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Burn Out

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  • 1.  Burn Out

    Posted 12 days ago
    Simple question:

    How do you deal with burn out?

    For the first time in my life, I'm facing it and I'm not entirely sure how to deal with it. Teaching has always been my passion, my desire, my career - I've never really wanted to do anything else. The problem is, my current posting is doing a number on me, and I still have one year left in my contract (and financial considerations, both for now and later, make packing up and leaving an unsuitable option).

    The burn out comes from multiple levels; I wrote a conference paper on the issues that lead to high turnover rates in ELT programs and I'm experiencing most of them - bad administration, poor course designs I'm helpless to do anything with, bad assessments with no descriptors that I'm expected to apply as criterion referencing and achieve a norm-references curve, lack of collegiality/sharing of resources, badly designed anonymous student evaluations that are used with impunity to punish teachers and courses that students don't like ... it's all adding up and I'm facing what I would say is my first crisis in 10 years as an EFL teacher.

    So how do you guys cope (especially knowing you have another year left in a contract).

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Hi Rob,
    Your contract is a problem. The only thing to do is to step back and rest. Keep at most 10% of your ambitions. The burn-out syndrome usually doesn't strike the lazy people; but to recover from it you have to be really, really lazy, and that for a considerble length of time. At least 6-12 months, depending on how deep you have gone.
    Being also an MD, I used to work for several years in psychiatry and had many patients with burn-out symptoms at varying levels of seriousness. And when I felt it coming upon myself too, I stepped down and worked only every other week. That gave me one week's rest between the working weeks, and thus I managed to avoid getting seriously sick. Only half the salary and much, much less than half the pension, but the improved life quality without disease was worth it.

    So, if you are in about that stage that I was in when I cut dow to half-time work, i.e., before having the disease proper, I'd strongly recommend you to do the same, if possible. Not half days, but one week's work and one week's rest. Nobody will thank you if you sacrifice your health for the contract. Try this better solution.

    Best wishes
    Olle Kjellin, MD, PhD
    Sweden
    olle-kjellin.com





  • 3.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Hi Olle,

    What you say makes sense, but the problem is, I can't back down. As you said, people who burn out usually put in higher effort, and for me, backing down or limiting my efforts as a teacher makes me feel like I'm letting down my students, and subsequently I feel unprofessional in doing so. High standards perhaps, but I'm not sure I can back down and still respect myself as a teacher - make sense?

    I am, at this point, throwing myself into my phys as a distraction (and you know, to get in shape after all that sitting and marking) and to help offset the mental pressure by replacing it with physical exhaustion (and as an MD, you know that good phys can also help offset milder forms of depression too), and taking as much downtime with the summer as I can, so I think that will help.

    Cheers mate!
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    You have given a spot-on summary description of the across-the-board problems in the ESL/EFL field. So many, many administrator "authorities". It is not an environment conducive to really teaching, only to ladder climbing.

    ------------------------------
    Sharon A. Peters
    Instructor, Developmental Program
    Texas Wesleyan University
    Ft Worth, TX
    sapeters@txwes.edu

    ESL/Developmental/Curriculum Design
    Arlington, TX
    USA
    sapeters.esl@gmail.com
    1 +512-694-3973
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 9 days ago
    Hi Sharon,

    Yeah, it's pretty endemic - my Director told me that if I don't like the situation, I should start my own school, which speaks to the failure to recognize or willingness to address the issues by some people in charge.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Rob,

    Teaching is a demanding profession with many decisions, politics, and needs. Listen to yourself and be gentle.

    I went through a major teaching change 18 years ago. I was depressed/crying for no reason. Finally I made the decision to leave the job, even with no other guaranteed employment. It was the right decision and I don't regret. God is with you - look to Him.

    Best,

    Steve

    ------------------------------
    Stephen Hunt
    Teacher
    Minnesota State University Mankato
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 9 days ago
    Hey Stephen,

    My biggest concern here is having a bit of a financial cushion to take time off (hence why I'm trying to push through for another year). I don't plan to stop teaching - being a teacher is who and what I am - though I may simply need a new environment to do it in. Ten years in China is probably enough - maybe it's time to go home.

    The problem there, of course, is that EFL teaching tends to be frowned upon back home (I'm Canadian, but this applies to the UK and US as well), where we are viewed much the same as we are in China - we aren't really teachers. We are back-packers who taught some Oral English classes (which are inconsequential) and that is about it. Regardless of my experience or knowledge, I'm always going to be tarred with that same brush until someone gives me a chance (and the question is, where am I going to find that chance?).

    But I will grind it out as I always do. :)

    Cheers mate,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Things to do when encountering burnout....

