Coming Clean: Mental Health Issues in ELT

mental health Feb 19, 2017

Update on last week's blog post - Why Students' Cell Phones belong in a Shoe Bag!

There were a few responses on twitter.  It appears that teachers have very strong views about the use of phones in the classroom.

Banning cellphones in an adult classroom - unnecessarily authoritarian

Wondering how #ELTs of adults would feel if asked to voluntarily surrender cell phones at conferences

No cph use inclass (including breaks-commoncourtesy) S/T pushback!

Good topic. My adult students are literally driving me insane with the use of cellphones.  It’s not just texting, making and taking calls but some of them actually record the lessons being taught.  This is very distracting.

The point I was trying to make was not a complete ban, but I would like to have at least the first 5 minutes of class so I can say hello to students, and introduce the lesson!

Coming Clean: Mental Health Issues in ELT

This week, I have an interview with EFL teacher Phil Longwell.  Phil has been speaking out bravely and honestly about his mental health issues, and how it has affected his work as a teacher.  

Phil, can you start off by telling us where you teach?

I have just started tutoring in the fine city of Norwich, in the UK.

How long have you been teaching?

10 years. I started teaching at an orphanage in Tanzania but I have not been in regular employment.  I’ve had many gaps due to poor health.

Can you talk about more about that? How long did it take you to be comfortable disclosing your health issue?

A long time.  I didn’t want anything to be public in case a potential, future employer saw it.  It was risky, as I’ve lost job opportunities and ended jobs too soon because of it.  Going self-employed or freelance mitigates some of the pressure I feel working for someone else full-time.  I can still do part-time work, but I decided that for my own health, I needed to make a change.

I also came clean about my mental health difficulties recently in an interview here and felt that taking control of when and where I work, doing a bit here and a bit there was conducive to my well-being.

You have just made a huge change in your employment status. Tell us what you are doing now.  

I got impatient waiting for someone else to hire me, so I thought I would ‘hire’ myself!  I was recently interviewed about teaching overseas students in my own home on the North Norfolk coast.  It will happen later in the year when there is more demand.  If I do it, I will need to be registered as self-employed.  That was the trigger to get me thinking about making it official, contacting the tax office in the UK and branching out on my own. It also fits with my well-being needs. 

Is there stress related to being self-employed?

I guess I’m about to find out.  It depends how much work you take on.  But I feel that I am well-organised and keep records of everything, so it will probably come natural to me. 

What advice would you give to teachers about taking time for themselves and for their own self-care?

Nothing is more important than our health and well-being. I like to relax by listening to music, swimming, watching movies, going for long walks and  practicing mindfulness.  I also like a beer or two. Work-life balance is important.   I don’t want to be too stressed out.  There was a fantastic A-Z guide, with tons of advice, on exactly this topic written by another English language teacher, Elly Setterfield, who was inspired by my interview

What advice would you give to teachers who are experiencing mental health issues?

If you’re suffering yourself, I would say approach somebody you can trust. It’s not always your line manager, it may be a work colleague. And make sure it’s face-to-face as well. A lot of communication is in your body language, your intonation …  And if they say ‘I’m alright’ but don’t look it, just dig a little deeper.  There are plenty of teachers who have struggled and many who have an actual diagnosis.  Remember that you are not your condition, it might be within you, but it doesn’t define you.  It can often be managed with proper understanding.

I would also direct the reader to another post which was inspired by my interview and collating resources on this topic, which is by Sandy Millin - There are links to other posts by teachers who have struggled or can offer advice on there.  

How can we raise more awareness in our ELT community?

In the UK the Time To Change all year round campaign raises mental health in the workplace.  They produce a lot of literature on this.   I am considering presenting on this topic in the future.  I’m not sure whether this exact topic has ever been discussed openly, not at conference anyway.

Where can people find you on social media?

I was given the nickname Teacher Phili in Tanzania and it stuck.  It’s now my ‘brand’, my professional image so I use it in my social media profiles:

Facebook business page

I also blog occasionally at

Are you working on any other projects outside of tutoring? 

Yes, I create content and help promote the award-winning Teacher Training Videos website  I also volunteer as a mentor with a refugee charity in Norwich.  I also hope to do some IT work again soon for Mind the mental health charity.  I hope to do more stuff later in the year, such as homestay teaching, mix things up. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Thank you Phil.  I am sure that your story will help other teachers. I have posted some ESL teaching resources on mental health for teachers.  All the best in your new venture.


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Happy teaching! Patrice


About Me

My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada.  I now work as a teacherpreneur (check out my other website at doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, and instructional coaching for new teachers. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.  Download free teaching resources at

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