February Blues – Advice On How To Kick It

I’m not sure if the February blues are really a thing, but I definitely feel a bit down at this time of year. After all the excitement of Christmas and the holidays, I find it difficult to get back into the, sometimes monotonous, rhythm of life at school.

So I have made a list of things that get me down and things I have found to be helpful!

Students Not Improving

Because I almost exclusively teach adults, I often have students that have other commitments besides their English. They are weighed down by other studies and exams that all come to the fore at this time of the year. University exams often take place in January and, as a result, English homework and classes take a back seat for a month. Now, getting English to a sufficient level for passing an exam is difficult in a nine month course. But when one month of that or even more is taken up with other things, it becomes almost impossible.

When they come back and begin to work again in February or perhaps even later, I usually see a drop in their level, and their ability to communicate. This is frustrating for students and for me, as it means more work and more time spent on getting the wheels moving again! Here are some things I recommend for keeping students motivated and perhaps even more importantly, taking the weight from your shoulders a little bit.

  • Mock Exams

Every year, we offer two rounds of practice examinations for the students aiming to do their exam in June / July. Even for classes that have no intention of preparing a formal exam can find it useful to check their level and see how they’re progressing.

One exam is around November time, for them to see how much work is required, a little or a lot, between then and the summer. Another takes place around now in February / March, principally for them and us to gauge how much they have improved during those 3 or 4 months.

In order to prepare for the second round we spend some time in class, and ask them to work at home, revising the material from the course. Most textbooks and workbooks will have some kind of revision element in them, and rather than use them at the end of course which is often popular, it can be useful to crack them out now so that students have a guide and a helping hand for what to focus on.

  • Ask For Help

There’s no need to carry the weight of all of those students on your own. Asking for help from your coordinator, manager, or fellow teachers will allow you to share the worry with people who understand and can offer solutions. They might have had similar problems in the past with particular cases, or be able to give you ideas for motivating students.

  • Notice The Little Things

If you have a class that doesn’t seem to be improving, it can be so depressing, especially knowing that they have to pass an exam soon! Focusing on the big picture all the time is very overwhelming. So take optimism from the little steps they take each class. Perhaps some grammar or vocabulary that was difficult for them to grasp and can now use to form a sentence, or a mistake that used to pervade their written work that now you don’t see anymore. Anytime you notice these things, remember to feel proud of yourself for helping them with it and succeeding, and don’t forget to tell them about it. Giving praise will motivate them, and help you to see the little victories!

  • Keep Records

The average full time teacher might have anywhere between 50 and 100 students! Which is a scary thought! Keeping track of all of them is nearly impossible if you don’t have some kind of system! So make notes, chart your classes and put together some kind of improvement scale. If they do practice exams, record the marks, the same for written work, standard of homework, and anything you feel is relevant. Even if you think that they aren’t improving, the results will usually prove you wrong when compared with your data from a few months before!

Unhelpful Co-workers

Unfortunately, we’ve all been there. Having someone at work who doesn’t work as a team, is obstinate or difficult to manage, or even just if they annoy the hell out of you, creates a very bad and unproductive working environment. Sometimes you’re lucky and this person will be someone you don’t have to spend much time around, other times you won’t. Here’s my tips.

  • Don’t rise to it

I currently have a teacher that really grinds my gears, he doesn’t prepare his classes well, seem more interested in a few beers than teaching English, and is constantly seeking attention. I find this infuriating at times, because I work closely with him quite a lot.

Ultimately, it’s not your job to try to fix their attitude, and sulking about it won’t help, I wish! So anytime that colleagues like this get on your nerves, my advice is to ignore it. Interact only when necessary, and do so politely and professionally. Eventually, you won’t notice anymore, and if they really are bad, they probably won’t last long, take comfort from that.

  • Speak To a Supervisor

If you’re really unhappy with somebody you work with, don’t keep it to yourself. Often, it’s enough to make you stop wanting to come to work. There should always be someone up the chain you can speak to, even if the difficult colleague is further up the pecking order than you are. Let them know how it’s affecting you and how it’s hindering the students’ learning. Anybody with some common sense will try to sort it out for the benefit of the teachers, and the students too.

  • Try To Help

Sometimes, people are difficult to work with simply because they feel uncomfortable. I’ve seen it many times.  While it may be difficult to swallow your feelings about them, offering a helping hand can often be wonderful for morale. They might be overwhelmed by their own classes, or unsure how to deal with something. If you’ve been in the same situation, you may be able to help out and put all that animosity behind you.

General Blues

Everybody gets down in the dumps, sometimes for nothing in particular. If none of the above things are relevant for you, and you just feel down, you’re not alone!

Due to the nature of teaching English and where it takes us, our job often means we are away from family, or we work long and unsociable hours, which isn’t conducive to happy teachers at all.

  • Take Time For Yourself

Try not to feel burdened by lots of commitments on your time that can be avoided. Work is one thing, but feeling the need to be sociable as well all the time can be exhausting!

Sometimes I like to go home after work, run a hot bath and paint my nails! Calling my mum always makes me feel better after a hard day, and having a nice circle of friends who understand when you need ‘me’ time is worth its weight in gold!

  • Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

A few months ago I had a job offer that fell through. Rather than a different job entirely, it was something to complement my teaching and a chance to earn some extra spondoolicks! While I was a little gutted not to have been successful, you have to learn to get excited about what you already have. There will always been other opportunities in the future. While I’m waiting for that, I try to apply the philosophy to other areas. When students don’t progress the way I want them to, or a teacher gets on my nerves, or anything else, I try to be grateful for what I do have, and optimistic about the things that aren’t going my way!

  • Set Little Targets

Things like getting a class to use one conditional correctly! Or even just you getting to the end of the week without slapping anybody, teacher or student! Celebrate the little victories, it will make the big ones more satisfying when they come.


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