Becoming an online teacher with one of the many ESL companies is a lucrative option for many teachers who want some extra income or those who want to leave the traditional classroom entirely. The problem is that online teacher burnout is a major con.
Because online ESL students can be located all over the globe, teaching times may be less than ideal for teachers. Here are a few activities that are good indicators you are headed for online teacher burnout. You…
- are getting up in the middle of the night (or really odd hours) to teach classes.
- are NOT getting enough quality sleep.
- feel tired all the time.
- tend to be short-tempered with your own family members.
- would put coffee into an IV and just shoot it directly into your veins if that wasn’t frowned upon.
And there just doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.
So I want to share the top causes of exhaustion, what to do when you start feeling overly tired, and how to avoid burnout so that you can truly enjoy teaching online again.
Exhaustion and Online Teacher Burnout
There are many causes of exhaustion, but most of these causes can be sorted into one of three categories.
- Not getting enough sleep
- Never taking time off
- Ignoring your body
We are going to break down each of these individually, and I’m going to share some tips for how to combat the exhaustion in each category.
Because the truth is if we want to prevent online teacher burnout, we’re going to have to be proactive. We have to make sure that we know the warning signs and also how to deal with and survive teacher burnout.
1| Not Getting Enough Sleep
Teaching online, especially with a variety of ESL companies, can be hard on our sleep schedules.
Since we’re all in different time zones, you may have to teach at super-weird hours of the day. In fact, many teachers get up to teach at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning…and they do this 5-7 days a week.
Then after teaching online for multiple classes, they start the rest of their day (ie. kids, homeschool, classroom teaching) and the list goes on. To counteract the sleep deprivation, they reach for caffeine in the form of multiple cups of coffee or energy drinks.
Living in this same cycle day after day is hard on our bodies, and this is a very good indicator of online teacher burnout. So how can you prevent this from becoming you?
Adjust Your Bedtime
On average, our bodies need a minimum of 6 hours of sleep each night to feel rested. (While some people can get by with fewer hours, the lack of sleep will catch up to them.) I’m on the other end of the spectrum…needing at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
No, I don’t always get that much sleep, but I DEFINITELY don’t function as well when I haven’t had enough sleep.
Since I know this about myself, I always go to bed early enough to give myself the necessary hours of sleep. That means if I teach at 5:30 am, I go to bed by 8:30 pm. This gives me 30 minutes to fall asleep, 8 hours of sleep, and then I wake up at 5:00 am to get ready to teach.
I know this may seem crazy, but think of it like this…if you worked second or third shift at a job outside of your home, you would adjust your schedule accordingly.
Your online teaching job is no different. You need to allow yourself plenty of rest in order to be in optimum form each day!
This may seem like an impossible suggestion if you happen to have small children at home, but if it is the difference in total exhaustion or wellness…take the nap!!
The laundry, organizing, dinner, etc. will all be waiting on you when you wake up.
The best part about napping is that you don’t have to take a three-hour nap (although you can if you want), to feel rested. In fact, the American Psychological Association has a fascinating article called the Science of Naps.
In the article, Jerome Siegel, PhD, director of the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles states, “Everybody agrees that if you are sleep deprived, you can’t learn, perform or think very well.”
Getting enough sleep is imperative to your wellbeing and your ability to function in every other facet of your life!
2| Never Taking Time Off
If you teach full-time (or you are currently teaching more than usual to reach a specific financial goal), keep in mind that you need a break! Even if it’s only one day off every two weeks, you need time off.
The longer you go without a break, the more your physical, mental, and emotional health will suffer.
So how can we include time off into our schedules?
Don’t Let Fear Dictate Your Schedule
When I first started teaching with VIPKid, I taught 6-7 back to back classes five days a week because that was the schedule I thought I had to maintain.
I occasionally taught in the evenings and on the weekend because my students wanted to book with me and I couldn’t tell them no!
I was afraid to turn down any booking requests because I thought that if I turned one down, they would never book with me again.
The longer I lived with that mindset, the more random & hectic my schedule got the more exhausted I became. When I finally made the decision to decline bookings outside of the schedule I set, I felt nothing but relief.
Only Teach Certain Days of the Week
In the beginning of my online teaching career, I taught 5 days per week consistently, and occasionally I added in an extra day. I was working to meet some financial goals for our family and that was my driving force.
