As ideal and life-enhancing as it sounds, working from home as an online teacher can bring a lot of changes - some positive, some not so positive. Speaking to teachers working in the profession, it seems that most start with good intentions in terms of their health and fitness: get up early, hit the gym, eat a well-balanced diet, see friends regularly, and generally behave like a well put-together member of civilized society.
What happens, in reality, is often the opposite as the stresses and strains of everyday life rear their ugly heads, and the boundaries of work and play blend into one. Rectifying this usually takes a very concerted effort, a lot of discipline, and often the organizational strategies of a particularly stringer Army officer. Of course, the particular game-plan which will work for you will really depend on your circumstances - what benefits a middle-aged mother of multiple children will possibly not benefit a young, single man with much more free time.
We have spoken to a few online teachers from a range of backgrounds and circumstances about how they manage their physical, mental and social health while working as online teachers. Read on to find out how they’ve all made changes which have helped to keep their heads above water while navigating the sometimes murky waters of health and fitness while working from home.
Kieran, 27, UK
Staying healthy while working as a teacher from home is something I’ve definitely had to learn as I go along - there have been times when I have been completely lax on the health front, and I have definitely felt the effects. When you go out to work in ‘the real world’, it’s pretty much obligatory to be smart and well presented from head-to-toe because first impressions really do count, and there is no escaping an iffy odor or ill-fitting trousers.
When you roll out of bed and into your office (and your students can only see you from the neck up), it soon becomes the norm to work in your pajama pants, maybe skip a shower or two. Hey, no one will know the difference! Unfortunately, though, this can play havoc with your perception of yourself - feeling grungy can soon lead to acting grungy, and so I now have to make a concerted effort to make sure I am as (or almost as) well presented inside of the house as out.
This means: wearing ACTUAL trousers from the start of the workday to the end, making sure I have at least one face-to-face interaction a day that I have to be at least decently presented for, and creating an environment where it’s harder for me to slob about. I am strictly forbidden from entering my bedroom during the day, as day-time naps had become the norm and it just created this feeling of sluggishness and complete lack of routine and ‘normal’ structure.
My biggest suggestion though is a stand-up desk. I alternate between sitting and standing lessons and have found that this has been really useful for keeping my energy levels high and my fitness in check. I have managed to avoid the dreaded ‘flat butt’ that other teachers talk about and actually, my lessons are way more engaging and energetic as I fly about the room and get really fully involved in the stories we’re reading and the concepts we’re talking about. The students feed off my energy, and I benefit from a few extra calories burned - what’s not to love?
Mimi, 34, USA
I am a stay-at-home mom to 4 beautiful, demanding children. I took this job so that I could be fully present in all aspects of their lives; I’m there for the recitals, I make their meals, I even home educate 2 of them. This has been fantastic for them, but I have to admit that it’s taken its toll on me and my lifestyle.
I used to be very athletic, playing volleyball, women’s soccer and was just generally being very active. We live in a very picturesque part of the world, and I walked everywhere, which was great for my fitness of course, but it was also great for my mental health. These days I am fulfilled in many ways with the children, but educating, working and living a generally home-based lifestyle can be a little isolating and - unless you set boundaries - all aspects of your life blur into each other so that you don’t know where work and life starts and ends.
In the past, this could mean I was up until very late at night working on the peripheral aspects to teaching (prepping, marking, setting schedules, etc) which I have learned is really bad for my mental health. These days I work set hours which I fit my children's’ studies and other activities around - I never work later than 6 pm, no matter the circumstances. I have found that if I ignore this boundary then my mental health declines, and I am not my best for anyone. You can’t pour from an empty cup, as “they” say.
Eating is a different matter entirely. I used to follow a paleo diet, which works for some people but not for me - especially not with the kids in tow. I now track macros, which involves inputting my daily intake into an app called ‘My Fitness Pal’. I have a daily target set by a personal trainer and friend who has calculated this for me. I have lost 25 lbs so far this way, and although it is time-consuming, I have found that it appeals to the logical part of my brain. If you had a problem with your finances you would track your money and readjust, and this feels like a similar concept.
