"I'm a new teacher about to start work in Thailand in April. This will be my first full-time teaching gig. I often see more experienced teachers refer to 'teacher burnout'. Just out of interest, what are some of the things that contribute to such a condition? I'd very much like to avoid them if possible"
Well, let's ask some teachers.
Khru Pete says "I tell all the new teachers at my school to be flexible. You are in Thailand so don't expect things to run any way but the Thai way. You're not going to change it, so go with the flow, not against it.
Buk also has some direct advice. "Live a balanced lifestyle, don't neglect your health and go out on the piss too often. Hit the gym as often as you can"
It's all about a work / life balance according to James too. "Only work 5 days a week and try and keep your workload to a maximum of 22 contact hours (depending on how much planning is required) Keep fit and don't take the school issues home with you. Your biggest issues may be with people who seemingly don't know anything about TEFL or teaching but still tell you what to do. Also don't say 'yes' to every request. That's a trick that employers play (you usually don't get any more money for it either). Do things and acept more work on your terms. Meet people and don't drink too much because teaching with a hangover is terrible. I also keep fit. There are loads of 10k runs in Thailand that you can paticipate in.
Frustrations are always likely to creep in according to Kenneth. "Professionally, many a time you will have great ideas with the best of intentions (with the students in mind) and you will be told no (repeatedly) by your bosses. You will be asked to do things that make little or no sense and your opinion, no matter who good it is, will be disregarded because you aren't Thai. Thais most of the time have their way of doing things (even though detrimental to their goals) and most refuse to change. Personally, it is easy to party and go boozing on a daily basis and some teachers do start doing that"
"Teaching the same level for many years can often lead to burnout" reckons Bernard. "In addition you have unruly students, a poor syllabus or a complete lack of syllabus, unsupportive management, no Thai teacher present when you teach, lack of resources, homesickness. The list is endless"
"Knowing how to disengage from work" is the key says Rich. "The best advice i can give is to plan well and be organized (get a routine where you are at work early in the morning and keeping on top of the workload). Expect that you will make mistakes, and don't beat yourself up when they do happen. Set achieveable / realistic goals, and really think hard about the way you can best achieve them. Also just try and enjoy the experience. As a plus, avoid taking on extra / private classes too soon. The extra time needed to prep for them and actually teach them can and does take its toll"
Teacher Jey has a personal experience to relate. "At my former school in Pattaya, I had one particular student called Federica. She was a half Italian/Russian girl who spoke several languages. She was 10 years old but stuck in Pratom 2 with a class of 8-year olds. She always did her homework, classwork, spellings, always asked if she could help in any way and always helped her classmates who struggled. Federica was the archetypical perfect student. Only she was held back two grades because her Thai language was deemed insufficient (this being an "international" school).
These faceless school officials who'd never set foot in a class decided this girl was too stupid to be in her own grade based on stupid numbers on paper. The foreign teachers continuously objected to no avail. The biggest problem many foreign teachers face is "white knight syndrome" - going with the best of intentions, thinking they can change or "save" these kids from their oppressive culture somehow or change Thailand and their ways. The big barrier comes when you realise that no matter how hard you try, you won't make a difference. I find those teachers are the quickest to burn out"
Jim also puts the blame on school admin. "Mostly it's the administrators of the school for which you work and basically anyone there who has power over you. You can't avoid them and you might well grow to despise them if you are not careful"
"For me burnout meant teaching too many hours and having to create my own new curricula for 6 grades" says Cassandra. "I was given no assistance in the classroom and received no feedback. No one monitored my lessons or commented on them either critically or positively. Having to do extra activities at weekends for not enough pay was another factor.
Also the Thai teachers not talking to me at school (I speak Thai). They avoided me. I am the only foreigner at my school and have been for six years. How did I manage the burnout? Being organised, flexible, prepared to change last minute, taking my relationships with my students more seriously than with the teachers, implementing really fun lessons and projects and displaying them around the school feeling proud of my students as well as myself and finally ...... not taking work home, sleeping and eating well - and taking holidays!
Matthew has some direct advice for when it comes to avoiding the dreaded burnout - "recognise who pays your salary and do what they want you to do"
Liam sums things up in one word - "Perspective!"
Have you suffered from teacher burnout? How did you deal with it? Put your thoughts in the comments section below.