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Helping teachers stay positive

Wayne Trotman reviews a timely book that focuses on helping teachers maintain a healthy work-life balance

Teacher Wellbeing

Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen

Oxford University Press, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-440563-8

In my long involvement in the ELT profession (coming up to forty years, since you ask), I don’t think I have reviewed a more-timely title for language teachers anywhere. Being asked in response to the recent pandemic to assume an alien identity, that of a remote tutor, clearly shocked many colleagues of mine. For all those still recovering, and perhaps starting anew at the chalk face, you’ll be pleased to learn that the focus in Teacher Wellbeing is on helping to restore and maintain a healthy work-life balance. And much, much more!

The book is organised into eight chapters, each interspersed with inspirational quotes aimed at capturing the essence of points made. Here’s just one: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ (page 26). Many of these are worth posting on the inside of your locker or on the noticeboard in the staffroom. There are also many activities that may be done either alone or in groups led by a member of your professional development unit. At the end of each chapter, following questions for reflection, the authors list three recommended texts for further relevant reading, most of which are unsurprisingly psychology related.

The authors point out in Chapter Two how ‘effective workplace institutions appreciate the benefits for their organisation, their students, and their staff of attending explicitly to teacher wellbeing’ (page 12), and explain what institutions can do to support teachers in order to enhance job satisfaction and thus reduce the risk of burnout. Chapter Three looks at habits of thinking and how to avoid toxic, counterproductive thoughts. It discusses the many identities and roles the language teacher adopts, along with how some may be conflicting or complementary.

What motivates the language teacher to stand before often boisterous classes of learners year-after-year is the issue in Chapter Four. Explained here is how to maintain motivation and cope with the inevitable dips in enthusiasm for our profession. This may be achieved by reflecting on personal strengths, and finding what the authors explain as ‘flow’ – getting involved in challenging but satisfying job-related task.

The focus in Chapter Five is the importance of teacher social relationships, with an emphasis on building rapport with our learners. The inspirational quote here is one many of us often forget: ‘Be interested instead of interesting’ (page 75). Two particularly useful activities appear in this chapter, one on appropriate use of email, the other on detecting and dealing with bullying – from both staff and students.

‘Me and My Emotions’ is the title of Chapter Six, and positivity is once again the key word, including activity 6.1 on neutralising the negative and developing strategies for tackling negative patterns via cognitive disputation. Also covered here are how to lighten the load of suppressed emotional labour that teachers tend to carry around, plus how to manage perhaps that most evil of gremlins – language teacher anxiety, usually more prevalent in those fairly new to the profession.

The final two chapters look at the concept of stress and how to manage one’s time, and thus avoid procrastination; and how, by engaging in regular professional development, to sustain a sense of balance in order to manage wellbeing in the long term.

To put the reader at ease, the splendid glossary at the back of the book explains all terms in italics above. I would strongly recommend all ELT institutions who genuinely care about their staff invest in this jewel of a book.

Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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