    1.  Volunteer in an unrelated aspect -- another hobby or interest
    2.  Take up a new hobby
    3.  Take a day trip -- travel the country roads in your county and surrounding counties, seek out interesting photograph opportunities, find off the wall antique shops and restaurants.  I usually do this during April when Texas bluebonnet flowers are abundant.
    4.  Find a place that offers a craft -- like ceramic/pottery painting, painting in oils/acrylics, sewing something new, leather making, making glass vases, jewelry making, etc.
    5.  Read a new book
    6.  Go somewhere out of state to have a new experience
    7.  Go to a local college to learn a new language, or venture on an app (I am re-learning Spanish)
    8.  Start a new blog
    9.  Paint the walls in your home (I've painted mine a bright, bold yellow to spruce it up a bit) even if accenting certain walls throughout your home
    10.  Order food in a box (there are many) -- they offer new opportunities to create new meals that you may have not experienced before and/or wouldn't have ventured on your own to cook
    11.  Go visiting family (and getting family hugs)
    12.  Stand on a corner with a sign (Giving Hugs Today)
    13.  Volunteer to teach Citizenship
    14.  Volunteer at a local Vacation Bible School
    15.  Go on a Mission trip or volunteer at a local soup kitchen
    16.  Go to a mall or plaza area and people watch
    17.  Suggest a picnic in the park with family or friends
    18.  Create a DYI project (I have a mobile planter wall planned using masonite board, empty gatorade bottles, and fence posts in the works)
    19.  Create grandkids time -- adopt other people's kids or grandkids for a day, if you don't have your own
    20.  Go see some movies
    21.   Research a new topic related to what you do
    22.  Write a book -- or even just a poem
    23.  Count your blessings or have a gratitude journal
    25.  Visit a nursing home or memory center
    26.  Take piano or drum lessons
    27.  Find a barn builders group in your community and help build a barn
    28.  Hike up a mountain
    29.  Join Meetup.com -- there are so many clubs and functions fulfilling so very many diverse interests (even just explore possibilities)
    30.  Attend a book club at a library or even just volunteer there.

    If you need more, just let me know.  I can probably think of hundreds of others...

    Kat

    ------------------------------
    Kathryn Davis
    TEXTESOL III
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Hi Kathryn,

    Hiking, reading, and exploring new dishes are my big distractions right now that I'm on break.

    :-)

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Rob,

    Thank you for your posting.  Ollie and Kate have provided some great ideas.  I like and have had luck with trying to seek balance in the situation where you and I have both been.  Use this time to YOUR OWN advantage.  This year - while keeping up with your professional responsibilities - can be a good one for you if you can find a way to use your time to find a new job and take care of your body, mind and spirit.  You're doing everything right, it sounds like!  One good thing is that you're in Hong Kong (I lived and worked there a year at what was then called Hong Kong Institute of Education) and there are many possible options.  Be glad you're not in a remote location - with no Internet.  Keep up the good work and good luck with this transition.  Please keep in touch with your next steps!  And finally, this may be a good time for you to consider submitting a proposal to TESOL 2019 on this topic!  Many people will likely be interested in learning more from you on this topic of burnout!

    Thanks again,

    Liz

    ------------------------------
    Lizabeth England
    Consultant, TESOL
    Liz England & Associates
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hi Lizabeth,

    This was advice I gave to another colleague of mine when he realized that he could work here for 6+ years and not achieve much in the way of promotion - focus on yourself and build up your academic "street-cred". I just find myself apathetic in general and lacking motivation even for that (I have two papers that I've got on the burner for publication).

    The idea for a TESOL 2019 proposal is intriguing though - will need to check to see if I can get funded for it.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Thanks for the fun list, Kat.  I appreciate it.

    ------------------------------
    Nancy Ackles
    United States
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Great question and first off congratulations for reaching out to your professional learning community (TESOLers worldwide) for advice.  Here are my thoughts about burn-out.  There are two basic approaches.  One is to retreat and do other things in your free time that make you feel good.  The other is somewhat of the opposite, but I think, in the long run will be more fulfilling for you: get as immersed as possible in some of the great online professional learning communities (or communities of practices) devoted to English Language Teaching.  Contribute to them, learn from them. This is what I am doing now as I, too, am experiencing a wave of burn-out and frustration with "administration" and other institutional things beyond my control. Another thing I am doing to alleviate the negative feelings is creating a personal website devoted to my passion-- English language teaching through drama.  I am doing that because it is reminding me of what I have done in my career and what I have to offer to others in this field.  In a sense both of the things I mention can be reduced to this: get more active in the larger community of English language teaching, away from your institution, connecting with supportive and innovative professionals worldwide.  Hope this helps and good luck and stay with it.  As Shakespeare wrote:  "My drops of tears I'll turn to sparks of fire."

    ------------------------------
    Richard Silberg
    ESL/Drama Teacher Berkeley, California
    Former English Language Fellow/Specialist
    Cambodia
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hi Richard,

    I've thought about starting a YouTube channel or something similar, but I find my motivation levels for projects are pretty low right now. As I said to Lizabeth above, I have two papers that I want to write but I find myself somewhat apathetic towards it right now. I'm hoping that increasing my physical activity will help stimulate mental activity.

    As an avid RPG player, maybe I should look at using RPGs to teach English?

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Dear Robin,

    You have a challenging task ahead, my sympathies. Frankly, I've never had to deal with so many negatives in one go but I can quite visualize what you're up against.

