Friday, 25 June 2010

One 2 One Burnout

I’ve been teaching one-to-one classes for about four years now .I suppose at some point most teachers will find themselves in a situation where they may have to teach one-to-one, so I thought that I’d share my experiences of life as a one-to-one teacher here with you. 

In the beginning when I started working as a freelancer, I wanted to fill my timetable so, I was quite happy to get the work which meant that I’d be able to pay the rent and feed the cats and dogs. At the time I thought that I’d take on the students and reap the financial rewards until they got bored and gave up.

I have to say that the dropout rate wasn’t quite what I expected. Four years on, I still have my first one-to-one student. You could see this in one of several ways. A) I’m so good that he just doesn’t want to leave me B) he hasn’t improved and so he’s still with me or C) he has no other possibilities or options. 

I teach an upper-intermediate doctor, a low pre- intermediate lab technician, a fourteen year old teenage girl who is in secondary school, a twelve year old secondary school student  an11 year old boy and a nine year old girl. It’s quite a variety. Now the reason that I wanted to write about one-to-one is that I’ve been feeling at a bit of a loss about what to do in classes for the past couple of months. I seem to have caught one-to-one burnout. I'm just not inspired.

What I like about teaching one-to-one

• You can tailor the classes directly to the needs, wants and likes of your student.
• You can give 100% of your attention to your student.
• You develop a really close relationship with your student.
• You don’t have as many exams or as much homework  to correct.
• You don’t have to deal with mixed abilities or fast finishers.
• You don’t have as many factors to deal with in terms of classroom management.
• Students tend to think that they’re making more progress.
• You don’t need to photocopy as much.
• It doesn’t involve lots of cutting and sticking.

Drawbacks of teaching one-to-one

• It’s a very intense situation, 60 minutes of talking can be quite like therapy!
• It’s really limited in many ways as the dynamic is teacher – student / student –
teacher, no pair work, no group work.
• It’s really uncomfortable if either of you are having a bad day. There’s nowhere to hide.
• It often calls for the teacher to give their opinions on issues which can cause disagreement.
• It can become like a crutch for students who rely on their personal teacher.
• It can get boring or stale as you can’t rely on the group dynamic.
• There just aren’t the opportunities to share thoughts and opinions with other people like there are in groups.

My Problems

• I’ve been teaching my one-to-ones for between two and four years and I’ve just run out of steam. I’m in a rut.
• I think that they’d probably be better off in a group setting but they are still clinging to me.

Okay over to my PLN for some advice. Can anyone help? Any suggestions? Teaching ideas and suggestions for one-to-one classes please!


  1. Hi leahn

    It's me again:) I usually enjoy teaching 1-1 for all the reasons you state above. You must be doing a sterling job to have kept some of your students for so long! Well done!

    Have you considered helping each student to start up their own blog, focusing on maybe their hobby, for example? You would be guiding them in English with inserting images, short articles,cartoons / pop songs of their choice /animations/ poems or whatever they are interested in? They might possibly be learning a new skill at the same time. If they already have their own blog in Spanish, then to transfer their thoughts to an English one would be very motivating for them.

    Together in your classes you could get your students to create their own short fun animations with Xtranormal /Zimmertwins or GoAnimate? The focus could be on whatever grammar or vocabulary points need addressing?

    Or get the students to create simple cartoons - Toondo /makebeliefcomix? All these tools would work well across the age spans you are teaching.

    Have you considered exchanging Skype calls with students from other countries? I am sure your PLN would be able to arrange a short interview with some of their students of similar ages to yours? Your students would have to prepare questions, plan possible answers /practise asking them etc Communicating via Skype would be a real world task for them.

    These are just a few ideas that have come to mind. Apologies if you have already exhausted these possibilities!

    Over to other members of your PLN for more suggestions!!


  2. Oh I know how you feel, Leahn. I haven't had 1-2-1 students for that long, as normally they come to my school to have a kind of crash course before going somewhere or doing something. However, it is a dynamic that I really dislike, to be honest. Sometimes I get on very well with the student and sometimes they really try my patience, but in every case I don't get the same enjoyment as I do from group classes. Often, because I get to know the student so well, I lose the ability to be a polite and objective teacher! I don't really know what you can do - would the teenagers (and their parents) be willing to join up with other students, forming a small group? Maybe you could convince even the adults to bring a friend or colleague, or occasionally get them to have the odd class together, as practice for speaking to other non-native speakers... I'm not being much help I fear! I'll be checking to see if anyone comes up with any solutions :)

  3. Hi Janet and Michelle,

    Thanks for reading and helping with my little problem. After reading your comments this morning I was a bit more motivated to do something about my one-to-one problem so I decided a way forward might to be to start a student blog.

    Now me being me, I thought that I'd try a different platform so I chose edublogs. Agh what a nightmare I've just spent a couple of hours trying to set up a blog and I've given up. Looks nice and everything but NOT starightforward.

    Now I'm going to have a cuppa finish hoovering and then I'm going to set up a blog for my one-to-one students on blogspot.

    Thanks guys for commenting. Get the feeling sometimes that I'm talking to myself here aswell as in real life!



  4. Hi Leahn

    Foe me this is what blogging and having a PLN is all about - to help each other when possible,to relate our highs and our lows, in fact to share our common goals. I am sure your students will love the idea of a blog and it will be a new focus for both parties.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Janet,

    I've set up the blog and posted some activities for my students. As Gordon Ramsey would say JOB DONE! Well I've started and I'm felling ready to go again. God elp em! Thanks for suggesting more net based activities a problem shared is a problem halved. I'm really enjoying this PLN thingy. I have to say when I first started blogging I thought it was some secret club that you had to join! It's a fast learning curve this ELT blogworld.

    Cheers J, When are you off to the UK?

  6. Hi Leahn

    Well done you for setting up your students' blog. I am sure it will be a great success!

    I'm off to the UK on Monday to teach for 2 weeks on Teacher Refresher courses at the Lake School of English. Can't wait to start teaching again! It should be a lot of fun. I'll definitely mention your blog to the Primary school teachers!

    Do you know Gran Tarajal, at all? If you do, I wonder if Pepe's Bar is still there, along the beach. I am going back 26 years ago, so it might all be unrecognisable now.

    Glad you like the Sofia link!!

    J and Sofia x