I became a member of the stressed out teachers group after my 5th year as a teacher. That summer I went on a job hunt because I was sure that moving to a new school would alleviate my stress. Instead of recharging my teacher battery, I spent my time preparing to answer interview questions about my top-notch teaching strategies and practices for the two interviews I had secured. I had some amazing answers to the questions I knew would be asked, and there was no doubt my answers would set me apart from any other candidates. I walked into the first interview with my head held high boasting more confidence than I had in a while. That confidence began to slip away when the person interviewing me asked his first question. “Do you feel as if teaching is a profession or a vocation?”
Answering this question took me longer than it should have because I was not prepared for it. Before I tell you what my answer was, let me share how this one question hijacked the confidence I had built for this interview. Every question following that first one was a standard teacher interview question. The rest of the interview I kept thinking about the words profession and vocation, so it was a good thing I had prepared for answering those questions. In my head, I was coming up with definitions as if I was making flashcards to study these words. Ultimately I was offered the job so I must have given answers to all of the other questions that made me sound like an excellent teacher. This was fantastic because moving to a new school is what I thought would alleviate my stress, right?
What causes the most stress for teachers?
I ended up declining the offer and returning to the same school. And, I owe that decision to the answer I gave to that first question. “I think it is both. A profession because teachers are just like any other type of worker, we need a paycheck. A vocation because great teachers tend to teach as if it is a craft that is innate and it was always their calling to be in a classroom.”
When I walked out of that interview, I was less concerned about whether or not I would get a call with a job offer and more concerned with my mindset about teaching. How crazy was I to think that simply moving schools would remove me from the stressed-out teachers group? I realized that making that move would only mean I was driving my stress to a new location every day. The Top 10 Stressors for Teachers would certainly be present in any other school.
I needed to find ways to hone my craft as a teacher and create a better environment for my students to alleviate my stress. So, I spent the rest of the summer coming up with strategies to do this. I implemented these 5 strategies the next year, and the results were unbelievable! Using these strategies with my students helped me also keep my well-being at the forefront.
There is a vast amount of research about stressed-out teachers. Much of this research is based on surveys that ask teachers what causes them the most stress. The same issues always show up in the answers to these surveys. Here are just a few:
- A lack of support from administrators.
- Struggles in dealing with classroom behavior problems.
- Challenges of being able to reach all students.
- Keeping a healthy work/life balance.
Help For Stressed Out Teachers
I knew that if I could come up with a plan to manage these issues then I would move from being one of the stressed-out teachers to an effective teacher. Stress Management for Teachers: 16 Activities to Reduce Teachers’ Stress gave me some great ideas on what I needed to do to help myself. Read on to see how I managed to relieve my stress.
Tip #1: Stressed out teachers should demand time.
Many stressed-out teachers tend to neglect their personal lives. How many late evenings have you spent in your classroom? How many Saturdays and Sundays have you devoted to “teacher work”? While you may have spent this time creating fabulous lessons and activities, think about other things you missed out on. Now ask yourself, when was the last time I did something I really enjoyed? When was the last time I truly felt relaxed or invigorated? When was the last time I made some incredible memories with the people I love?
If your answers to these questions are too far back in time to remember, then there is one thing you need to tell yourself… IT IS OK TO PUT ME FIRST! I know exactly what you are thinking…not someone else telling me I need to focus on self-care! The fact is we all know we need self-care, but the problem is we don’t have time. You deserve to demand time.
Get back more time by:
- Making a list of all your duties as a teacher. What is on that list that you can knock off? What is on that list that you can delegate to someone else?
- Disconnecting your work email from your phone. Dedicate nights and weekends to things in your personal life.
- Talking to your administrators about how they may help alleviate the stress of teachers. Suggest ideas that get to the root of teachers’ problems.
Tip #2: Stressed out teachers should adopt sustainable teaching practices.
Decide and write down exactly how you want things to be in your classroom starting from the time students walk in the door to the time students walk out the door. Write down the steps you need to take to make your classroom operate your way. Having a clear vision is the first step to being a successful teacher and relieving stressed-out teachers.
Add these low to no prep ideas to your teaching practices:
- Use bell-ringers (or warm-ups or whatever you may call these quick questions or activities). Prepare bell-ringers at least a week in advance so that they are of no thought to you every day. When students have something to engage them from the very beginning, you will have a few minutes to get things done before starting class.
