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Burnout almost cost me my job, but I beat it.

by Matthew Burgos

from Lechon Kirb

I’m a bilingual English tutor. On the days I don’t scribble ideas on paper for my next article, I teach the language I had to learn. Since the pandemic has shut down a variety of establishments, private schools don’t enjoy an exclusive pass to operate. The work has landed at my apartment where I set up my laptop on my dining table, making sure that my red-and-white background is professional enough for my students while preparing myself for the three-, four-, or five-hour straight, all-time-sitting online English classes.

Even though I have been doing this for a year and a half, some days feel different.

A student raises his hand on the virtual room we are in. Five pairs of eyes, including mine, look at his online reaction. I ask if he has any questions. He certainly does and I give him a sound explanation to his query. I click on “Next Slide” and his virtual hand swings up on the screen again. A new layer of question catapults to my headphones. It is similar to the one he’s asked before, but a wave of new students with questions comes crashing in. I sigh into my microphone and let my shoulders drop in front of my students.

15 minutes into my four-hour schedule and I’m more than ready to turn off my laptop.

from Adrian Swancar

What I feel is not a one-time incident, but sprouts on various occasions. As much as I want to munch it down to uphold the professionalism I’m required to exude, it still slips into my voice and projection, collapsing the role I’ve been trying to play. I can’t identify the exhaustion I feel, but the stress-related studies direct my path to what they coin as “burnout.”

Burnout is a chronic stress that sits heavy in the heart and on shoulders, pushing deeper until the legs bend and crepitate. It’s the sensation that drugs the emotions until they no longer pulse. It’s the consistent rollercoaster attempt of achieving a goal, but the feet keep tripping and the body lands on earth, face first. It’s the persistent burn that locks the wrists on a chain to refrain further accomplishments.

"15 minutes into my four-hour schedule and I’m more than ready to turn off my laptop."

I rifle through the list of signs that I might be experiencing from the work-related stress that causes my performance fatigue. So far, I’ve ticked off five symptoms out of ten. While reading the descriptions, I ask myself “where did I find myself in such situations?”

Last time, I didn’t want to continue my four-hour schedule after 15 minutes. I couldn’t think properly, I didn’t want to click “Next Slide” any longer, I didn’t want to answer any questions, and I didn’t want to see any of my students. I wanted to unplug my charger, my mouse, and my headphones, and walk to the kitchen to drink a glass of warm water before lying on the bed, wide awake. First situation, check.

[Read: Boredom in quarantine is okay. Here's why.]

There were days where I didn’t want to turn on my laptop. I wanted to send a message to my director and tell her to give my teachings hours to others who might need it. “For what?” would be her question and I didn’t know how to answer her so I stopped myself from sending her a message in the first place. Second, check.

from Doğukan Şahin

During the English lessons, I would zone out or I would deliberately put my students into two different rooms so I could stay in the main room alone for five minutes, with my microphone and camera off, and just rake my palm from my forehead to my eyes. Then, to sigh before taking a sip from the glass of warm water I had placed beside my laptop. Third, check.

Once, my director checked in on me and I said I was fine. She gave me tips on how I could better my time management and my way of teaching delivery since a few one- and two-star teacher ratings dashed in her dashboard. I nodded and exclaimed “no!” in a disheartened way, but it might have fallen short and come across as monotonous. Either way, I dropped the call and resumed reading the short story I was skimming through instead of preparing for my lesson that was about to start. Fourth, check.

"Before I start my lessons, I ask myself: 'is this what I want?'"

Before I start my lessons, I ask myself: “is this what I want?” Why did I even apply for this when what I wanted was, and still is, to write? Then, I remember that I wanted to prove to myself I could teach well as a bilingual. Maybe I’ve already achieved the results, but the security and practicality the job provides straps me to it. Once, I would go to work driven by excitement. Now, I go to work since it’s on my schedule. Fifth, check.

I loathe that I feel privileged. I imagine millions of people who would trade places to sign the contract that I have. I check if I’m even allowed to let these thoughts out. I strongly dislike people who feel entitled, but I’ve forgotten that I’m slowly, if not already, turning into one of them.

To refrain from spiraling out, my determined will has stepped in to beat the burnout.

from Andre Hunter

I have come up with a checklist to answer my recurring question of “why do I do this?” I’m surprised myself to find out the reasons why I do and why I’m still here, but one stands out. It has been my philosophy to help in any way I can and, if this is what it’ll take, at any cost. As a bilingual, I’ve had a fair share of encounters where native English speakers found my use of their language quite amusing in a belittling way. I remind myself I don’t want those to happen to any of my students. I’m here to help them improve their accuracy and fluency in the language. I mull over this thought and the rest of crucial reasons follow through. The next question then is how will I be able to sustain this?

I prioritize myself first. If I feel that I won’t function well on a certain day due to the blow of the stress, I drop in with my director to ask her if she can give me some free time. I’m beyond grateful to have a director who understands. She frees up some of my days so I can take a breather. On the days that I’m back, I feel more than alive, excited, and ready to tackle my lessons.

[Read: I failed my exams three times. Here's how I passed.]

Then, I check my stress triggers and deviate myself from them. There are some students who take a toll on my mental well-being and I address this issue with my director. We come up with a plan to teach these students in an alternate timetable, refraining from having continuous lessons with them. The act curbs my stress and there’s a spike of energy in my performance.

If I feel the burden of the day, I open myself up. I run my thoughts to my closest confidants, allowing each strip of stress cascade from my lips. At the end of my speech, the silence that follows, or the simple hum of acknowledgement, conjures a sense of solemnity in my spirit. I feel lighter. I feel thankful.

"I prioritize myself first."

I keep this list in my pocket and pull it out when I need it. Flickers of improvements graze my performance and mood, and I’m on board to watch them completely unfold. Instead of keeping in mind that “I no longer want to do this,” I always plaster in my thoughts “I want to help my students become better for themselves.” It might still take some time before I get myself back on track on some days, but I treasure the consistency that I imbue, revving up my engine to continue.

I gulp the glass of warm water, replenishing my dry throat under the Spring’s sun. I look over my phone: 4:55pm. I still have five more minutes. I sit down and navigate my way to the school’s system to open the lesson slides. I check the grammar and vocabulary to teach, then open a separate notepad to point out the essential information. 4:57pm. I still have three more minutes. I look at the names of the students, most of them I’m already familiar with, and instantly know who might ask questions. 4:59pm. I log into the platform and enter the class. The students are in the waiting room. I check my microphone and camera. 5:00pm. I let everyone in and once their camera loads up their faces, I smile.

#burnout #stress #self-care

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