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ELT burnout revisited


A little more than two years ago, I talked about burnout, particularly the path towards it that I and probably you were on. My ELT:Other ratio stared glaringly in my face, mocking my attempts at having a life outside of language teaching. It’s then that I realised I was definitely on the road to burnout. Now with Shelly Sanchez Terrell’s cycle 4 of the 30 Goals for Educators, and an upcoming Google Hangout I’ll be doing with her about them, it seems like an opportune time to revisit my path and see if things have changed.

The gist of the ELT:Other ratio is looking at how you spend your time in language teaching areas vs all of your other interests. It’s a 3-step process:

1) Divvy up all of your weekly time spent on ELT-related (e.g. class time, prep, blogging, PD, etc.);
2) Compare ELT-related time spent vs everything else you do in your free time (e.g. socialising, fitness, TV, etc.);
3) Compare time spent on all ELT-relate time spent vs all your other interests in a month (e.g. reading fiction, skiing, etc.).

If your #2 & #3 shows over 50% of your time on ELT, you might be heading down that fiery path. These ratios can help you notice in black & white how much time you actually spend in comparison to other endeavours. Startling really. It can also help you recognise which areas of ELT (#1) you may be devoting an inhumane amount of time to. I was on the path to burnout and noticing it, as it seems Vicky Loras, Shelly Sanchez Terrell and Cecilia Lemos understood. Thankfully so far, I have avoided the desolate pit of burnout, but by how far? Am I still on that path? Are you?


One caveat that came out in discussion, however, was the blurry grey (or in this case red) overlap between social media and ELT.  They are often not mutually exclusive. My PLN are my friends too. I socialise with them online like I do my friends offline at a pub and in the office (note I said pub first…). I joke around on Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Google+ with them, sometimes about ELT, sometimes not. We talk about songs in the Nightshift FB Group (ironically begun by those burning the midnight oil lesson planning). I’m unconvinced this overlapping time use contributes much. In fact, if you consider it part of the other interests, it cuts down my ELT time from 61% to 35% of my time per week, well below the burnout rate of 50%.

What’s there to be done about burnout?

If you don’t feel like you’re burning out, go with that. Just because someone in your life with differing priorities might be appalled at the time, energy and emotion you are devoting to your professional life, it doesn’t mean they’re right and you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean that you should cut it down. I still spend loads of time doing ELT things and I love them all.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, consider your ELT:Other ratio. Put it down on paper and see where you may shift around some of your time. It’s amazing how taking a little time for yourself to just watch the clouds and think can make a world of difference. I did yesterday evening at the pool. I felt like a kid staring up for an hour, but many non-ELT thoughts popped into my head. One cloud looked like my puppy.

Another couple of considerations that increase the decline towards burnout that we often overlook are ones that I definitely need work on (and Vicky mentions in her recent post): sleep, nutrition and exercise. I sleep on average 5-6 hours a night. I eat an OK breakfast and lunch (as I write this, I’m eating a hearty food truck version of poutine…), but supper could use some work. I almost never exercise anymore. How about you?

Where are you at on your path to burnout? 

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Vicky Loras

Hi Tyson,

A great idea to revisit this post – I will keep it in my favourites this new academic year as well, to go on reminding myself of that balance necessary!

I am very happy I have improved my sleeping habits the past few months. It took a lot of hard work to pressure myself to turn off the computer, either because I was busy preparing for the next day (I could surely find a niche in the next day to finish it off, or use another lesson plan of the tons I have for that day) or because I was on social media, 90% of the time reading about ELT. I had a series of nights where I was really strict on myself, which meant I slept more, which meant I felt much much better.

The truth is, I got the wake-up call (pun?) from my dad, who saw me on Skype one day and said “god…look under your eyes sweetheart…” and I looked at myself, or rather noticed myself, and all I saw was two huge dark circles – and I looked tired and old.

Now all I need to work on is the food (healthier, definitely!).

The good thing is that we are all looking out for each other! Take care xx

To be honest if the term were any longer the crevice many of us are looking into would be one I would have fallen into. Is ELT the holy grail or poisoned chalice? There’s a fine line, in my opinion, between loving our work and doing as much as we can and …… doing as much as we can….if you get my drift. At some point ‘as much’ becomes ‘too much’ and it’s wise to have someone on hand to point it out as we often don’t see the thread we’re walking on getting thinner and thinner and it takes someone else to show us how risky our “hobby” has become.
As always a thought-provoking post, Tyson – good on yer!

From what I see we are all in the same boat here. We people need to find time for ourselves. For me it’s the gym, for somebody else music. Interacting with people who don’t have to do with teaching sometimes might also help!

Tony Gurr

Hi Ty,

I got you a tweet a few weeks back – suggesting that I had “failed” your test 😉

The thing is I had a thunk about it later and realised that while I might have failed, the issue of burnout was not true in my case (well, that’s what I tell myself). When I clocked up my hours, I found so much of it was linked to my own LEARNing – esp. following-up on blogs I enjoy, looking for new blogs, and sharing stuff via twitter. You know, stuff I enjoy…and stuff that makes the time whizzzzzzzz by 😉

At a recent event, I was chatting with a bunch of teachers…many of them said that burnout was a major issue for them. I asked about the type of “DIY” PD or CPD they were doing. Many of the teachers that were telling me about their own burnout, did very little “work” in the blogosphere (none of them had their own blog). Many of them told me that this was, in fact, because they did not have…you guessed it…enough time.

The funny thing was…a bit later I had another chat with a smaller bunch of teachers – all of whom had their own blog and engaged (actively) with their PLN. Guess what they ALL said?

OK – not “science”….not a major “research finding”! But, interesting.

In one of my last posts (I was playing around with some of Ian Gilbert’s “THUNKS”) and I asked the question – “Is burnout infectious”? A few replies on FB and Twitter told me that many teachers think it is 😉 I wonder if the “cure” is also infectious…I hope so 😉

Take care,


Melissa Jackson

I’m often feeling overwhelmed and at same time feeling like what I do is enough. I neglect my two kids with their school work.

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