What I’ll say now, probably won’t come as a big revelation: the less stressed you are, the better you will be performing in your job.
Stress management is linked to time management, therefore make sure to read up on that here.
What can you do in order to be less anxious, and less stressed? Before I refer you to meditation, and relaxation techniques that can be very helpful, I’d like to start by saying a few general things:
- look at the bigger picture: You are new to this. Be kind to yourself. No one ever jumped into teaching, and never made any mistakes, or was ‘perfect’ from the start. This is an important lesson to learn. There is no ‘perfect’. As a teacher, you will always be learning, you’ll always be keeping on your toes, in order to improve your teaching practice, and strive to find your way, and be your best self. However: never forget to be kind and understanding to yourself in the process. What would you say to a close friend if they beat themselves up over their job, and them thinking they are under-performing? You’d hopefully tell them that they need to take a deep breath, look at what they’ve already achieved in order to get where they are today, and be patient. This is exactly how you should try to approach your teaching career. Give yourself time to get used to the new environment, to get to know your students, to develop a routine, and get used to schemes of work. Being a teacher is an incredible job, but it also has about 500 skills within it that you will master over time. It’s a bit like driving a car in the beginning, or learning an instrument; you have to juggle so many things at once that you don’t know where to start, and have to practise a lot, before you become comfortable with it. When I started out in my first placement, I used to print out my lesson plans, when teaching, because it felt like my head would explode, memorising everything I needed to get through, whilst getting the students on my side. I later on discovered the benefits of having my lesson plan on my PowerPoints in the form of bullet points on the right hand corner, which you can see here:
This will not only be a big help for you, but will also be useful for the students. It will enable them to focus better, and if you have students on the autistic spectrum, it will satisfy their need for structure as well, and will make them feel more comfortable in your class. So be patient with yourself, establish a routine that helps both you, and your students, be consistent, and trust yourself! You are here for a reason. You are capable. You will master this, just as you’ve mastered many other things in your life that you didn’t think you’d manage to conquer. Make a list of five things you thought you’d never accomplish in life that actually worked out. Remind yourself of those things, when you need it.
- When you feel stress and anxiety creeping up before a lesson starts, give yourself two minutes. Only two minutes are enough time to take a deep breath, think of something positive, like your personal happy place, to pick you up, and smile! Two minutes are also enough to get into your power pose (you can pass this little trick on to your students), and use it to change your attitude towards what’s to come in a positive way. Remember this: You are the boss, and you determine when people can enter your space. To me, it is very important to have my own space before a lesson starts. Everything has to be in place, I need to be by myself, without distractions to be at my best for the upcoming lesson. Therefore, my students line up in front of my classroom, and wait for me to let them in. It is my decision when this happens. It will of course happen on time, but it happens on my terms, and when I am ready. It is important to feel like you’re in control, and have your space, when you need it.
- If you are stressed because of issues with students and classroom dynamics, have a look at this post about behaviour management. If a student pushes all your buttons, and really winds you up, you need to take a deep breath, before you say anything, and nip it in the bud, and not give the confrontation any space during your lesson. You divert it by saying: ‘If you need to talk about it with me, now is not the time for it, please see me after class, and we’ll talk’. If the situation has escalated, or is about to escalate, take it outside. Take the student out on the corridor, shut the door, and briefly talk to them, explaining what you need them to do, in order to be able to continue with your lesson. If all else fails, send another student that you trust to take the student in question to see your head of department, or whoever is responsible for behavioural issues at your school. Always act within your school’s guidelines. You need to cover your back. Always. If you feel like you are getting really desperate with a particular student, or class, don’t just suffer quietly. Speak to your colleagues about it, ask for help or advice, try to connect with the parents. Can you call them, and get them on your side by asking them to support you? Chances are they have no idea how their child is behaving in your class. Be sure to always be positive. You are not the enemy, they are not the enemy, the student is not the enemy. You are a bunch of people who want things to work out. So you try to find a positive about the student, something you like about them, and keep that in mind, whenever you talk to them, or their parents. You all have their best interest in mind, and you are asking the parents for advice on how to make your lessons more beneficial for all sides.
- Is it issues with colleagues you are stressed about? Maybe your head? Try to address the issue with the person you’re struggling with. Be very democratic about it, and try to find a solution that works for both of you. Before you go and speak to their superior, always try to address them directly at first, and sort things out with them. It is important to communicate, and try to find a common ground in order to not let things turn sour. These are all things you don’t necessarily know when you are very new to the profession. Maybe it’s your first job, and these ‘politics’ can be very, very difficult to handle. Always try to find an ally at school whom you can talk to about things that sit on your chest. There’s a fine line that you need to keep in mind: do not badmouth people, but find someone you can call a friend, or a trusted colleague that you can share your worries with. It is extremely important to not be alone with your concerns in this profession, and you’ll find that life gets so much lighter, if you can talk about the issues you are facing, and you will also discover that everyone struggles to a certain extent. If you teach the same students, you can also find out how they behave in other classes, by talking to your colleagues. Other than that, I would strongly recommend becoming a member of the union. Should anything ever escalate at your workplace, you’ll have someone to turn to who can offer additional support, and knows how things work, legally.
