Published 12th September 2017

Being an EFL teacher is no walk in the park, we all know that. Being a TEFL teacher requires patience, dedication, hard work and stamina, there’s no doubt about that – even if you have done an internationally recognised TEFL course. But not many people realise just how taxing this job can really be.

Imagine this: you wake up at 6 in the morning and go to school. On the way to school you are going over in your head your plans for your different classes for the day. When you get to school you need to make photocopies and prepare your classroom. At the same time, students who have come to school early are asking for your help with their homework. During lunch, you have a staff meeting. After school, you mark some tests and prepare your lessons for the next day. When you eventually get home, you think about what happened in your lessons that day and try think of ways to make them better next time.

And the cycle continues, day in and day out.

The only real time you get off is on weekends and during holidays. During term time you are consumed by your lessons and your students. You can’t stop thinking about them and your mind is always going over lessons, past and future. Even when you’re not in class, you’re probably doing something related to school. Which means you never really get a break, or some time to look after yourself and your own mental wellbeing.

This can sometimes lead to burnout.

Burnout in the EFL teaching world is a real thing, though many people may not even realise it.

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout is, essentially, physical, and emotional exhaustion. If you answer yes to any of the following statements you may be suffering from burnout:

  • I find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
  • I get irritated with my students very easily, often for no reason.
  • I complain a lot about my school and/or my students.
  • I don’t really care if my students are learning.
  • I live for the weekend and holidays.
  • I want to leave this country and go home.

As you can see, many of the symptoms of burnout relate to depression. However, when teaching English abroad, long hours and hard work are usually contributing factors. You’re not just depressed, you’re exhausted.

What can you do about burnout?

As always, prevention is better than cure. Try to look after your mental and physical health so that you don’t experience burnout in the first place. Try not to take on more lessons than you can handle, even if that means saying no to your Director of Studies (hopefully your school will be understanding). Try to take a break from teaching every day when you don’t even think about teaching English.

If you think you already have burnout, you may need to take a break. If you can take some time off to recharge and get your enthusiasm back for teaching English as a foreign language. If you can’t take time off, at least try to plan your days so that not all your time is spent at school or preparing for your lessons.

Whatever you do, always remember: you can’t be an effective teacher if you are not yourself and if you’re exhausted there’s no way you can be the teacher you want to be.