This week in our freelance ESL teacher profile we have co-founder of Off2Class, James Heywood.
James started teaching online four years ago. He found it challenging to live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online. Hours behind a computer began to take their toll. Take it away James!
When you read about online teaching, most articles focus on marketing, finding new students, searching for online lesson content and working out how to receive electronic payments. And rightly so, since these practical issues must be resolved to become a successful, independent online teacher. However, if you teach online, you become sedentary. At first, when I moved to online teaching, I found it tough to live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online…
For many people, sitting long hours at a computer is nothing unusual. But for me, as I first transitioned to online teaching, the most challenging aspect was my on-the-job inactivity. I had moved from a traditional bricks-and-mortar school where I taught on average six 40-minute lessons per day. I almost never sat while in the classroom – it just wasn’t my style. On top of my school job I also taught private lessons after hours which would keep me moving all over town. In all, teaching kept me quite active.
Within three months of starting my online business, I had a full schedule for six to seven hours a day. I would often teach three, four or five hours without a break. Lesson planning would keep me at the computer for several more hours each day. I became chained to the desk.
Within six months of starting my first online teaching business, I had too many students! I was living in Istanbul at the time and teaching primarily 12 to 14-year-olds, which meant that I was teaching when they weren’t at school: Monday to Friday, 4 pm until 9 pm, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. I slowly became exhausted. I started feeling listless. Happy, but lacking in energy.
It was time to make a couple of changes
I had always lived a more-or-less healthy lifestyle. But, sitting at the computer for so many hours per day increased my coffee intake and drastically reduced my overall physical activity. It was obvious what I needed to do.
I started exercising. Unfortunately, I detest gyms. They make me feel uncomfortable, and I find them vaguely creepy. In any case, I wanted to maintain my aerobic fitness, not increase my muscle strength. I had always enjoyed running and swimming and quickly found a semi-public swimming pool at a local university. That was easy. Jogging was more difficult. Istanbul, as much as I love it, is unkind to pedestrians and runners. Sometimes it seemed like motorists were speeding up to hit me as I crossed a street! Regardless, historic Istanbul is a beautiful backdrop for jogging. The only thing was that I had to go running early each morning before the exhaust fumes built up too much.
Along with exercise, I amended my diet…
I couldn’t continue eating the same amount or type of calories that I consumed when I worked at a school. Exercising once a day for an hour is not the same as taking thousands of steps over ten hours. It just isn’t. A couple of small changes went a long way to help me adopt a healthy lifestyle while teaching online:
- Breakfasts became big. Real.
- Between lessons, I ate nuts. Cashews, almonds, and walnuts. Not much else.
- Dinner was almost always a salad, or a trip to the local kebab shop, where I could eat freshly prepared BBQ chicken wings with salad for less than it cost to buy the ingredients.
And don’t forget the coffee!
I also ditched coffee for water. Well, almost. At school, I had always drunk too much coffee, turning into the Grade 7 Homeroom teacher of my childhood whose caffeine-marked breath I’d always sworn never to emulate. At first, it became easier to drink more coffee, not less of it. A pot of freshly brewed good stuff, not the stuff from the tea room at school, continuously beckoned me from the kitchen during lessons. Sometimes, with less than two or three minutes until the next student logged in, I would naturally pour a quick cup, deluding myself that it constituted some kind of break.
Eventually, the coffee consumption became too much. I became irritable with several students in the same week, and while they hadn’t done their homework, I knew the real reason for my irascibility was Signor Lavazza! I started to keep a jug of water on my desk, often gulping it down to make me feel full. I’ll admit it. It did take a while to reduce my intake.
It’s been four years since I started TurksLearnEnglish. Along with online teaching, I’ve met my business partners for Off2Class, and now I produce content so other teachers can enjoy the rewards of online teaching (while I remove the pain of lesson planning). Better than just enjoying my job more than I ever did, I am doing it in a healthy way.
Continuous learning and challenges…
I no longer live in Istanbul, but split my time between Sydney and Toronto. And this year I ran my first two marathons. As an ESL teacher, I have always believed that if you work in education, you must teach, even just a little. And to be a good teacher, you must always be learning something. Continuous learning has been an integral component for me to live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online.
For years, I undertook language classes to replicate as closely as possible the same issues that my students would encounter. But to be honest, after some years of doing that, I don’t think I want to sit in another language class for a while. However, I still believe it’s crucial to set medium and long-term goals. Running my first marathon seemed like a significant challenge. I like running the way my students enjoy learning English, and training for a marathon mirrored the relentless dedication that a language learner needs.