- Maybe it is the sheer enormousness of the workload that stresses you out. It is a reality we all have to face. It is A LOT OF WORK. It will be a lot of work most the time, but it comes in waves. There are times when you won’t know how to get through it all with meetings, books and tests to be marked, setting homework, planning lessons, parents’ evenings, you name it. But you’ll find that there are also times, when things calm down a little. It is vital that you bury your perfectionist during these times. Be resourceful and efficient. If you find a resource, or an exercise that works well, use it across the board! Tweak it, yes, but keep that to a minimum. Share resources, and workloads by working with your colleagues, if you can. It will save you a lot of time. Make an ‘ugly frog’ list, in which you put the most pressing issue that needs immediate tackling (ugliest frog) at the top. Follow up with other tasks, according to urgency. Stick to the list, and do what you have to do to get that stuff done! Only allow the most urgent disruptions. And: don’t overwhelm yourself by putting 10 ugly frogs on your list. Keep it achievable, in order to not get frustrated, you’re supposed to feel good about yourself and your achievements, after all.
- And finally, let’s talk about a few handy things you can do to wind down, when it’s most needed. I’ll say it again and again: Us humans need routines and little rituals to stay sane. Just as much as it is hugely beneficial for your students to have a routine in place (I’ll talk more about this in my form time post), it also helps you to stay in a positive mindset, and feel successful at what you do. Start your day at the same time, and end it at the same time. Do you like drinking tea, coffee, or a smoothie in the morning? Make that your morning ritual to mark the start of your day, and try to make it a little special once in a while; reward yourself for something you should feel pride of by buying a new tea flavour, or an especially fancy fruit for your smoothie (maybe add some syrup as a special treat), or maybe a speciality coffee you know you’ll enjoy.
- Make sure to not skip meals! Fuel your body with healthy, tasty food (here’s a list of some fabulous blogs with recipes) I know, you have zero time, so you can either pre-cook on the weekend, or take turns buying healthy ready meals and preparing something, but please don’t let this slip, it is important to stay fit, and food is a vital component in this venture.
- If you have to take work home: make the experience as pleasant as possible. If you need to mark books, or tests, set the scene by lighting a scented candle, or putting some scented oil in the humidifier (here’s a link to a nice one that has changing colours.
- Set a timer for breaks, and the end of work time. Once the timer rings, there are no extensions. You stop working, and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. It helps me to determine what my reward will be, before I start working, because then I have a specific thing to look forward to. It could be anything you enjoy. A Yin Yoga class, online, or in person, an episode of your favourite series, a chapter in a book, a hot foamy bath, or a shower, listening to your favourite album, etc., etc.
- Now, I am the ultimate anti-new age person, trust me, so believe me when I say that there is valid research that suggests that regular meditation helps to reduce stress levels, and sharpens our focus. There was a time, when the Calm app was free for teachers, but that’s no longer the case, although, I think you can still get some free features. They also have lovely sleep stories that you can listen to in different languages (might also come in handy with some classes). There’s the Smiling Mind App that’s entirely free, and also intended to be used in class! Of course YouTube is packed with all sorts of things, but I’d like to mention my channel ‘Stress-Less for Teachers’ here that I started during Corona lockdown. ASMR (look it up on YouTube) is another thing that you can try out to calm down, and sleep better, which makes the perfect transition to my final point on this topic:
- Sleep: please don’t neglect it. There were times when I planned until 2AM in the morning, during my training, just to get up again at 6 before teaching. This was stupid, and I wish I knew back then to put a lid on it, when I really should have. Try to get about 8 hours of sleep. It will make a tremendous difference in how you feel, and your brain will have a chance to recover. Seriously people, it will never be worth compromising your health for a job. No matter what. I’ve done absolutely stupid things, like leaving school past 10PM at night, which got me exactly nowhere. No one recognised the quality of my work, or acknowledged all the extra hours I put in, and the students would have learned exactly the same with me leaving at a normal time of day. This was an important lesson to learn, and I hope you will be more sensible than me, and put yourselves first, because you can only do a good job, without burning out, if you look after yourself. No one else will do it for you. You have to take initiative and know your worth. Take care!