Self-care & life balance as TESOLers: An interview with Liz England

I met Liz England a few years ago at a TESOL Convention.  Liz combines warmth and wisdom gained from an impressive career in the United States and has worked in five continents.  Liz is the author of TESOL Career Path Development - Creating Professional Success - a book I highly recommend.  I wanted to learn more about one of the chapters on Life Balance and find out how it relates to teacher self-care.  Have a read of my interview with Liz below:

1. Liz – first of all, congratulations on your book TESOL Career Path Development – Creating Professional Success. I have read your book and consider it the perfect navigation tool or GPS for all TESOLers at any stage of our career.

Thanks, Patrice, for the opportunity to share some ideas on TESOL career path development!  Your work in teacher self-care is a natural connection for this topic.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  As we all shelter in place now, we have a chance to be together today and talk about something that’s on all of our minds, which is the paths we are taking now and for the future with our professional lives. 

2. You wrote a whole chapter on Life Balance and describe it as one of the stages of career path development. Why did you feel that a whole chapter was needed to discuss life balance?

Life balance is a major part of TESOL career path development.  I came to write this book and how and why the data from which I worked guided me into learning more about the essential nature of a “whole person” approach to TESOL career path development – body, mind and soul.  I see life balance as a piece in a multi-dimensional approach to studying TESOL career path development. 

Life balance connects with teacher education, teacher motivation, organizations (places of employment and professional associations and communities), and leadership.  I think this more comprehensive approach can help teachers and researchers to look more deeply at career path development.  We all retool and reignite TESOL professional efforts throughout our careers.  This expanded view can provide us with a better idea about what teachers’ career paths look like - how we progress from stage to stage throughout our careers.  Life balance is how and to what extent teachers attend to their bodies, minds and souls.  How do we stay balanced?  Self-care, for sure, is a big part of life balance. 

3. I have been in the profession for more than 20 years and I can’t recall ever having a discussion about life balance with school leaders or colleagues. Why don’t we talk about it?

In my research for this book, I learned that other professions, male-dominated professions such as medicine, law and engineering, have specific organizational structures designed to address the life balance issues of their members – and only the life balance issues of their members.  The familiar examples are golf outings, the relaxing cocktail hours and the “men’s clubs” of the past – where professional men relax, are literally cared for and encouraged to engage in relaxation – so that they will do a better job. 

4. How do you connect life balance with self-care?

Teachers, especially now in the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, rarely have a chance to relax. “Doing their jobs” rarely if ever includes attention to physical exercise and other body health and rarely to engage in activities to strengthen their spirits (soul).  We teachers are not only encouraged to ignore our own needs; we are encouraged to deny them.  The toll that takes on teachers is extreme and negative.  And in the current instructional environment where we are all teaching online, the situation for teachers is even worse than under normal conditions.  How do teachers balance their work lives and their personal lives?  And how and to what extent does attention to body, mind and soul impact instructional effectiveness and teachers’ performance?  I think these are interesting, and until now, as you said, unanswered questions. 

When other factors are in place and our lives are somewhat balanced, we’re satisfied at work.  But teachers who are burnt out or are out of balance for a long time, the choices appear to be disruptive – they either leave the profession or they begin a downward spiral that is best described as “victim behavior.”  They become depressed, angry and physically ill.  Victims are people who are injured, killed, tricked or duped as a result of a crime, accident or other action.  I believe that teachers should be encouraged not to be victimized, to advocate on their own behalf and to work in an environment where they are supported as whole people.  Self-care is a big part of that process.  My book offers a collection of research-based approaches and strategies for teachers at all (five) stages of their careers to use in order to develop a whole-person life balance that works for them and ultimately works for improving their professional performance as well. 

5. I like your reference in the book to teachers who practice self-care as good role models for their students. Can you talk a bit more about this?

I have always believed – and this was borne out in the data we collected – that “good teachers have good students and happy teachers have happy students.  And happy teachers are balanced just as happy students are also balanced.”   The delicate and fascinating intersection between a teacher’s and a student’s well-being is indisputable.  How that relationship occurs – how it evolves, grows and changes – these are fascinating questions for us to consider.   Literature is filled with the stories of relationships between teachers and students.  More is needed in science that addresses this interesting and sometimes life-altering relationship. 

6. In your book you write “Finding tools to balance our lives, throughout our career paths in TESOL and the connection between life balance and career path development in TESOL is part of what we do as professionals”. Can you give some specific examples of these tools? 

In Chapter 7 Life Balance, I've included a table that outlines the various stages of TESOL career path and activities for Body, Mind and Soul. Some of the activities I suggest are things like healthy eating, trying something new like learning a language and finding meaning in one's work.

7. Where can readers get a copy of your book?

It's available through Routledge Press. 

https://www.routledge.com/TESOL-Career-Path-Development-Creating-Professional-Success/England/p/book/9781138312067

8. What career path advice would you give to TESOLers right now who might not be working because schools are closed or they have shifted to online delivery?

Get a certificate in online teaching (online distance teaching and learning are not going away; your investment in a program now is a good gamble!).  Find some like-minded colleagues in your geographical region.  Join or if already a member, get in touch with TESOL International Association or your local and/or regional TESOL affiliate; join IATEFL or NAFSA or any professional association of teachers.  Don’t try to do this alone.  Your network is one of your most powerful tools to get through this crisis.  And you will get through this crisis. 

9. Any final words?

The days ahead will be new beginnings and for some harsh wake-up calls.  In either case, we are all in this together.  Let’s make the absolute best of it we possibly can!  Get yourself to a yoga class, read a book, dance in your living room, join a social media conversation on Zoom!  And please do feel free to write to me at [email protected] You’re in good company!  I look forward to continuing the conversation! 

Liz - I appreciate your time and especially for sharing wisdom from your impressive TESOL career!  

 

Bio

Patrice Palmer has more than 23 years’ experience as an ESL teacher, trainer, and writer in Canada and spent seven amazing years in Hong Kong. Her experience with professional burn-out in 2015 prompted her to reflect on her lack of self-care and adopt positive psychology interventions which she now shares with other educators and administrators. Patrice’s book Teacher Self-Care Manual: Simple Strategies for Stressed Teachers by Alphabet Publishing is available at https://amzn.to/2rXcuA4

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