Online Teacher Story: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

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.

live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online

Bricks-and-mortar classroom James!

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:

  1. Breakfasts became big. Real.
  2. Between lessons, I ate nuts. Cashews, almonds, and walnuts. Not much else.
  3. 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.

live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online

Crossing the finish line at the Montreal Marathon in September 2016

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.

In conclusion, I’m healthy and doing what I love. Teaching ESL online. So over to you. How do you live a healthy lifestyle while teaching online? Did you need to make any adjustments to your lifestyle when you moved to online teaching?


  • Joanne says:

    December 5, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I gained a lot of weight my first year teaching online and struggle with this continually. So, I also have ditched coffee (at least most of it) for water. I have joined a Jazzercise class which has reignited me with my love of dancing. I also am watching what I eat. When I put junk in my body, I feel like junk. When I put the right foods in, I feel great.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 5, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Joanne,
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Eating habits and diet can be challenging for many people to change. And when you’re seated at your desk for hours and hours, it can be tempting to keep yourself going with snacks, which inevitably for many of us equates to junk food. I believe that this is something that anyone with a sedentary job struggles with from time to time.
      I’ve never had to struggle with my weight, however, I gained at least fifteen pounds after a few years of teaching. I made a huge effort over the last twelve months to return to regular exercise, which in turn motivated me to eat better and more nutritious foods.
      You won’t be seeing mew in a Jazzercise class :), but I think that it’s great that you have rediscovered your love of dancing! It’s important to treat your body fairly when you are asking it to sit as a desk for many hours a day.
      Best wishes,

  • Marcus says:

    December 6, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    Hi Guys
    It’s so important to eat right and stay healthy especially when you’re dealing with youngsters who seem to always be full of beans. I used to be a junk food nut, then I got married and my wife put me on the straight and narrow. it’s not just about what you eat, but when you eat it. Being a language school teacher meant working late and having meals at 9 or 10 p.m, a situation many find themselves in, here in Vietnam. It can be tough to keep good habits but without health it’s tough to be a good teacher.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 7, 2016 at 1:48 am

      Hi Marcus,
      I agree. It’s really important to eat at the correct times. I noticed a few years ago that I had to stop eating big lunches. When I first started teaching online, my lessons would run from 4 until about 9pm, possibly even until 10pm. A heavy lunch would make me fall asleep in front of the computer just as my lessons started, so grazing on nuts has become my afternoon staple, with small salads in the evening. Breakfast in now the largest meal of the day.
      Sometimes it’s still a challenge for me to eat what I need to teach effectively, but after four years online I am most definitely glad I made a few changes to my eating habits!

  • Ros says:

    December 9, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    I have just started teaching online and am loving it. I did an intensive CELTA course in October which I found hard but rewarding. I intended to transition from being a domiciliary care worker to full time teaching but I’ve decided to keep on with the caring partly because of the amount of exercise I get! It also gets me out in the community and meeting people.
    I work as a carer from 6.30 am to 1.30 pm and then teach from 2 pm to 4 pm and then from 4.30 pm to 6 pm. I lesson plan in the evenings and find Off2Class a godsend!
    Good tip about the coffee. I’m going to try to limit it to one a day!

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 10, 2016 at 1:37 am

      Hi Ros,
      And welcome to the world of online teaching! Thanks for stopping by. You seem to have an incredibly long work do but clearly, it suits you.
      I remember doing my CELTA course – almost 14 years ago – but as I was working full-time I did the part-time course. I have head from many people that the full-time CELTA Course is intense, but at least it’s all over in a month, right?

  • Sharon Hadlow says:

    December 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Hi James
    It was good to read your article this month. I can identify with a lot of it. Long hours that is certainly me 🙂 I love teaching online and as I work for 3 companies it is very challenging at times. I love to teach via Italki as then I can take the students via off2class which I love. I am rebuilding my website soon so hope to start group classes via off2class so hope this works for me. This is my new play for this current year. I have been teaching online for 2 years now and love it. thanks for all your support.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 29, 2016 at 11:06 pm

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for your comment. Great to hear that you have some fresh ideas for 2017. I will be interested to see how group classes go for you. Are you planning to teach a group located in one place, or individuals in different locations? The latter is quite challenging!
      Best wishes,

  • Sharon Hadlow says:

    December 30, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Hi James
    Just small groups of two or three students to begin with and I am testing it with current students for free to see how it works. I am trying it via the off2class platform as you can enroll more than one student so I am interested in giving it a try. This way I can link the students with each other who are at the same level and I will use the speaking lesson plans. If it works well I will offer this live. I thought about this one year ago but did not know how i could do this online so when I read in your blog it could be done on the off2class platform I am eager to give it a whirl. I am experienced in running open groups via Berlitz and yes sometimes they are challenging but students find it great to speak English with other students from other countries etc. It’s also a good way for them to do roleplays with each other etc. I am also thinking i could be good for students that cannot offer full price classes as I could offer these cheaper and still earn more per hour myself. I think it will be a win-win situation but first there is a lot of planning to be done and testing. I will let you know how it goes. I am to start testing in January. But first have a few more bits to iron out with the off2class platform. I am getting there. Thanks for your support. Sharon

  • Bret Tutor says:

    February 1, 2017 at 7:48 am

    I have been using a standing desk for about five years now and am amazed by the results. My posture and lack of back pain are two of the results that I enjoy the most. I do drink a fair amount of green tea with fresh mint that I grow. Much better than coffee without any highs and lows.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      February 1, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Hi Bret,
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I agree with you. Looking after your back is probably the most important priority for people working online!

  • Ben Turner says:

    August 29, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Great post!
    Physical fitness is very important especially for desk based workers!
    I actually enjoy training in a gym. The atmosphere in some is not for everybody but once the headphones are in, the other people around you don’t matter. Plus, if you live abroad, especially somewhere where being a foreigner is not the norm, then you will likely pick up some contacts or students through there!
    The best thing I did was to hire an online trainer. He keeps me accountable so I don’t miss sessions and track what I’m eating. Just like our English students, accountability is the main thing that drives me and keeps me on track.
    I also got a dog, which forces me out of the house at least 3 times per day and keeps my steps up, as well as improving life generally. 🙂

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      August 31, 2017 at 10:20 am

      Hi Ben,
      Nice to hear from you, and thanks for adding yor points of view.
      It’s been 9 months since I wrote the blog post, and I’m happy to say that I have managed to stick to a healthier regime. I’m spending more and more time at the computer, and a healthier diet and regular exercise is basically what keeps me moving.
      In a few weeks I will again run the Montreal Marathon. While I don’t anticipate running a better time, it’s good to know that some improved habits have paid off. Like an ESL student, I feel like persistance has provided some rewards.

  • Simon Haywood says:

    December 5, 2017 at 1:48 am

    You have a nice style of presenting and writing, relaxed and sincere. I´m just starting on line teaching for a Chinese platform, 1 to 1 1 to 4 1 to max 15, in different parts of China, whilst I am in Spain, enjoying the challenge.
    Your web has a really professional style, lots of hard work….congratulations…
    by the way , we share a similar surname…
    by for now
    Simon Haywood

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 5, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Simon,
      Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article, and please that you are enjoying the site.
      Online teaching is China is a booming market, though I’m unsure that I’d be able to teach a group of 15 at the same time! You have my admiration!

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