The Honeymoon (Hangover) Effect

So, you may have heard about the term honeymoon phase. It is an early part of a couple’s relationship where everything seems carefree and happy. It usually lasts from six months to two years and can be marked with lots of laughs, intimacy, and fun dates. In psychology, however, there is a term called the honeymoon effect, which gives a name to a state that happens with an increase in job satisfaction immediately following a job change and it’s followed by the honeymoon hangover effect – a decline in job satisfaction.

When I came across the said concepts, it crossed my mind that we teachers probably experience similar states – not only throughout our entire careers but even throughout the school year.

As a newbie teacher, one is obviously excited about their job and what’s in store for them. After some time, you may get a little less tipsy, so to speak, because you start to understand what the real challenges of the job are. And you gradually get less and less excited because, in a way, every day is the same. Plus, it’s not always rewarding to be a teacher. When I personally got dangerously unmotivated in the past, I subsequently and almost invariably experienced some kind of change (which came to me unexpectedly or I simply made things happen). As a consequence, a new spurt of bliss, passion and energy sprang from within.

As I said, I believe the same pattern applies to each and every school year. After the summer holidays, I am full of enthusiasm and a bottomless well of new ideas. I can multitask like a pro. This period can last up to a few months but right before Christmas, I start to feel the first signs of pressure and the hangover effect sets in. For me, the most critical months are probably January and February (and March too), which can definitely be ascribed to the chilly weather and the lack of light too. But it’s not just that.

And in the same vein, within a single day, one lesson can be an amazing success while the next one is a complete disaster. And you ask yourself: Where did I go wrong? Well, maybe you got too excited and thus too exhausted by the triumph that you couldn’t but experience the honeymoon hangover effect.

And finally, the smallest of the smallest units – the lesson itself. It was at uni where they told us that we should be careful – activities should never be too exciting. The teacher should always keep things at bay. Well, now I know why. If an activity is too invigorating, the students simply get tired or worse, they go on the rampage.

Now, negativity aside, the question is how to stay in the honeymoon phase for as long as possible. The following tips are some of the things that help me overcome the periods of honeymoon hangover.

  1. I try to be grateful for my job. As I said earlier, it’s not always rewarding but when it is, I bookmark the moment – mentally or in writing (on this blog, for example).
  2. I give myself permission to feel frustrated from time to time. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies after all. So I try to be gentle and compassionate with myself if things get a bit overwhelming.
  3. I go for every opportunity to learn and share. I go to workshops and conferences, and I read about and pay attention to everything that may be useful or uplifting.
  4. They say that change is the spice of life. So I consciously shake things up in the classroom from time to time.
  5. I constantly reflect on what I do in the classroom and how I feel about it.
  6. I try to keep in mind that change is the only constant, so I accept the fact that a period of bliss will always be followed by a period of distress and vice versa. By merely accepting this fact, things instantly get much better.

To wind up, I’d like to stress that I distinguish the honeymoon hangover effect from burnout syndrome. It is because the latter results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and thus is a much more serious condition that needs to be addressed differently. However, I believe that some of the tips above may, to a certain extent, help to ease the symptoms of burnout syndrome, or they may at least serve as prevention.


Too much of a good thing …

I’ve always known that there is a fine line between being too passionate about what one teaches and being excited about passing knowledge on to their students. It is generally believed that it is essential for a teacher to be enthusiastic about their subject, and whenever I discuss this with my students they always tell me that they appreciate teachers who are passionate. Of course, there are students whose primary goal is to understand and learn quickly and effectively, and they don’t really care if the teacher loves what they do or not. In other words, their intrinsic motivation is high enough for them to be distracted by the teacher’s excitement or the lack of it.

I’m saying all this because I believe I’m very passionate about my subject (English as a foreign language). It’s crossed my mind a few times though that sometimes my zeal can actually be detrimental to my students – or at least to some of them. This can happen when, for example, I’m too creative, original, artistic, inventive, or innovative. As a result, what I do is almost overkill. Too much of a good thing, as it were. So, those students who like to learn in a calm and structured environment may feel a little confused and disoriented.

I’ve come across this post by Paul Moss called LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE which discusses both terms in detail. My curiosity was piqued by the former concept – learned helplessness – which is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. This person then comes to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available. After seeing this video, which beautifully demonstrates how a teacher can ‘create helplessness’ in the classroom, so to speak, I realized that maybe, some of my most original and well-intended activities were quite confusing and didn’t lead to much learning. They may have been beneficial for the fast learners and/or talented students but they were useless and even frustrating for the students who performed in the mid-range and lower.

In my defence, most of my students are fast learners and talented, too. But still, I sometimes take it for granted and forget about the ones that may have had a bad day or the ones who simply don’t get the point of an activity that I consider absolutely amazing. In his post, Paul Moss offers several tips on how to design a course effectively to avoid learned helplessness and the curse of knowledge. I’d add that if an activity seems too confusing or even pointless to some students, it’s vital to explain the teacher’s reasoning behind it. In fact, I believe it’s always good to tell students why we are doing what we are doing – not just when they feel lost (which may be too late anyway).

In conclusion, I’d like to say that I still believe that passion and excitement are good things. However, their intrinsic nature is emotional so they need to be consciously controlled by reason and logic. Specifically, they need to be guided by purpose, aim and intention.