    Judging from your mail, and going by what you find unacceptable, I have to say that you must be a highly professional and well-informed teacher.

    Some ideas that you consider for a calibrated response.

    One, take pride in your professional caliber and standing. Let this inner strength support and guide you.

    Two, see if you can tackle one thing at a time. You've listed many faults. Begin with the one that may be easiest to address, plan your strategy and go for it (share the logic and rationale for the envisaged change with a senior colleague, line manager who you think may look at it your way, etc). One success will bolster you for the next. Plus the satisfaction of having righted a professional wrong.

    Three. Let this be a learning experience. And, never give in!

    Best wishes,
    Hari


    ------------------------------
    Harisimran Sandhu
    Freelance ELT Professional
    India
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hello Harisimran,

    Thank you for the feedback.

    Tackling one thing at a time is a good idea, but it's hard to focus on just one, particularly as they are so intertwined with each other, it's hard to figure out which domino to knock down first.

    It's hard to take pride in this either, particularly when you're on the receiving end of so much criticism, but I'm trying to keep a stiff upper lip.

    I agree about reflecting on it and not giving in - I'm a pretty stubborn person and hopefully this is just a phase that I'll recover from very quickly.

    Cheers,
    Rob


    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 17.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    Edited by Ryan Nowack 11 days ago
    Hi Robin,

    Thank you for sharing.  As teachers, most of us hold ourselves to a very high standard since daily we insist upon excellence from our students.  This expectation also extends to administration since these are the enlightened folks who are sailing the institutional ship.  While this frame of mind is indeed admirable and very fitting for a true educator, so often we find ourselves being disappointed, and we often target those above us or the entire institution itself.

    It sounds like there is a lack of communication at your school between faculty and administration.  Have you tried to tactfully discuss some of your issues with those above?  Do your fellow teachers share your perspective?  Have any of the other teachers put forth effort to form a committee to address any areas of concern?  What can you and your fellow teachers do to improve your collective situation?  Oftentimes we quietly allow ourselves to suffer, so I am wondering if it might be helpful for you to really start talking with other people to identify areas of improvement and constructively work toward positive change.

    You listed the following factors as sensitive points at your institution:
    -"bad administration"
    -"poor course designs I'm helpless to do anything with"
    -"bad assessments with no descriptors that I'm expected to apply as criterion referencing and achieve a norm-references curve"
    -"lack of collegiality/sharing of resources"
    -"badly designed anonymous student evaluations that are used with impunity to punish teachers and courses that students don't like"

    It may be helpful to really examine each of your points with other teachers.  Why is administration "bad" in your opinion?  What could you and other teachers--functioning as a committee--do to improve the "poor course designs"? 
     Would it be possible for you and your fellow teachers to agree upon and formally propose amendments to the "bad assessments" and "badly designed anonymous student evaluations"?  How about starting a resources committee or a shared-resources file with your fellow teachers to encourage resource-sharing and collaboration?

    My overall point here is that you and your fellow teachers are not as powerless as you think.  Burnout comes from a great feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, and it sounds like you are very near this point now.  Work together with your colleagues to intelligently deal with the above issues one-by-one in a formal and thoughtful manner.  Always be very respectful of the administrative and cultural hierarchy at your institution, and prepare to be very patient--very patient--but be persistent and always be cordial and friendly in your negotiations.  Your efforts will pay off; the problems will dissipate; and, you will find yourself in a great workplace that you can take pride in, especially since you will have had contributed to its positive transformation.

    Best wishes,

    Ryan

    ------------------------------
    Ryan Nowack
    Intensive English Program Coordinator
    University of South Dakota
    United States
    ------------------------------



  • 18.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hello Ryan,

    I appreciate the feedback.

    You ask some valid questions and I want to answer them:
    Have you tried to tactfully discuss some of your issues with those above?  Do your fellow teachers share your perspective? 
    Ryan Nowack,  07-06-2018 12:23
    When I first arrived here, I started noticing issues in terms of course designs and assessments and I went to speak with my Department Head about my concerns. We spoke about the issues and I found that instead of engaging it, she was dismissive of the concerns I raised. This would be a pattern that I would discover in her interactions with staff in meetings and other situations, and my colleagues confirmed that they had similar experiences; our Department Head is not interested in anyone or anything that contradicts her and there is a complete lack of departmental transparency.


    Have any of the other teachers put forth effort to form a committee to address any areas of concern?  What can you and your fellow teachers do to improve your collective situation?
    Ryan Nowack,  07-06-2018 12:23
    First of all, in China (and Hong Kong), teachers generally avoid confrontation, particularly with a superior who may punish them with negative reviews, especially when the teacher has something to lose as a result of the confrontation. We do have an Executive Committee (ExCo) to which I was recently elected, so I'm hoping that we can address some of these issues (transparency and professionalism), but I'm still waiting for our first meeting. That said, other ExCo members have told me that our Department Head is resistant to pretty much any change, and as the Department Head, she has a great deal of power.