My main piece of advice is: do not ignore your brain over your body. It’s easy to slip into bad eating and exercise habits, which will definitely impact your physique and how you feel in your skin. However it’s the mental side of things that you really need to watch for - be sure to get out and about with friends (even if work demands make it difficult - you have to make time), if there is an online community for the company you work for then get don’t be a lurker and get fully involved, and set the kinds of boundaries I’ve mentioned above to make sure that work life does not bleed into other areas.
Any stay-at-home moms - do make sure you make use of the local facilities like playgroups, etc so that you can meet other like-minded, like-circumstanced women who you can make friends with. They will be a godsend when you’re losing your mind with the children, and they can help you also to stay on track with the boundaries and limits you’ve set for yourself to create a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle.
Kirsty, 32, UK
Back in 2016/2017, I got really very fit - I was into bodybuilding and weight lifting, I was impeccable in terms of my eating and I had created a lifestyle that was really conducive to feeling healthy and fit. Fast forward a couple of years (along with with a couple of injuries, some setbacks, a pregnancy, and a working-from-home lifestyle) and I am not in the shape I once was.
I really believed that the free time and extra flexibility of working from home would allow me to regain some of the fitness levels I once had. Like many of the teachers I’ve spoken to over the course of my online ‘career’, this has simply not been the case. It is, for a start, way easier to lose track of your eating when you have permanent access to a fridge stocked with all of your favorite food. Although you have some extra free time, other things (such as housework, home improvements, preparing for the impending arrival of a little one) take precedence over your own health and fitness.
I have begun to make small changes though, and they are building up to take an effect. I have a set of dumbells in the room adjacent to my office. If I get a no-show student, or I have some free time between classes then I force myself to do some squats, reverse lunges, shoulder presses, and other simple exercises. I am not intimidating myself with a grandiose workout plan, but just incorporating these activities into my day without too much emphasis placed on it. I have a notepad nearby where I record how much I’ve done, and I try to just do a little more each day. I go to pregnancy yoga, too, which calms my fairly hectic, teacher's brain, and allows me to stretch out the muscles which have become stiff from sitting too long.
I have invested in a decent chair for my office space; this had helped my lower back immensely, as the ergonomics of the last one were just not good for the body and I found myself in a great deal of pain a lot of the time. Making sure your office space is set up to benefit you (the right screen height, the right level desk, a good chair, and good keyboard and mouse set-up) will really help to reduce unnecessary pain and keep you healthier than if you use a slap-dash set-up with no forethought as to how it affects you.
Mentally, I have actually found online teaching to be far preferable to ‘real world’ employment. I’m an introvert and value my alone time, so this situation is perfect for me. However, I have made use of the online communities attached to my main company - today, some of us got together for a ‘Virtual Meet-Up’ via Zoom (which is a little like Skype) - this is a great idea if you want to get to know your colleagues and share tips and advice for how to manage the demands of your job and the company you’re working for. This can help you to feel less isolated, and more like you’re part of a community.
My main piece of advice is to not try to overhaul everything at once. Make small changes which are manageable, and build them up, otherwise, you will be overwhelmed and revert back to old, unhealthy patterns. Don’t buy in your favorite snacks; just keep healthy food available so you’re not tempted to binge and nitpick at foods just because they’re there.
Keep a close eye on yourself for any mental decline, and seek support (whether that be professional, or from close friends and family) if you need to. A lot of people do suffer with the isolation of working from home, and it’s important that we’re vigilant to our own state of mind. Having back up plans in case your main company throws a curveball also really helps; changes can happen suddenly, and being left without income does not do anyone any good mentally. It is always good to be prepared, especially in an industry which is undergoing so many changes and fluctuations.
There are lots and lots of advantages to working online, and as long as we have the self-discipline and foresight to make plans for our own best advantage, then this can be a fantastic opportunity. Making sure you are your own priority - even in spite of the demands of family and work and all the other things adult life entails - will really benefit you (and everyone around you) in the long run, and help to you to create the kind of healthy, active, and mentally sound life you’ve always wanted for yourself and your family.