How to Manage Stress As a Teacher

Teaching is a highly stressful job and is not, contrary to popular belief, an easy “half-day job with lots of paid vacation time.” Teachers on average, spend seven hours a day providing tuition and entertainment to groups of sometimes ill-behaved and disinterested students. After this they spend time on extra-mural activities, some of which they have no training for. Then they return home with piles of marking and related administrative tasks; after which they must once again prepare the content and resources for the following day’s lessons.

New teachers then need to enter the profession with their eyes wide open. Sensible school managers will spend time inducting new staff members into the school and profession. A well-structured orientation course will relieve much of the potential stress a new teacher will face. A new teacher should only be assigned classes which he or she is qualified to teach, to alleviate the stress of preparation. If the school Principal is too busy to walk the new staff member through the first two or three weeks of the quarter, a sensitive and empathetic more experienced teacher should be identified as a “mother-hen” to assist the “newbie”.

One of the greatest stressors identified by teachers the world over is classroom management regarding discipline and student behaviour, or misbehaviour. Teachers new to the profession or the particular school, need to be trained in the specific disciplinary procedures used at the institution. The age-old advice “Don’t smile until Christmas” should be emphasised at the outset. A firm, consistent, no-nonsense will be tolerated approach from day one will ensure that teaching and learning can take place, without unnecessary interruptions.

To avoid the stress of ill-disciplined students, teachers need to be well-prepared for every class. An experienced teacher will always keep a store of resources on hand to fill any “free time” resulting from a lesson which does not take as long as anticipated. If the average attention span of the class as a whole is fifteen minutes, then teachers should prepare a series of related, but varied activities for every lesson. If a teacher-tell approach is the greatest trigger for misbehaviour then this strategy should be minimised. The lesson could begin with teacher-tell, move to ten minutes of group work, shift to whole class participation activities, then move to individual paper and pen work.

Teachers should remember that slower students and those who finish tasks more quickly than the rest need to be accommodated in the lesson planning stages. Students who have nothing to do or who have been left behind, create disturbances in the classroom. Disturbances in the classroom lead to heightened stress for teachers. An organised teacher will spend time with slower students while the class is engaged in individual work. Resources such as subject-related reading cards should always be available for the more advanced students. Among these resources one can include crossword puzzles, word searches and similar fun activities for completion. A system of class rewards linked to extra work completed could be implemented too.

Another major and oft quoted stressor faced by teachers is that of difficult parents. All teachers would be well-advised to keep an incident book available in their classroom at all times. A page per student works well. A well-documented record of transgressions is a valuable weapon when a parent comes to a Parent Teacher meeting to find out why little Johnny has failed your subject. Teachers should remember to start with positive input before moving into problem areas. Parents, despite what you may think, love their children and long to see them achieve. When recording daily classroom activities, teachers must make sure that they record positive experiences too. A letter sent home to reward a diligent child or an average child who has shown improvement, will go a long way to gaining the respect and support of parents.

Diligent teachers soon discover that their entire life becomes consumed by their profession. Here, a word of caution is necessary. To avoid stress-related burnout teachers really do need to create “me-time” for themselves. Spend the first few days of the vacation period preparing all the materials needed for the following quarter to prevent daily planning pressures for the quarter which lies ahead. Another way to create time and avoid stress is to plan a carefully structured assessment program. Teachers need at least two nights free a week to spend with their families or just to relax. Teachers should also ensure that they keep at least two weekends free a month to spend on themselves. The advice we mete out to students ‘to work on Friday and enjoy the rest of the weekend” would be worth following ourselves.

Strangely enough the first signs of teacher stress related burnout are feelings or perceptions that one is not making a difference, that the children or parents do not appreciate what one is doing, that teaching is not as rewarding as one expected. Teachers need to visit a healthcare professional if these signs of impending burnout persist.

Careful time management, proper planning, and personal time-outs are a teacher’s best weapons in the fight against job-related stress.