    Without the support of our Department Head, there isn't much that can be done (she'll veto or prohibit it). We've gone to the old Dean about these issues (we had to provide assessments on the Department Head and several of us added 5-10 pages of additional details), but as he's leaving, he hasn't seen fit to address the issues, so several of us are waiting for the new Dean to step in and then take our concerns to him.


    Why is administration "bad" in your opinion?  What could you and other teachers--functioning as a committee--do to improve the "poor course designs"?  
    Ryan Nowack,  07-06-2018 12:23
    I have spoken with colleagues, and most of them recognize the system here is stubbornly entrenched. We have nothing in terms of transparency; our courses are fixed and cannot be changed without four different committees and the University Senate approving (and this can take up to 2-3 years to make happen); the first year course designs are divergent (in that our students at different grade levels wind up even farther apart before we funnel them into the second year courses) but the Department Head absolutely refuses to address the 1st year concerns (particularly as she has designed one of the courses) and everyone tells me there is no way she's going to allow anyone to overhaul the course; staff are reluctant to take on extra work as it is generally thankless and all too often extreme changes are rejected by committees, which makes the effort all the more pointless.

    Poor course designs could be improved with a proper needs-analysis assessment, but our Department Head has rejected this due to the amount of time it would take. Assessments need effective descriptors, and while our University is supposed to be criterion referencing, there is still a push for norm-referencing curves; teachers who give lower marks than the anticipated curve are re-assessed and pressured to raise their marks and our standardization system is based on giving students inflated marks.

    I can go on.
    My overall point here is that you and your fellow teachers are not as powerless as you think. 
    Ryan Nowack,  07-06-2018 12:23
    I'm not sure if you have worked in China before, but the problem is that our sense of powerless is real. The Department Head has proven unwilling to listen and if people push the issue (no matter how tactfully), then they get poor reviews (which impacts raises and contract renewals). Going to the next level has proven pointless as well - the Dean has done nothing to address the concerns we raised a few months ago and even the Provost and Vice Secretary have said nothing to those of us who have gone so far as to bring out concerns to them.

    Without the support of the Department Head, we cannot make changes to courses, and if we do manage to get support to change or adjust courses, it takes years to bring about those changes (again, not that we've received approval). As teachers, we are teaching fixed courses with literally ZERO autonomy, and our marks need to fall into a specific curve or we face pressure to change our marks.

    Many of my colleagues have simply taken a path of least resistance and given up all hope for improvements in the Department - they just do the minimum and go home, and the apathy is proving contagious.

    I do want to make improvements and I want my students to benefit from our courses, but it's hard to fix problems without reasonable support.

    Do understand that I haven't given up - being on the ExCo, I'm hoping to make changes for the better, but I'm not feeling very optimistic about it, and the apathy of my colleagues is proving to be contagious.

    Anyway, thanks for the feedback and the opportunity to reflect on what I've said.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 19.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    ​Robin, as you already know teacher burn-out and frustration is likely to happen to most teachers at some point or even several points in their career. As someone who has been teaching for 30 years, I'll just give a few suggestions that have worked for me over the years. About five years into teaching I was so frustrated that I made myself a promise that I would always keep the focus on doing what was best for my students and I go back to that every time I'm frustrated and it helps me see things in perspective. I would suggest you make your own student evaluations, so you can get the feedback you need from your students. If actually doing this might get you in trouble, then think about writing or speaking assignments that might get you the same information.

    When I've had to follow curriculum or use a book I didn't like in the past, I've kind of made it a challenge to myself to see how I can use my ideas within the curriculum I've been given. As someone who is now responsible for curriculum and teacher observations in our program, I'd also like to add that you should try to understand why you are being asked what you are being asked to do. Sometimes that understanding can help. Depending on your supervisors, you might also ask them why they are doing certain things. Of course, the hard part is asking because you really want to know as opposed to asking defensively because you think it is bad.

    Having said the above, there are simply times when you and a program just aren't a good fit, but you are stuck with it for awhile. Even though your contract isn't up for another year, you may want to start job hunting because that can at least make you feel you have some control over your future. It's also a good time to think about what you really want in a program or even in life. When you apply for your next job what questions will you ask them about their program? What will you need to know? What is your bottom line? What can you accept even if you may not completely agree with it? What can't you accept even if you need the money? What can you do instead?

    Finally, I just read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "A Self-Care Strategy for Beleaguered Academics". The author's suggestion was to keep a file of all the good things you've done related to your teaching including good things students have said, awards, presentations, and anything else to remind you of why you love to teach. When you are feeling down, bring out that file and read through it. I haven't done this but it seems like a good idea. I'm sure other teachers will also have ideas because this is something a lot of teachers have gone through.

    ------------------------------
    Theresa Pruett-Said
    Macomb Community College
    ------------------------------



  • 20.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hello Theresa,

    As new workers here, we had to take Professional Development sessions, and there is a practicum where we should do up our Teaching Philosophy. This is one of the practicums I want to do, and I think this coincides with your third point. It will give me an opportunity to look at myself as a teacher and discover the answers to your questions.