However, I discovered that I NEEDED that day (or two) off to regroup and feel refreshed.
Recently, I realized I needed to adjust my teaching schedule again because I wasn’t enjoying teaching. In fact, I was beginning to dread it. So, I decided to teach only 3 days a week.
I teach 5 back-to-back classes on Tuesday mornings, 4 back-to-back classes on Wednesday mornings, and 4 back-to-back classes on Thursday mornings.
This schedule is not only sustainable, it still allows meet to meet our specific financial goals while keeping the rest of my life in balance.
Yes, I still have parents that request me for different days of the week, but I just let those requests expire since I know that I only teach these 3 days of the week.
Build Breaks into Your Schedule
Whether you only teach certain days of the week or you take a day off every other week, make sure to build in specific “off” time.
When I first started teaching, I was afraid to take time off because I thought that my students would leave and never come back if I took ANY time off.
Now that I’ve been teaching online for many years, I’ve determined that your regular students will seek you out after you take a break
My family always takes our family vacation in the month of October.
So I prepare the parents of my regular students by letting them know a month before I close my schedule for that particular week. I’ve found that adding a little snippet into the feedback is usually a great way to give parents a heads up!
3| Ignoring Your Body
We all have signs from our body that gives us a heads up that we are teetering on the edge of exhaustion. While these signs may differ from person to person, we all have them. Unfortunately, most of us just ignore the signs until we crash.
So how can we be more mindful of our bodies?
Eat Well & Regularly
As with most things, this is a lot easier said than done.
But your physical health is directly tied to your mental health, and that’s why you want to make good nutrition an integral part of your lifestyle.
Trust me when I tell you, this requires effort. I’m a picky eater, but I’ve also been hypoglycemic since I was in elementary school, which means I can’t skip meals or my body tends to mutiny.
Many of us are guilty of skipping breakfast when we teach in the early morning hours because “it’s just too early to eat” and instead find ourselves chugging coffee.
Replacing the nutrition from breakfast with the caffeine in coffee is not the best option. Instead of fueling our bodies with nourishing food, we are filling it will liquid energy that has zero nutritional value.
Think of it like this.
If the gas tank in your car is empty, you can fill it with water. Technically, the tank is full, but it isn’t full of fuel. It’s simply full of a liquid that’s taking up the space your gas should be filling.
The same can be said about coffee or energy drinks. They are technically filling your stomach, but they aren’t fuel for your body.
So begin by taking vitamins and eating nutritional foods regularly because this will be an excellent way to care for your body and mind.
Invest in a Therapy Light
I’ve struggled with panic attacks since I was a child. Thankfully, my parents took me to a wonderful Christian counselor who helped me learn to work through a lot of my anxiety.
For years I was fine, but in 1999 ( a year after my mom had been diagnosed with cancer), the anxiety got REALLY bad. In fact when I was finally able to be seen by a psychologist, she said that I was borderline depressed.
Thankfully, I found another wonderful Christian psychologist who taught me how to manage my worry, sadness, and anxiety proactively. In fact, I’ve gotten very good at recognizing triggers.
I tell you all of that to tell you this…I’ve found that when the days get shorter and sun isn’t shining as often, I tend to get the “winter blues.” I find myself more lethargic and completely unmotivated.
So I know to expect this change during the winter months. But even though I expect it, it’s still a struggle when it happens.
Therapy lights mimic natural outdoor light during the fall and winter. Light therapy is used to treat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) patients, but it can also help with mood, jet lag, and sleep!
Want to know more about light therapy? Read this fascinating article from the Mayo Clinic.
Remember, I am NOT a doctor. I just want to share tools that I have found that have helped me. If you feel like your exhaustion and online teacher burnout could be related to anxiety or depression, please contact your doctor.
How to Deal with online Teacher Burnout
I know there is a lot of information in this post, but I want you to feel empowered and to know that you can prevent online teacher burnout. Here is a quick recap…
- Adjust your bedtime to ensure you get at least 6 hours of sleep
- Take a nap during the day to make up for loss of sleep
- Don’t let fear dictate your schedule
- Only teach certain days of the week
- Take days off
- Eat healthy foods
- Get a therapy light to help with anxiety and depression
Try a few of these tips to see if they help you, and then let me know if you have any other suggestions that I should add to this list.