It’s important to enjoy the little things

I sometimes ponder this: What is it that makes my job so enjoyable for me. Why is it so that the longer I have been a teacher, the more I love being one? You know, it sometimes crosses my mind that I should be a little burned out … a bit worn-out after so many years of doing the same thing. But I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong; I did experience moments of despair and fatigue in the past, most of which took place at the start of my career and also quite recently – during the remote teaching period. But eventually, I learned from that experience and now I can use the newly acquired and assimilated knowledge and skills to enjoy what I do even more.

But I’m spurting big words here. Life consists of small moments which after all, create the bigger picture. The small pieces of a mosaic are what is important. But what are they?

What first comes to mind is my experience, without which I would hardly be able to fully enjoy anything related to my profession. Not that I didn’t enjoy my job when I was younger and inexperienced. I did. Those joyful moments, however, were rarely planned for. Neither were they too permanent for that matter. I mostly experienced sporadic, spontaneous moments of happiness, followed by instances of hopelessness in quick succession. Just like a rollercoaster. Ups and downs, the ebb and flow. But that was an inevitable part of my evolution as a teacher.

My age is another important factor in the interplay of light and shadow of being a teacher. It’s obviously closely related to experience. However, what I mean is that the older you get, the more easy-going, relaxed and tolerant you can become and thus, you create more space for enjoyment. Also, without trying to sound too dramatic, you realize you have less and less time left. You realize that there will be a point in the future when you won’t be able to do what you love anymore … for whatever reasons. And finally, the older you get, the more you appreciate working with children and young people in general. And the wider the gap, the more you can gain from it. ¨Some say that grandchildren may often have a better relationship with their grandparents than children have with their parents. That’s what I mean.

Related to all the above, you gradually have better relationships with your colleagues and bosses. You know your stuff so you’ve become immune to all the potential trickery and abuse. In other words, you know your worth. You can easily navigate yourself in the world of your profession – you know what to look for and what to discard and fake and useless.

And finally, the everyday moments of joy – when a student approaches you and tells you that she enjoys your lessons. Or when they come up to you and ask for help, which you can easily provide. When they beam with enthusiasm and energy in your lessons. When they tell you that you are their favourite teacher. When your effort is appreciated by your boss or a colleague who has just observed your lesson. And so on and so forth. It’s right here in your hands and has always been. It’s just that you can clearly see it now.

The perfect warm-up activity

So, I haven’t shared anything practical or not-so-practical here on my blog for some time. Not that I haven’t had any ideas going on in my head … it’s just that I somehow lacked the need to write about my professional endeavours. I didn’t even feel the urge to write about my recent trip to Scotland, which is really strange because quite honestly, it was full of potential. Maybe it was too good … too intense for me to materialize it in the form of words. Maybe at some point, I will be able to verbalize what I experienced but not just yet.

Anyway, the time of hibernation is over, apparently. One of the reasons I may have a sudden spurt of energy is that I recently attended an ELT conference. And every teacher knows that conferences are immense sources of inspiration and creativity. The people, the venues, the atmosphere, the memories of the previous events – this all creates a unique experience that invariably recharges everyone’s dead batteries.

So, today I’d like to share an activity which I’d like to call the perfect warm-up/speaking activity. It’s perfect because it’s suitable for all levels of proficiency, for almost all age groups plus it doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever (if you wish so). What’s more, it’s highly personalized. I should not forget to credit Sarka Cox from ILC Brno, who presented this activity in a workshop.

Here goes … While in class, it’s best if you demonstrate the activity briefly and then it’s pretty straightforward. Simply put two words on the board. Ideally, they should be opposites (dark – light, day – night) or two things from a category (train – bus, dog – cat). Ask the students: Do you think I prefer travelling by bus or train/Do you think I like X or Y (for lower levels). When they make a guess, reveal the correct answer and the students who guessed correctly get a point. Then briefly explain why you prefer X to Y (you may also want to put some functional language on the board for students to be able to talk about their preferences). Then it is your ‘partner’s’ turn (choose a student to demonstrate what they would ask you next).

The students can ask about their preferences gradually or they can prepare a list of a certain number of pairs in advance (I prefer the former option because the latter alternative will actually be used later on). Tell your students that they should always record the two options in writing but that they should never indicate the correct answer (by ticking or underlining the prefered option, for example) because their lists will be used in the follow-up stage of the activity.

After some time (a couple of minutes or when you observe that most pairs have, let’s say, a minimum of 5 pairs of words), pause the activity. Ask how many points each student got, i.e. how well they know each other. In the next stage, change pairs. The students take their original lists and swap them with their new partners. The new partner then guesses what the student’s preferences are plus they speculate and give reasons why they think so.

As I said, no preparation is needed but you can create a nice PP presentation with pictures of the options. You can have photos from magazines or other visuals at hand, which, I admit, may be more suitable for young learners. However, I used the simple version of the activity with all my classes (12 – 18 year-olds), i.e. writing the pairs on the board/paper, and it was absolutely sufficient. The good thing about this activity is that it is highly personalized; the students can decide what they want to talk about and avoid what they don’t want to discuss. Also, when I tried it myself during the said workshop, it was quite challenging and enjoyable because I had to make an effort – I had to come up with the options and actually think about what I prefer and why.

If you decide to try the activity out, enjoy! 🙂