    In terms of the program, we have no autonomy and giving students feedback assessments - they already have two forms (one University wide and one Departmental one) and they don't take them seriously, seeing them as pointless paperwork (particularly as they fill them out at the end of the course and won't take it again). I spoke with the Department Head last year about getting student feedback (another teacher and I wanted to present a paper on student satisfaction with the courses) and she put a stop to it in no uncertain terms.

    In terms of the program, I've tried looking at the why's and wherefores and I have no answer. We teach absolutely zero language skills, but marks students 35% of their grade on their language; we have two first year courses with students divided based on their high school English scores and we do nothing to bring them together (our courses are divergent rather than convergent) and the Department Head refuses to address this issue. I guess it's what you say - I don't fit here and should be looking for other places where I do fit.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 21.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    ​Rob,

    I was once in a somewhat similar situation (though without the proscribed course curriculum).  If we ever meet in person, I can tell you all the gory details (now, thankfully, a distant past).  One thing I did at the time was to join the regional TESOL affiliate (any related organization would do - just one with non-institution colleagues forming part of the membership).

    That gave me a new set of colleagues and conferences I could go to and present at.  I even became an officer of the organization.  That, and one or two people teaching at my institution, was a huge support for me.

    Do you get summers off or any type of extended vacation time?  Leave (if you can) Hong Kong and go somewhere *really* different.  I used to go to Europe for 2-4 weeks, take French classes, travel to see former students.  It made a big difference, too.  (Although, when word came we would move over to a different boss the following fall, it DID make that summer vacation all that much better.)

    Karen

    ------------------------------
    Karen Stanley
    Professor, Academic ESL
    Central Piedmont Community College
    Charlotte, NC USA
    karen.stanley@cpcc.edu
    ------------------------------



  • 22.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 11 days ago
    ​Rob,

    I forgot to mention that I also took an (on-campus) pottery class, which not only gave me a creative outlet with a physical component, but it meant that I could hang out in the ceramics lab with a whole different set of people (and I got to know all the art teachers as a result).

    You may not be able to do this on campus (for me, it was free and convenient), but there might be something nearby that offers similar benefits.

    I may think of something else as well, since I have not done the careful thinking through that we always see in your helpful professional posts.

    If your colleagues at your institution don't support you, just know that you have a lot of fans out here in TESOL land.

    Karen

    ------------------------------
    Karen Stanley
    Professor, Academic ESL
    Central Piedmont Community College
    Charlotte, NC USA
    karen.stanley@cpcc.edu
    ------------------------------



  • 23.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hey Karen,

    We definitely need to get together for lunch or something - would love to hear the gory details.

    One of the problems I have is that I'm lacking motivation to do a lot of things right now beyond my phys. I have summer off, but I'm trying to work with colleagues on improving some course materials (assuming that this will get accepted), and leaving Hong Kong has been recommended by several people, but I'm trying to save money for when I finish my contract so I can take some time to decompress after and I'm not in a rush to jump into a job that I'm going to be unhappy with.

    I would kill for a new Department Head.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 24.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago

    How is it going Robin,

    I'm very sorry to hear about your "burn-out."  Have you tried taking off work for about a week or two?  I'm sure your dean understands the need for a much needed break.  Yes, a year contract is a lot, but your mental-wellness takes precedence, right?  You can probably eliminate over exhaustion if you give yourself adequate bed rest and some leisurely activity, (i.e., swimming; fishing; sightseeing; strolling around the mall; have a nice lunch with a friend-make sure it's a clean food and enjoying a scoop of ice cream). Get well soon and have a nice summer! 

    Regards,

    MerriLee  Leonard
    M.A.Ed.,TESL
    Northern Virginia Community College
    U.S.A.



  • 25.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hey Merrilee,

    I'm taking up swimming again, but we've had a Typhoon in the area and Thuderstorm warnings so they shut down the pools in Hong Kong. Makes me sad.

    I have the summer off, but I'm working on course materials that we can propose for course changes (assuming they get the okay), so I'm not entirely away from work (not to mention our summer meetings).

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 26.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 9 days ago

    How are you Robin,

    You've heard of Karaoke singing, right?  Why not try being silly and the silliest professional singer you can ever be with friends and Karaoke singing---a very popular relaxation pass time activity in Asia.  You are in a terrific area to enjoy the water in that beautiful Pacific Ocean.  Bring other teachers with you out---for a day of scuba excursion---lay in the sun---enjoy snarling---and wonderful food.  I don't think going to Paris is economically prudent for you to do right now---since you are finishing up just a year left on the job. You'll need at least a week or two to stroll down streets of Paris and for sure, expect energy exhaustion. You are overwhelmed by the school demand of your time---relaxation is what you need via de-stressed self-therapy.

    Philippines isn't that far away from you and I have heard they have the nicest beaches and other fun things to do for their tourists.  Try googling Boracay Beach among many other lovely turquoise oceans to enjoy there.  Your flight at best could be less than an hour or less and the summer vacation costs would be less than going to Paris, for sure.  I would definitely take friends there with you. Enjoy summer off days and be sure to remove your mind and self away from work.  My book should be out on Amazon or direly from the publisher itself to order by the end of June---just to update you on the book progress. Get plenty of rest and pray for wisdom. 

