Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Today’s guest blogger is Anita Kwiatkowska, a Polish teacher of English working in Istanbul. I like her blog because she makes interesting cross-cultural connections, and, like her compatriot Agata Zgarda who lives in Brazil, Anita is very good at describing the culture-bumps that lie in wait when you live and work in a different country.

Anita Kwiatkowska

I’m a teacher of English, coming from a small village called Tuchom in the north of Poland.  A true Sagittarian – optimistic, freedom loving and straightforward. Face painter, traveler and Pedro Almodóvar fan. Currently teaching Young Learners in Istanbul and blogging about anything that comes to my mind.

My Burnout Experience

People who have met me since I settled in Turkey open their eyes in disbelief when I confess to having suffered from a burnout syndrome a few years ago. Having just turned 28, being a beginner blogger and occasionally a speaker at TEFL conferences, even I find it sometimes hard to believe. Yet life is plenty of surprises and back in 2006, I wouldn’t have dreamt of reaching the point I managed now.

The truth is I never really wanted to become an English teacher. As a seven year old, I saw myself as a future explorer, a female version of Indiana Jones, solving mysteries and having loads of adventures. Later at school, I dreamt of teaching Geography and was really into studying that at university. Eventually I chose English Philology, largely because my mom convinced me that focusing on this area of study will give me all – a secure job, money and the possibility to travel. Needless to say, she was right.

In order to gain experience and a few zloty in my pocket, I jumped into teaching at a second year of university. When my friends were partying, I was giving private lessons traveling around the Tri-City in Poland to the homes of my students. In 2005, during my final year, I was working part time in a primary and a middle school and taught a few groups in two different language schools in Wejherowo and Sopot in Poland.

After graduation, I reduced the number of schools I worked for to three and slowly started becoming a workaholic – one that forgets about his/her friends’ birthdays and has no weekends free. That’s when I realized that the burnout got me.

I remember feeling constantly tired. I was always thinking of work and how much I dislike it. Thinking of school made me nauseous. I saw no point in teaching whatsoever. Every day was the same – routine and boredom.

Obviously I wanted a change. I tried teaching different levels, using new course books, changing schools and attending seminars. Nothing worked.

One day, searching for pen pals for my students I came across two teachers from Turkey who were very willing to cooperate. The letters our students exchanged were a ray of sunshine in my miserable existence back then. It wasn’t until my university friend told me about the CELTA that everything started to change for good.

For a whole year, I was saving up for the course which I decided to take in Istanbul. Now, I can honestly say that it was the best spent money in my life. The people, both trainers and colleagues I met during the CELTA, have been the first among my PLN. Emek, for example, is a huge fan of drama and she was the one who dragged me to a seminar by Ken Wilson one day. How much I learnt that evening!

Ken giving a talk in Istanbul

Having decided to work abroad was another great decision. Although the beginning was hard, I have never regretted that choice. Different people, different approaches and ideas about teaching or life are what make me want to wake up every day. I have a feeling of constant learning and realize every day how much I still don’t know. That pushes me forward, makes me search and adds confidence. What I keep learning doing the DELTA or from other bloggers, Twitter and Ning is priceless.

In my case a solution to burnout was changing the country and focusing on professional development, a rather curious combination, I must say. Time has shown though how beneficial it was.

One may think of the motto of my story being ‘pursuing knowledge always pays off’.

I see it differently. ‘If you don’t like something in your life, change it. No one is going to do that for you’ – that is what I keep telling myself every day.

This flag, which is used by the Union of Polish Tatars, looks like a composite of the Polish and Turkish flags. Ken found it online and hopes that he hasn't accidentally offended anyone by posting it at the end of Anita's piece.

Anita blogs at  anita-kwiatkowska.blogspot.com

Comments on: "Guest post 8 – Anita Kwiatkowska on ‘Teacher Burnout’" (7)

  1. Callie Wilkinson said:

    Anita, this is a really inspiring story. Burnout is an easy place to get to, isn’t it. Especially if you are perfectionist, which it sounds as though you are. I think you hit the nail on the head with your closing quote. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Hello Anita,

    Thank you for sharing your solutions to burnout situations!

    Reading your post, I understood why, in my almost 25 years of teaching, I felt this only once, about 4 years ago.
    Ever since I started teaching, it just happened that, every 5 years, I changed the school I taught in, the age range of my students and… the challenge… Obviously, I spent around 4 years in a school before discovering a new challenge and then a year to make the change. About 4 years ago, approaching again my 5-year limit, with no change at the horizon, it struck me! The fatigue, the boredom and even the nausea… it’s amazing how physical this feeling can get!
    I got over it… my solution is: travelling! I travelled to Greece and Turkey that summer, charged my batteries and went on for the next two years and then found a new challenge…

    Congratulations on deciding to stay in the business, I’m sure your pupils are very happy and grateful you did!

    Melania

  3. Callie and Melania!

    I’m glad you liked my story🙂

    Sorry for the late reply but I’ve just come back from work🙂

    Anita

  4. Hi Anita!
    Congratulations on tackling such an issue, which I am sure is interesting for a lot of teachers.
    I can really understand you as last year it happened to me as well (and coincided with my closing down my school in Greece to move to Switzerland) and I felt the way you described.
    I am very happy that you are feeling better now and yes, to agree with Callie above, your last quote is very important. My dad always reminds me of this!
    I wish you all the best in your life and congratulations again on such an interesting post!
    Vicky

  5. Hi Vicky!

    I know it sounds weird but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who has experienced burnout.

    Great to hear from you!

    Anita

  6. Anita, I can imagine how you must have felt. Getting into a routine is comfortable but also dangerous. Life gets easy and predictable up to the point it gets boring. I believe we must go after changes (even the smallest ones) all the time just to keep us going.

  7. What you experienced is something that occured to me and, as you rightly say it in the final quote, CHANGE is the answer to such a situation. “Variety is the spice of life.”
    I am very happy that you are feeling better now🙂

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