Burnout is serious. TEFL teachers are particularly at risk for it, especially considering they’re juggling a new life, a new culture, new work responsibilities, and new relationships—all at once!
We know you’ve got the tenacity to overcome any challenge that comes your way; however, preventative measures can be taken to avoid these lows altogether. Read on to learn about the stages of burnout and what to do if TEFL teacher burnout rears its ugly head!
The stages of TEFL burnout
As with any illness, symptoms of burnout change from person to person, however these five stages are commonly observed amongst new TEFL teachers abroad:
- Honeymoon Phase. In this phase, you feel excessive enthusiasm about teaching abroad. Your high, idealistic goals represent an overestimation of our potential and our willingness to work tirelessly. (Spoiler: Boundaries are helpful, especially when adventuring 24/7).
- Onset of Stress. Some days in the classroom suddenly feel more difficult than others—or than they used to. Problems arise and slow you down. To make up for the difficulty, you work even harder, and even more. Triple the lesson plan!
- Chronic Stress. Fears about your life choices begin surfacing, but manifest as blame for others. You criticize anything and everything, lose interest not only in your work, but also your hobbies, and you start to question your own expertise for TEFL.
- Burnout. Disappointed. Unmotivated. Nihilistic. You’re at the end of your rope, and depression feels like its a part of everyday life. Unhealthy habits. You place less emphasis on maintaining relationships with home, your new expat friends, and your TEFL colleagues.
- Habitual Burnout. This scenario plays out over, and over, and over again because you are unable to see the signs of burnout onset. This “norm” doesn’t feel unusual to you anymore, but it can negatively impact your time abroad.
What to do when you’re feeling burnt out
1. Take a deep breath.
It is perfectly normal to be in the weeds and not realize the harmful impacts your work life is having on your personal life. Though it feels overwhelming now, you will get through this!
2. Take a break.
If possible, find a complete and total cut-off from work. Ask for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks off to give you the space you need. If you’re out of holidays, ask for an unpaid break. Remember: This is short-term loss for long-term gain.
Be mindful of your contract commitments before walking out entirely.
3. Find a healthy outlet.
Exercise, a favorite hobby (bartering at the market?!), a weekend getaway to the beach (Saweedikaaa, Krabi!). Release your frustration!
4. Take a nap.
You now have permission to lay around all day. Go on.
5. Have a heart to heart with a loved one.
Seeking counsel and advice from a loving, patient, kind ear will serve you well at this low-point. Don’t dismiss your feelings as silly or tell yourself that you’re “not being tough enough.” Moving abroad to teach English is a BIG change; give yourself grace and patience throughout the process.
6. Think back on what made you so excited to teach abroad.
Was it the chance to travel the world? To make deep and meaningful connections with youth? To master your own language skills and goals while helping others do the same?
Revisit your initial goals and reflect on where your expectations and reality are unaligned. This can help inform your action plan.
7. What else could be going on?
Sometimes, burnout is the result of other internal frustrations and/or feelings of loss, confusion, or loneliness. You might be wading through the valleys of homesickness or struggling to find yourself in this brand new culture. Is it fully your work arrangements leading to your burnout, or are you feeling overwhelmed in other areas of your life?
Having a thoughtful and honest conversation with your inner-self will arm you with additional insights you need as you look towards your future options.
8. Talk to your advisor.
If you’re teaching abroad through an organization like Premier TEFL, don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisor to discuss your current situation and feelings. They’ve likely experienced burnout, culture shock, and homesickness too, so they can be a great sounding board as you piece together your emotional landscape.
Furthermore, they have insights and connections that could help you find a new employment opportunity. This might not be the right option right now, but it can be reassuring to know you haven’t signed your soul to a difficult commitment with no escape.
9. Make work work for you.
Instead of throwing in the towel and walking away, consider ways that you can improve your work situation. Can you move closer to your school to lessen your commute stress? Can you ask for new responsibilities that make you feel motivated to continue your TEFL tenure? Are there other ways you can make work more fun and interesting?
10. Get inspired.
When we’re bogged down in grading papers, mastering minute grammar rules, or endlessly wrangling children who never. seem. to. listen., it can be hard to remember our why. Step outside and reconnect with the local culture in a new, fun way (a cooking class, perhaps?). Rekindle your spirit of adventure. There’s inspiration around every corner for the eye who wants to see it.
Additional resources for teacher burnout
This list of apps to help TEFL teachers manage stress and their well-being was compiled by Aspire&Be.