The Unwinding Teacher


Chris Mares
Chris Mares
by Chris Mares

Teaching is demanding for many different reasons. Any of us could quickly make a list of what it is in teaching that can tire or drain us, from the mundane to the serious. For example, the preparation, the teaching itself, the grading, the paperwork, the administrative duties, and the many side issues. All of these responsibilities over the course of time will sap us of our zest and spark and eventually we will burn out. For this reason, we must be preemptive and build effective unwinding into our lives. This is not an option. It must be done so that we have more energy, more enthusiasm, and are able to teach more effectively for longer.

I get tremendous pleasure from working with students and from teaching which is why I am still doing it after more than thirty-five years. Perhaps one of the reasons I still get such satisfaction is that early on I discovered the importance of unwinding. In my case this means recharging my batteries and getting rid of my baggage.

The google online dictionary offers some pleasant synonyms for unwinding: relax, loosen up, ease up/off, slow down, de-stress, unbend, rest, put one’s feet up, sit back, take it easy, take a load off. It also includes one of my students’ favorite weekend activities, “to chill”.

No one would disagree with the definition of “to unwind”, i.e. to relax, or the various synonyms listed above. However, for us, the beleaguered teachers, something more strategic and intentional is required.

First, let’s consider the goal of unwinding. Clearly, it is to empty our minds and bodies of all the accumulated stress we are carrying. Ideally this would recharge us so that when we return to teaching we are both engaged and excited by the prospect.

Second, let’s consider the different constructive ways we can unwind. As teachers, we vary tremendously in terms of our dispositions, lifestyles, habits, and tastes. As a result, we won’t all unwind in the same way. A dog walk in the woods might work for me but not for you. Some teachers enjoy watching TV while others prefer to read.

Another factor we need to consider is that we are all at different stages of our lives with different responsibilities but what connects us is that we all teach and we all need to unwind. What you do to unwind when you are young and single may be very different from someone who is older, or in a longstanding relationship, or with children.

Given the above, let’s get practical. There are many ways to unwind. Some you can do at your desk or at work, others you would do elsewhere.

You could simply focus on your breathing, take a shower, slump on a couch, run 5km, stretch, practice yoga, take up a new interest, renew an old interest, develop a new skill, join a club or group, cook more, read more, journal, blog, etc.

The important point is to make “unwinding” an intentional and regular part of your life whether at home or at work, or both. The first step is to think about your daily routine and to ask yourself if you unwind enough and if you feel you don’t, ask yourself how you reasonably could. Whatever it is, set yourself a reasonable goal, something you know you can realistically achieve, then monitor yourself over time and see if you are able to achieve your goal and whether it makes a difference.

Unwinding doesn’t always have to be done in the same way. It simply has to be done. You could decide to bake on Sundays and after four Sundays you might be done. That’s fine. Try something else.

The last point is that unwinding is something personal. How you do it is up to you. As John Lennon says, “Whatever gets you through the night it’s alright, it’s alright.”

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Chris Mares

Chris Mares is a teacher, teacher trainer, and materials writer. He is director of the Intensive English Institute at the University of Maine, and has coauthored several popular ELT course books.

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