    Regards,

    MerriLee Leonard
    M.A.,Ed.TESL
    ACLI: Adjunct Faculty
    Northern Virginia Community College
    U.S.A. 



  • 27.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 8 days ago
    Hey Merrilee,

    I did karaoke once (can't sing) and it was the most painful experience of my life - when I said that I was never gonna do it again after my performance and the mic picked up on it, the polite applause turned to thunderous applause - that's how bad I was. :)

    I lived in Paris for two months once during my Spring Festival break, so I'm familiar with the city, and you're right - too expensive at this point. However, I'm not a huge fan of the heat (I'm that guy who wears shorts and t-shirts in winter), so while I agree that there are some great places to check out (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, etc.), I'm much happier hiding in my nice AC'd flat right now. :D

    That said, I am enjoying my swimming and night walks and avoiding work (though I have about a half-dozen meetings this week I need to prepare for) as much as possible. Binge-watching classic TV shows. :D

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 28.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 10 days ago

    Hi Rob,

    When I had a very challenging teaching situation and a contract that I was stuck in and felt like I was approaching burnout, I took a very active approach to my own professional development, which helped me a lot. Drawing on what I learned in my MA program, I treated that time like a second practicum and gave myself specific professional development goals in the six areas of focus from my MA program (which were learners and learning; teachers and teaching; language; culture; self and others; and educational communities, institutions and professional life). Thinking deliberately about what was in my control helped me feel like everything wasn't only awful (although at times it still was awful, there's only so much you can do in a truly bad teaching situation) and it gave me sense of forward progress that was really vital to getting me through to the end of my contract, plus I got to keep my sense of professional integrity intact, which from your responses to others sounds just as important to you as it was to me. It seems counter intuitive, but I learned a lot that year, got through it, didn't break my contract and came out the other side as a better teacher with a really cool classroom research project I would t have undertaken otherwise. Find the places where you can fit your passions and creativity into the constraints you have and really lean in to those. If you're interested, send me a message and I can share my specific goals with you as well, if you'd like inspiration.

    Two other things to support this deliberate goal setting were to find something I was really excited about and line it up for after the contract finishes (for me, this was a great next job, but it could something like a visit home or a vacation to a place you're really excited about as well). The other is to set clear boundaries between the time you spend on the job and the time you have for you. Try to stick to only working for the hours and tasks you're paid to do, and not letting them creep into your off time (which is so easy to do as a teacher!). When your teaching situation is as difficult as yours is now, that firm border is vital and can really help preserve your mental health. 

    I'm sending you lots of good energy and am hopeful you can find a way through this that works for you! You've got a whole community of people here to support you, and you should give yourself lots of credit for reaching out and crowd sourcing ideas to help. It can't have been easy to admit this publicly, but doing so helps the whole community deal with this very important issue, so the next person who searches for burnout on my TESOL has a wealth of ideas to draw on, even if they don't have the courage to post  about their own situation. There's one concrete thing you can feel good about in the midst of this. You've created a valuable resource by reaching out!

    Best,

    Riah



    ------------------------------
    Riah Werner
    National Pedagogical Institute for Technical and Professional Training
    Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire
    SRIS Newsletter Co-Editor and Co-Chair Elect
    ------------------------------



  • 29.  RE: Burn Out
    Best Answer

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hi Robin
    I think it might be a mischaracterisation to call what you're experiencing as 'burnout' because that leads to solutions to do with personal re-energisation etc - which are terrific for anybody in any circumstance, but not really going to get to the nub of what you are experiencing.

    When I was researching early career teachers I found many were experiencing exactly what you describe and they were only in their first 18 months of teaching, so they weren't 'burnt out' - but they were highly disillusioned. The circumstances they were working within were not allowing them to be the teachers they wished to be. Everything around them, from the policies, to the leadership, to the assessments they were required to perform and the curriculum they were required to teach, to some of their colleagues in the staffroom seemed to be pushing them towards instructional practices that were far from their teaching identity. As one said to me on one of my research visits to her classroom - 'please don't let me forget the teacher I wanted to become'.

    I tried to make sense of what I was observing in a way that might be helpful for them as well. Quite simply, they were too good to leave - we need teachers like them, and yourself. Teachers who care about the craft, and care about the students. In the end I developed a simple theoretical framework through which to view the phenomenon.

    Teaching (and I expect a lot of the 'human' professions)  has two key components that I named the 'pneuma' and the 'pragma'. Pneuma is the spirit, and pragma is the substance. So pneuma is your teacher identity and all the things that brought you into the profession - the desire to do good, have a positive impact, and your deep-seated beliefs about the learning process.  Pragma is the 'stuff' you have to do in the profession - the planning, the teaching, the assessing, the admin.
    When the 'stuff' starts to compromise your spirit, it is incredibly deflating, dispiriting. It hits right down to your identity, your soul. It makes you feel the way you describe feeling.

    So the question is then how can you reasonably bring the two - the 'pneuma' (spirit) and the 'pragma' (substance) - back into alignment. I think the spirit is immoveable. It is core to identity. So it is the stuff that has to shift.

