Stepping back to jump forward

Mike_Powell_1991_World_Champs_w430Yesterday’s ELTchat about teacher burnout got me thinking about a post I’ve had upstairs in the attic for quite a while.

Burnout is something every teacher will continually confront – even those of us with the best of jobs. Entropy is a law that applies to teaching as well as physics. Nor, is there a sure fire, one size fits all solution. Some teachers will have to just push through it. Others need to change things up a little. Some, change things up a lot and maybe head off in new directions. Some teachers will even get motivated by digging deeper and pushing hard (yes, it is true!). Some teachers will just need to step back and take a break.

That’s what I am doing this year. It is hard without my own classroom (though I’m teaching online). I miss the contact, miss the involvement. Miss my nice big office and the starbucks 20m away! Still, I needed it and needed a new challenge. This year, really trying to do different things, start up and be independent. I work from home, have my new office finally set up. Doing some consulting for a few companies (most notably EnglishCentral) that I believe in (and I’ll only support companies with vision and that have the teacher’s interest in mind). Will be starting my own School of TEFL. I’m near my family that I love and am now officially back from self imposed TESOL exile.

This is how I’ve always dealt with teacher burnout – by stepping back. As the French put it, “reculez pour mieux sauter”. Stepping back so to jump further forward.

It is a principle we all have to learn to obey. When to push, when to step back. As an athlete, my job wasn’t only training well – it was also perfecting the art of doing nothing. Only with rest, does growth come. I am also thinking now about long jumpers – how they step back, rock back and forth as they look down the runway before leaping so far far ahead….

My stepping back involves getting in touch with my self. Teaching takes so much selflessness and pulls you so much away from yourself – you need this, all teachers need this. For me, stepping back towards myself involves renewing old habits. Like reading and poetry. Like running. Like making materials for teachers.

I returned to my old karaoke making today – inspired by a song I love and used to spend hours running the streets to. U2 – running to stand still. Perfect for your students and also you – many of you who might be “running to stand still”.

If you liked this – you probably will enjoy “The unbearable lightness of being an EFL teacher.”

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

3 Responses

  1. I’m in a similar position, working from home and only teaching private lessons. I too miss the classroom and that dynamic environment where so much learning goes on for all involved. Soon.

    Funny story— Bono came to a very fancy restaurant I was working at 8 years ago. He was with Chris Tucker for an AIDS conference. It was a magical night as they invited us cooks up to hang out for a bit.

    (We had originally turned them and their 25 friends down because it was a saturday and a fine-dining restaurant and we were already booked to the max. So they decided to thank us for our hard work, and it was a crazy night…)

    Chris Tucker sang a song and made Bono tell a joke. He told the silliest joke I’ve ever heard:

    “So, it’s the story of this vegetarian, right… well unfortunately he passed away, and at his funeral there was a very big turnip…. (turn-up).”

    He certainly got laughs, though. 🙂

  2. ddeubel says:


    Great story and good to learn some of your own “backdrop”. I’m trying to do more of that in my writing this year.

    Yeah – so much of a joke is in the telling/timing!

    U2 is a great band but a lot of their music is a bit too poetic for our classrooms. (not to mention out of date!) but I was hit with the bug and had to do the song.

    I’m heading to New Orleans and TESOL for a week of bumping with people – looking forward to it. I’m a tad isolated and it is taking some patience to adapt. I’m sure you understand.

    My only restaurant encounter was with 74 year old Anthony Quinn and his 30 something wife and 2 year old. They were at the next table – he was grinning ear to ear and laughing. We toasted and he didn’t tell a joke….. But what a force of nature, if only I could be half that!

  3. Very cool.

    Likewise, it was cool hearing your “backdrop” as a builder from the first post of yours I ran into. Have a blast at TESOL New Orleans and I totally get ya on the isolation. Been there b4 for sure!

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