Self-Care for ESL/EFL Teachers – 12 Top Tips

Make time this year to relax, refresh and recharge yourself.

The holidays are over and ESL/EFL teachers around the world are preparing themselves for a brand new term – and all the challenges that 2020 will bring. Teaching ESL/EFL to young learners can be mentally and physically exhausting – which is why we, as teachers, need to make self-care a priority this year. Ellie Romero writes:

This year, I’ve decided I’m only making one New Year resolution, and that is to make self-care a priority. I’m planning for it, scheduling it in my diary and making a promise to myself to always make time for it.

I’d like to invite you to do the same – because it’s crucial that we take care of ourselves, and actively support our own mental, emotional and physical well-being.

“Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause.”   Cecilia Tran


It seems crazy to plan and schedule in time for ‘taking care of ourselves’. It should naturally be a priority, but as teachers – between the lesson planning, creating resources, marking, teaching, exam prep, dealing with students / other teachers / parents / admin / the boss, etc – we can easily forget ourselves and our own needs. So whether it’s crazy or not – I think it is important that we plan now, for a happier, healthier 2020.

Here are my 12 top tips for well-being (knowing how badly teachers are paid, I haven’t included exotic holidays or weekend spa trips – although they’d obviously be great too!) The first three are essential… the rest are up to you:

Nourish yourself

Self-care for ESL/EFL teachers should always start with good food, plenty of water and supplements as needed. We often make poor choices when we need an energy boost between classes, but keeping healthy snacks in your bag will help avoid this! Yes, the chocolate and crisps are tempting, but your body will function better – and thank you – for a piece of fruit, health bar or a handful of nuts/seeds. You are what you eat!


I hate ‘formal’ exercise so I walk everywhere I can, take the stairs and swim once a week. However you do it, you need to try to exercise every day – take a walk around your neighbourhood, swim, go to the gym, get out on your bike, garden, go for a run. Alternatively, do an exercise DVD/dance to your favourite tunes at home. Keeping your body moving produces endorphins – which is known to improve sleep and reduce stress.

Get enough sleep

I’ve started making quite an event of bedtime! The crucial difference for me in getting a good night’s sleep is that I stop using my phone / computer / TV an hour before bedtime and I go to bed at the same time every night. These two tiny changes have made a huge difference. Here are some great tips to set your own (better) bedtime routine:

Get out in nature

Getting out into nature has been scientifically proven to help us relax, recharge and be happier. We’re wired to be outside. So take a walk, jog, bike ride at your local park, nearest beach, woodland, mountains, nature reserve or gardens. Look up at the sky/clouds, sit on the grass, paddle in the sea – and breathe!

Getting out into nature has been scientifically proven to help us relax, recharge and be happier.

Keep a gratitude journal

Take 10 minutes each day to sit quietly and write a list of things you’re grateful for. The list might only contain two things, but they’ll soon build up. This positive-thinking time will seep into the rest of your day – and is a great reminder when your ‘optimism tank’ needs a top up. Also, it’s a great excuse to treat yourself to some new stationery!

Enjoy a non-work activity

Regardless of how much work I have piled up, every Sunday afternoon I take myself to the local cinema. This is two hours where I totally switch off and immerse myself in a film. If I have work to complete when I get home, I find I have more energy and focus because I took time out and gave my head a rest. So choose something you enjoy, and make it a weekly habit. For example:

  • go to the cinema
  • try a yoga or dance class
  • enjoy a live music event
  • organise a team for a local pub quiz
  • walk dogs at your nearest animal shelter
  • join a book club or community choir
  • sign up for a weekly evening class for pottery / massage / cookery / jewellery making.

So many options! And you might even make some new (non-teacher) friends!

Refresh your desk

Having a tidy work space, with everything where you can find it, not only saves a lot of time, but also helps you focus and is good for your mental well-being. If you’re a messy person by nature, as I am, here are some helpful tips to get you started:

Since I’ve added some inspiring images and quotes to my work area at home, I can honestly say I’m happier to be sat here – so that might be worth a try for you too.

Do yoga or meditation

Just 10 minutes of sitting quietly, breathing deeply and settling your mind can make the world of difference to your mental state. Whether you take a weekly class, use online classes or DVDs, or try out guided meditations on YouTube – I can guarantee this is a no-brainer. JUST DO IT!

“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.”    Sakyong Mipham

Take time out with friends/family (yes, that includes your pets!)

Put your phone away and really enjoy some quality time with your nearest and dearest. If you can’t meet in person, call or Skype / Facetime. It does us good to connect with others and helps us to keep a better work-life balance. Isolating yourself when you’re feeling stressed only makes things worse. Chatting and laughing with loved ones will naturally reduce stress, improve your mood, promote a sense of calm and help you to avoid overwhelm / burn out.

Have a good laugh

If you don’t have friends / family that are good for laughing with, find a funny TV show, comedy film, cartoon, favourite comedian, or follow funny people on social media. Carpool Karaoke on YouTube is my go-to place for a good belly laugh! Laughing releases physical tension and stress. It’s also been proven to boost the immune system, improving your resistance to disease. Laughter really is the best medicine!

Find your tribe

Join others who know what it’s like to be an ESL/EFL teacher, either through a teachers’ organisation, online community or a weekly catch-up coffee with your colleagues. Avoid getting caught up with gossipers and complainers though! Find uplifting people, where everyone is treated with kindness and respect – and good humour – and where you can ask for help if you need it.

Treat yourself to some pampering

Pampering treats are not always affordable on a teacher’s salary, but you can do many of them yourself at home: facial, pedicure / manicure, hair treatment, head massage, foot massage, hot bubble bath, breakfast in bed, read a book, listen to music, take a nap, treat yourself to some flowers / body cream / new makeup / shoes. Whatever will make you smile and feel special!

Treat yourself to some weekly pampering – because you’re worth it.

The start of a brand new year is a great time to set new goals and incorporate new, healthier routines / rituals. Small steps is all it takes and over time these will become part of your natural, daily habits. It’s important that we take time to rest and recharge, so we’re able to be the very best version of ourselves.

“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”       Katie Reed


By choosing two or three tips that resonate with you, that you know you’ll enjoy, you’ll begin to find / maintain that sparkle, drive and passion – so you can turn up every day and teach outstanding lessons. Book them into your diary NOW and keep that time and space precious – don’t allow anything else to take priority over your own well-being. At the end of each month, take a little time to review how these are working for you and make any tweaks necessary. Happy 2020!

What top tips would you recommend to inspire self-care for ESL/EFL teachers? What’s your favourite way to switch off, unwind and recharge yourself?

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