    What can you stop doing? Which of the practices that are conflicting you can you stop doing? Either by explaining your position on them to the hierarchy, or just not doing them. My experience is that leadership is often surprisingly easily swayed by an evidenced argument. They often made their decisions under tight circumstances with minimal time and resources to seek expert input, and if someone has another option that reaches the same end but with a better journey then they'll respond positively.
    Or failing that, which of the practices can you simply stop doing. You are planning to leave in a year anyway - what is the worst that can happen if you stop doing them.

    And which of the practices that are conflicting you can you tweak to better match your 'pneuma' (spirit). What would the assessment need to look like to better reflect your beliefs - and can you make the tweaks to achieve that? What would collegiality look like to better nourish your spirit - and what could you do to encourage that in one colleague?

    And finally what is the teaching stuff (pragma) that you do which truly does fulfil your pneuma' (spirit)? Identify it, and make sure you keep doing it. Keep finding time for it in your timetable, so that everyday you have nourished your spirit with teaching practice that matters to you.

    Long response I know - but your message really resounded with me. And judging by the number of responses you received it has resounded with many. You really should put in a proposal to TESOL 2019 :) It would seem to be a hot topic!

    All the best
    Misty Adoniou


    ------------------------------

    Misty Adoniou
    Associate Professor, Faculty of Education University of Canberra
    Honorary Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education University of Melbourne
    Australia
    ------------------------------



  • 30.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 9 days ago
    Misty,

    Nail.

    On.

    Head.

    The conflict between "pneuma" and "pragma" is exactly what I'm feeling. For me, it's not so much disillusionment as I've been disillusioned for some time as a result of teaching in China (and truth be told, that disillusionment simply pushes me to try even harder to make things better, hence the association with "burnout" - I'm running out of steam to keep fighting).

    You asked:


    What can you stop doing? Which of the practices that are conflicting you can you stop doing?
    Misty Adoniou,  08-06-2018 18:08
    This is part of the problem. At this particularly University, we are expected to not only do our work within the scope of our teaching, but we're expected to do external projects as well (including affiliating with a college, English-Across-the-Curriculum projects, and Departmental Groups to name a few) which count towards our service. Our service is 30% of our "performance grade" (the other 70% is based on Course and Teacher Evaluations), which we're required to do. Administration isn't going to let us opt out (although I was recently voted onto the Executive Committee, so I've got this covered - and I wanted to be on ExCo so I can hopefully make changes more in-line with generally positive teacher "pneuma").

    While your research may show a pragmatic and practical Admin, ours is anything but. We had a meeting a few months ago and the Director wanted to make changes to our 2nd and 3rd year courses and refused to address the issues in the 1st year foundational courses; I was quite vocal about our need to deal with this to the point that by the end of the meeting she was making passive-aggressive shots at me. Another teacher pointed out we should be doing a proper needs analysis assessment and the Director didn't even seem to understand what she meant. Couple this with a reluctance to change (and this is endemic in Chinese Higher Education) at the University level and our Department Head fearing positive change to the point that there is no transparency at all in our Department, you've got a generally bad environment. This is one of the issues that is in line with research I've done in the past - no transparency in Departmental proceedings, zero autonomy among teachers and feelings of powerlessness tend to result in higher attrition rates.

    One of the biggest concerns I have here though is that people in the thread keep speaking about stepping back, of not doing certain things, of taking more me-time, and that conflicts with my "pneuma" as well - I've got the summer to try to re-energize, but once classes start, I'm going to do whatever I can to help students (and I already tend to provide more office hours to students than other teachers and make allowances to be on campus if students spontaneously show up in at my office) in the face of a frustrating situation (read: poorly designed courses that don't take student needs into account).

    I'd love to teach what I want to teach, but I'm expected to teach to the exams/assessments (both by the Admin and by the students). The tragedy is that when the end of the term rolls around, I get crucified on the Course and Teacher Evaluations for programs I didn't even develop and have been told I need to rigorously stick to, and while I put absolutely zero stock in these evaluations (which are another story), they account for 70% of teacher evaluations, and I get browbeat by the Director because my scores are so low (to the point she threatened to terminate my contract after one of four terms because my scores didn't meet her expectations - talk about a hostile working environment).

    I would love to see the research paper you wrote if you'd be willing to share Misty - it sounds fascinating. If I do make a proposal for TESOL 2019 on this, I'd like to reference your research if possible.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 31.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 8 days ago
      |   view attached
    Hi Robin
    I describe the pneuma/pragma framework in my PhD thesis. The link to that is here
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275659109_PhD_Thesis_-_Being_a_literacy_teacher_The_first_year

    You don't have to plough all the way through it - just skip to Chapter 5 :)

    I have published a few articles from the research. I think the one that will resound most with you will be one I did recently for the Cambridge Journal of Education called Do new educators have a right to speak their mind? It is about new educators, but you will recognise their struggles - trying to good work in challenging circumstances. I have attached it. I tackle the politics of teaching, both the micro politics of the work place and the macro politics of an increasingly economy driven teaching world.

