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Split Shifts and Teaching English Abroad

A photo of a woman divided into 4Split shifts happen fairly often in schools that teach English.

Most commonly it means you have to work for a few hours in the morning, then take a long break, and then start work again in the evening.

First you should check your teaching contract before you sign it to see if there is any mention of the timetabled hours you will be required to work at the school (and ask them to clarify if there’s no mention of this). This way you can prepare for what is to come if split shifts are on the agenda.

In TEFL the most common split shift scenario will be mornings and then a long break and then evenings. Most people admit that split shifts aren’t ideal, but if you have to accept them then remember also to look for the plus side: relaxed afternoons in the cafe when everyone else is working and easy access to queue free shopping during the day!

The Reason for Split Shifts

The reason split shifts happen is often because of the kind of students English language schools teach. In the very early morning (sometimes as early as 6.30!) you might find yourself teaching Business English‏‎ to adults. In the afternoon it could be young learners who have finished their state school early; later in the afternoon and evening it could be teenagers or perhaps more adults who have finished work for the day. You may well find yourself finishing work at 10 or so in the evening.

Another reason teachers find themselves working split shifts is because they are working in two different locations. You may find that in the morning you are expected to work in one school and in the evening you’re expected at another school. This can happen when a school has a small “satellite” school in a village outside of town or somewhere else in the city.

Surviving Sleep and Split Shifts

In the beginning it might seem awkward and tiring working split shifts and perhaps breaking up your sleep, but it will get easier. The key is planning. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Work out your timetable and find out how much time you have between shifts. Check your travel times: will you have time to come home or will you have to stay at school? 
  • Try and keep as regular sleep hours as you can, even if they’re a bit unusual and broken in two. This might mean having early nights and mid-morning naps.
  • Keep to your sleep schedule even at weekends. It takes a few days for your body to get used to a new sleep cycle so don’t chop and change your sleeping arrangements and hours every few days.
  • Organize your room so you can sleep during the day if you need to: earplugs, heavy drapes, and so on.
  • Let your friends and family know your timetable so you won’t get them calling on you when you’re asleep or nagging you to stay out with them when you’ve got an early call the next morning.
  • Turn off your phone!
Image © matthiaswerner

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