- Invite lots of class discussions. The benefits of class discussions for students are endless and for you, they are no-prep ways of truly seeing what your students have learned and how well they can think critically.
- Use exit tickets. These are a quick, easy, and low prep way for you to assess your students’ learning. Exit tickets can be premade in advance or they can be an off-the-cuff question you want your students to answer on an oh-so-handy sticky note before they walk out the door at the end of class.
Tip #3: Stressed out teachers should simplify lessons.
Time spent recreating the wheel of teacher lessons and activities does not always lead to the most effective lessons. When you get those amazingly innovative lesson ideas then of course do what you need to do to put it into play, but your classroom doesn’t need to be filled with highly energetic lessons every day. Trying to keep up with that one “unbelievable teacher on Instagram” will only lead you to burn the candle at both ends and become one of the many stressed-out teachers.
Follow this advice to keep your lessons simple:
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When something works well with your students, use it over and over again by simply changing out the content.
- Be flexible. Don’t sweat the small stuff when things don’t go exactly as you planned. If something doesn’t go the way you wanted it to go, then ditch it and find something else that works.
- Become good friends with the internet. Use the thousands of ready-made lessons available online from marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers or other sites you can find by simply googling the content you are covering. Chances are you will need to tweak these lessons to make them work for your students but that is a lot less work than creating brand new lessons every day.
Tip #4: Stressed out teachers should organize their space and materials.
Not only does a clean, organized space make you feel good, but it also makes your life so much easier. Declutter your desk, filing cabinets, shelves, and any other spaces in your classroom. Make your teaching materials easily accessible to you and student materials easily accessible to them.
Do these things to help with your classroom organization:
- Save all of your lesson plans, activities, worksheets, etc. using a system that makes things easy to find. If you are a paper-based type of person then use dividers in a binder to organize your papers by unit or topic. If you are a digital type of person, then save your files in folders (Did you know you can even color-code folders in google drive?) organized by unit or topic.
- Use plastic tubs to store all of the hands-on activities and manipulatives you may have created so that you can easily find them to reuse.
- Have a designated spot where students can grab a pencil or some paper if they need it. Yes, we should make materials available even to the teen students we are trying to build responsibility within. Remember, your number one goal is teaching students, so don’t make them miss out on something in class just because they don’t have a pencil. When they know exactly where they can go to be prepared for class, things naturally run a little smoother.
Tip #5: Stressed out teachers should manage their time well.
There is no doubt that a teacher’s to-do list could go on and on and on. Prioritize everything you need to do to make it more manageable. Once you have prioritized everything (including things in your personal life), use a planner to schedule things out. I also follow these 10 Time Management Secrets from Teachers Who Are Living Their Best Lives to help ease my stress.
Ask yourself these questions to prioritize the things you need to do:
- What is most urgent? These will be the things you should always do first because they need to be done today or tomorrow.
- What can be scheduled? These are things you should go ahead and put on your planner for the future because they will most likely become urgent.
- What can I delegate? Get these things done by asking someone to help you.
- What can wait? These are things you want to do but won’t lead you to accomplish your current goal.
Tip #6: Stressed out teachers should build relationships.
I think we all know how important relationships are in our personal lives, and that is no different in our work lives. Build positive relationships with your work team. Building these relationships will bring about collaboration. The collaboration will lead to better ideas. Better ideas will lead to better lessons. And better lessons will lead to higher success. This whole chain of events leads to less stressed-out teachers.
The benefits of positive work relationships:
- Collaboration leads to better results.
- Gives you someone to go to for advice or help.
- Effective teams can delegate tasks to each other to make everyone’s lives a little easier.
Tip #7: When the day is done… LEAVE!
There is no shame in following the hours written in your contract. If you have found a way to manage your time well then there will be no need to stay late into the evening every day at school because you have already set time aside to grade those papers or work on creating that lesson. Reserve the time after school for you and your loved ones. And, when you walk out that door, don’t spend your evening thinking about all the things you need to get done for work. Leave the work stuff at work…I can promise it will still be there when you arrive in the morning.
What stresses teachers out can be used to transform you, if you let it…
I hope you enjoyed these tips for teacher (and personal) life relief. Always remember to focus on the things you can control. It is the only way to build your confidence, manage your stress, keep your motivation up, communicate better, and be a better problem solver so that you can reach all students. Don’t forget to check out the 5 strategies I used with my students to help alleviate my stress.