    If you do put a 2019 proposal together I am very happy to co present with you. You might propose a panel where both the challenges and proposed solutions are shared. Someone else might join to talk about the same challenges they face in a US based context. There is a commonality across contexts. I think my framework of pneuma/pragma can help people more clearly articulate what the issue is for them.  I've even had politicians and humans rights lawyers tell me that it has been helpful to them in clarifying what it is that is troubling them in their work.

    But I think it is you who actually has many practical solutions to share with people You are proactive about trying to shift the pragma to match your pneuma - your inclusion on the Exec committee is such a powerful example to others. And you are proactive about maintaining your pneuma - I often see you contribute to the MyTESOL website, which is a simple but useful way to connect with people who are in your 'pneumatic tribe' :)

    keep on keeping on :)
    Misty

    ------------------------------
    Misty Adoniou
    Watson
    Australia
    ------------------------------

    Attachment(s)

    pdf
    published version.pdf   144K 1 version


  • 32.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 7 days ago
      |   view attached
    Hi Misty,

    Thanks for the link and attachment. What might be of interest to you is a paper I co-authored with a fellow teacher while I was in Beijing about perceptions of EFL teachers in China (though it could apply throughout Asia as well), which talks a lot about attrition rates in ELT, particularly EFL teaching.

    I read the paper you attached and I can completely understand the issues faced by the teachers you interviewed (even if it doesn't apply directly to me - I'm not exactly circumspect with my opinions), but it would be interesting to take that research and apply it to an EFL context, where foreign teachers are often excluded from decision-making meetings entirely and given next to no support or guidance for programs or courses. Our research subjects in the paper I attached had pointed to the lack of a cohesive program direction or management as serious issues, but most of our research subjects were experienced teachers in China and/or prior to coming to China; it would be interesting looking at newer teachers and how they feel without a support system at all in place. It is also common experience that in China, foreign instructors are treated more as "guests" than qualified teachers, and recommendations are dismissed for any number of reasons, usually as a failure to understand the "cultural needs" of students (truth be told, problems are problems, and in most cases the fixes would require the teachers to do more work, and the teachers do not want to reveal or admit their own weaknesses or lack of training); for some of the foreign teachers in contention, opinions and recommendations are dismissed as "neo-colonialism" at best or "racist" at worst (and these are usually the foreign teachers who don't really give a damn about their students and are just there to collect a paycheque).

    Of course, in our Department, the bigger problem is that even the Senior Lecturers are despondent about any change coming about because the Director simply dismisses any ideas that don't support her position, and the lack of transparency keeps us from knowing what is going on, particularly where it pertains to staff support of ideas (there will be no revolution because we don't know where anyone else stands unless they have openly declared it, and few people do for fear of reprisals).

    I'm hoping to make some changes through the ExCo, but I have to see how it works first - the other members are pretty excited that I'm on it, as are some of my colleagues, so now is the chance to take on the issues that I see that are eating away at morale in our Department. The nice thing is that the Director has no power over me since I don't plan to renew my contract, so I can call her out as necessary.

    Anyway, I'll take a look at Chapter 5 later tonight, but the article was a very interesting read (particularly in that teachers were able to maintain their own vision of what kind of teacher they want to be even if the environment isn't conducive to it - nice to know that teacher identity has a sort of reactance to it).

    Cheers,
    Rob

    PS: Maybe a panel would be a good idea - does anyone know who I would talk to about setting up a panel discussion for TESOL 2019?

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------

    Attachment(s)



  • 33.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 7 days ago
    Robin,
    Thank you so much for sharing all this. I had a link you sent (I think) to a post you had written about teaching in China. Can you repost that? I would love to share it with my students - it was about the realities of teaching in China.
    Thank you and good luck!
    Robin

    ------------------------------
    Robin Crowell
    St. Lawrence University
    ------------------------------



  • 34.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 6 days ago
    Hi Robin,

    You can find the post here:

    For Those Thinking About Teaching in China

    I should probably review and update it.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    PS: If your students have any questions, they can feel free to contact me directly as well. :)

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------



  • 35.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 5 days ago
    Thank you so much! I appreciate. My students come in starry eyed thinking "I am a native English speaker so I can teach English" and I work to give them realistic picture. I appreciate your honest thoughts in writing.
    I was in China last summer working with teachers on learner centered education - Jiannning...Fujian Prov. Conversation for another time, but I do appreciate your thoughts and posts on your teaching in China.
    Best wishes,
    Robin

    ------------------------------
    Robin Crowell
    St. Lawrence University
    ------------------------------



  • 36.  RE: Burn Out

    Posted 5 days ago
    Hey Robin,

    Would love to hear what your experience was like, particularly as flipped classroom approaches generally conflict with teacher/student expectations (and classroom designs).

    Cheers,
    Rob

    ------------------------------
    Mr. Robin Dahling
    Lecturer, English Language Teaching Unit
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
    Sha Tin, New Territories
    Hong Kong
    Phone: (852) 3943 5941
    Email: Robin.Dahling@cuhk.edu.hk
    ------------------------------