I feel overwhelmed with my workload

Help, tips and advice in teaching English

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I feel overwhelmed with my workload

Unread postby hwethorel » 17 Feb 2011, 14:51

Hi Lucy,

Sorry about the nature of this question, as it may seem not specifically about TEFL in places, but I hope it is relevant enough to belong on this forum. The thing is, I've just had to leave a TEFL job of only 2 weeks due to a feeling of being overwhelmed. It is not my first TEFL job, but the most hours I have taught a week in the past is about 15, whereas this job was for 30 hours per week!

I am a UK citizen myself, and this job was one of those where you are teaching immigrants who have arrived in the UK and by law have to attend a minimum number of hours of English lessons per week. The upshot of this is that, inevitably, a certain percentage of the students would rather not be there at all and would much prefer to be in bed. Having said that, some of the students were as good as gold and genuinely wanted to learn.

So now I come to what I think is perhaps the root of the problem for me. I have been teaching now for over 2 years (off and on) and have gained various types of experience - albeit none of my placements has as yet been over about 3 months long. I consider that my knowledge of the subject and teaching skills have been improving all the time, and sometimes I come out of a lesson feeling like I have really succeeded in all of my goals. But the problem I have is that I am not, and never have been, the most assertive of people (there is actually a little bit more to it than this, and I will touch on this in a second). You can imagine that in this latest job, where there were students who almost resented being there, it was imperetive to keep fairly tight control of discipline levels, and in particular trying to keep language-1 interference down to a low level was a nightmare at times.

This is the second college of this type that I have worked in, but the first time it was only part time. I am beginning to learn just how much responsibility a teacher is expected to have. For example, on one side I had the head of the English department telling me exactly which Units (and how much) needed to be taught each week; in addition, there was homework every night and a progress test for each of my two groups every week. At the same time, I had (the guy who I think was) the Director of Studies, telling me how important it was to keep lessons interesting and exciting so that student attendence levels did not drop below 80% for any student. And finally, there was the girl at the college whose job title was Attendence Monitor, who, on the one morning when none of my students for one group had turned up about half an hour into the lesson, handed ME the phone numbers of all the students and asked if I could ring them all and warn them! I mean, she is supposed to be the Attendence Monitor for goodness sake!

But the worst problem of all, I feel, is that I had one group for 6 hours Mon and Tues, and 3 on Weds; and then the second group for 3 hours Weds and 6 hours Thurs and Fri. This had been changed on the last minute (without my knowledge) from having both groups every day for just 3 hours each. With hindsight, I feel that if I'd just had each group for 3 hours each day, I could have done my lesson planning in manageable chunks of three hours a time, and recycled this for both of the groups each day. As it worked out, I was faced with the daunting task on a Sunday of preparing 6 hours worth of lessons for a group of students who would inevitably be flagging in the afternoon, nomatter how well behaved they were.

The last thing I need to mention is the thing that complicates everything - and I apologise for its being a little off topic of TEFL and being more of a medical nature. The thing is, I have a mental illness; I wont go into detail except as to say that many of the symptoms can resemble Social Phobia at times. People might think I am crazy to go into teaching at all; but for me, I think it is a way of facing my fears, and I have always hoped that work such as this might be therapeutic for me. After what has just happened on my recent placement, I am feeling a bit of a failure, and sometimes I ask myself if I gave up to easily; but I think there was a certain amount of stress was building up inside me, and I was bottling it up.

The thing is - despite everything I have said above - I still want to teach in the future. When I told my father this, he simply said, 'You must be crazy!' But I don't think he really understands how much time and effort I have already put into the task, and also that I do get a certain feeling of satisfaction when lessons go well and I feel students have gone away having learnt something useful. I suppose the question I am trying to ask you is, 'Do YOU think I would be crazy to still consider teaching in the future?' I know that you don't know much about my personal circumstances; but I was hoping that maybe you could tell me whether the last job I have just had seems a little at the top end of the scale regarding workload, responsibility (I think I remember them telling me on my TEFL course that about 25 hours teaching a week was a realistic maximum). Maybe I just took on too much too soon, since this was my first proper full-time teaching job.

I still worry about the discipline side of things. I have always been as nice as pie to all my students, so those that want to be disruptive can take advantage of this and walk all over me. Towards the end of this placement, I was starting to shout at some of the students, but by this stage I had failed to gain their respect so it was probably too late. Plus, I don't like to feel an angry side to me coming out; but I didn't know how else to handle it.

Sorry for such a long-winded question. Any advice at all would be most gratefully received.

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Re: I feel overwhelmed with my workload

Unread postby Lucy » 19 Feb 2011, 19:09

This certainly is a heavy workload. 30 teaching hours a week is a heavy schedule. On top of 30 hours of teaching, you need to add preparation time and homework checking which means that you are working over 40 hours a week if you are doing your job properly. The situation you describe seems extreme; you had a very difficult work schedule and the timetable was not designed with teachers’ and students’ best interests at heart. I know that no work or teaching situation is ideal but the one you describe seems particularly harsh and a lot was expected of you. You shouldn’t beat yourself up too much over this. You seem to have knowledge of what is required in a teaching and learning situation. I think that even the most experienced teacher would have had problems in the context you describe here.

You say that you are not the most assertive of people. Teaching certainly can be a stressful job. You mention that you saw teaching as therapeutic; some teaching situations could aggravate a lack of assertiveness rather than help it. If you decide that teaching is for you; and you certainly seem knowledgeable, private lessons or small groups may be the way to go for a while. Also gather information about working conditions and think carefully when you take on your next job.

All the best,


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