’s your goal.
Leave Work at Work – Don’t Bring It Home
Many ESL teachers have a horrible habit of talking about work, or more aptly put, complaining about work, when they are not working. They complain about coworkers, students, the institution and the system. In essence, they’re still working by talking and complaining about it, rather than doing something else that will free them from the stress they feel in their jobs. When you finish your work day, hang up your boots and find something meaningful to do. This leads to our next point…
Find Something Meaningful to Do
Being abroad, many people lose sight of humility and humanity. They become jaded that the world they live in isn’t what they thought it would be when they arrived. It doesn’t have to that way, though. There are lots of things to do when you’re not teaching. Pick up a hobby that forces you to get out more, meet new people, do interesting things, and learn a new skill. Get involved in community events and activities. Use your teaching and relationship skills to get involved in the community in some way, like being a judge in speaking competitions.
Get to Know People Who Aren’t Teachers – or Students
Too many teachers fall into the trap of not making an effort to make friends outside of their work circle. This means when they leave work, they spend time with the same people they work with. They miss out on gaining broader life perspectives. They fall into a cycle of working, talking about work, and living inside that cycle. Rather than building relationships with other locals and expats, they become stuck in the cycle of being an English teacher. Think about it – if you were in your home country, would all your friends and relationships be teachers? No! You’d have a broader spectrum of relationships. Unfortunately, what people would otherwise do in their home country gets lost when living abroad.
Tap Into Your Empathy
Empathy is a big part of any job, and especially so for teachers. Your students have goals and ambitions, but even when they don’t, it’s important that you understand where they are in life and engage in a little self-reflection. Everyone is going through something – that’s part of life. Be less judgmental – people are people all over the world. Remember that while you’re dealing with stress, so are others in their own way. Allow yourself to understand what it is like to be a student of a foreign language who must pass exams, support a family, and think about the future as well.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal helps you develop self-discipline, but it also helps you reflect and better understand yourself. It can help you focus on accomplishing specific goals, and it can help you develop new habits. Most importantly, keeping a journal can help you be accountable to yourself. It will also help you process your stress by brain dumping your thoughts onto paper.
Learn to Have Gratitude
One thing most people want from others is appreciation. Yet, the one thing most people forget to do is appreciate others. Change that. Each morning, get up and write a journal entry of three things you will accomplish in your day. Then, add one entry called gratitude, and decide on one person you appreciate and what you appreciate about them. Make it a goal to thank them and tell them why you appreciate them. It could be a parent, sibling, your boss or coworker, a student, a life partner, a friend, or even someone from your past who you’ve lost touch with. There is always someone who you can appreciate, and who will benefit from your expression. When we express gratitude, we make ourselves feel happy. Don’t forget to appreciate yourself, too.
Turn Off Your Smartphone
Believe it or not, your smartphone is probably impacting your health and stress levels in more ways than you might realize. Our brains aren’t really wired to process the amount of incoming information, messages and notifications via smart technology, and when the brain isn’t accustomed to doing something it is being forced to do, that’s stress. Turn off your smartphone for a while, or at least set up quiet hours when your phone or any other device won’t interrupt your quiet time.
What are some final thoughts?
Find your passion, your raison d’être. Any teacher living abroad can attest to the fact that the one thing teachers forget to do is to know and appreciate themselves. Set some clear goals, learn what you can take on and what you should refuse. Get out and involved in the community you are a part of at the moment. Learn to be more empathetic and grateful, keep a journal to process your thoughts and life challenges, and last but not least, turn off your smartphone from time to time. Your brain – and your students – will thank you for it.