Practical advice for stressed teachers.
Teaching can be hard! Long hours, excessive workload, bureaucracy, feeling undervalued, burnout… There are numerous reasons which might contribute to feelings of despondency for your current situation. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. It’s no surprise that a significant number of teachers have considered leaving the profession altogether. Teacher stress is a common issue. Leaving a career altogether though is an important and deeply personal decision. It may ultimately be the right one for your situation, but before you come to that conclusion, you might want to consider some of the reasons you got into teaching to begin with. After all, there must have been a time when teaching conjured up feelings of joy and optimism for you? Let’s explore some of them and look at some practical steps you could implement to see if you can rekindle your love for the job!
Go back and rediscover the ‘why’.
In the midst of those chaotic, stressful rough patches which can be all too familiar for some teachers, it can be easy to lose sight of the reasons you chose the career to begin with. If you’re like many teachers, you want to make a real difference in children’s lives. The bureaucracy involved in teaching, along with countless other pressures can sometimes make it easy to lose sight of this. Take the time to acknowledge how far you’ve come on your own personal journey from when you started your training to where you are now and your many milestones and achievements along the way. Whilst the specific reasons for entering the teaching profession may be deeply personal to you, try not to lose sight of them. Chances are, you’ve come a lot further than you think!
Make self-care a priority.
Putting your own needs first is not selfish. There’s a good reason you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on first in the event of an emergency on a plane. If you’re incapacitated in some way, you won’t be able to assist those around you effectively. Making a priority of your own self-care helps to protect your physical and mental well-being; it helps you avoid the risks of burnout and therefore allows you to give your best for your students.
Exactly how you practice self care will be personal to you, but may include some of the following activities:
- Practicing mindfulness or meditation.
- Physical exercise.
- Time outdoors / in nature.
- Taking part in hobbies.
- Journaling / self reflection.
- Spending time away from screens / technology.
It’s important to pick activities which resonate with you personally and bring a sense of joy or relaxation. Everyone’s self care journey will look different.
Taking time to revisit old lessons and look at ways of injecting some fun and creativity can really alter the dynamic within a classroom. Perhaps this might include looking at games or activities which could be incorporated into lessons to support the learning. They don’t necessarily need to form the backbone of the lesson plan, but could instead be used as rewards, or homework.
The physical environment can also enhance the learning dynamic when it fosters an environment of fun, creativity and visual stimulation. This might entail rearranging furniture or objects to create a more conducive layout for discussions and interaction. It might also involve displaying class work on walls which can be used as talking points or idea generation. Relevant posters, infographics, and images can also make excellent stimuli for learning. On a more primitive level though, a colourful, happy physical environment can generally help people feel more positive, which of course can make a tremendous difference to motivation.
AI is a contentious subject at the moment, and there’s little doubt it’s going to dramatically change the way we live and work in the long term. Rather than be afraid of it though, you could think of it as your very own personal assistant who’s there to support you with certain tasks. Make a list of some of the tasks you need to do, and then consider “are there any tasks on this list that I would delegate to an assistant if I had one?”. The following are just a few examples of ways you could use an AI such as Chat GPT to take off some of the pressure and enhance your current teaching methods.
- Idea generation and brainstorming.
- Building outline structures for Powerpoint presentations.
- Simplifying complex concepts and ideas.
- Coming up with tailored strategies to deal with certain students.
- Getting feedback on writing.
- Being a discussion facilitator.
- Generating creative writing prompts.
- Coming up with mock exam questions.
Check out this big list if you want some inspiration for uses of AI in the classroom.
Focus on the wins
It’s often too easy to let the challenges of your job cast dark shadows over the reasons you originally fell in love with teaching. Negativity bias means that as humans, we may be hardwired with a tendency to focus on, and over-emphasise negative situations. Whilst this might have several evolutionary advantages, it can lead to feelings of despondency. By focusing on our wins, both big and small, we can counteract this negativity and give ourselves a much needed morale boost.
Over time, focusing on our wins breeds a sense of confidence in our abilities and a feeling that we are growing and making progress in our endeavors. Marking progress is crucial for maintaining motivation in longer-term tasks and goals where it can sometimes be hard to see where we are making ground.
Getting a sense of moving forward and making tangible progress towards goals can give a real sense of achievement and allow us to celebrate successes. This moral boost helps us as individuals and as part of a team
Help someone else
Being a mentor to others can give you a sense of empathy that turns the spotlight away from your own problems, and towards the benefits of helping others. Through mentoring, you can develop several core skill sets, including leadership, communication, and problem solving which can then be transferred and applied to other areas of your life. In addition to these obvious benefits, mentoring can also help develop professional relationships and strengthen networks, which down the line might lead to new, fulfilling work opportunities in the future.
Benefits of the job
It can be a beneficial exercise to occasionally remind yourself of some of the benefits that go hand in hand with your job. Again, these will differ for everyone, but might include some of the following:
- Job security and/stability
- Opportunities for personal growth and learning
- A sense of community
- Making a real difference
- The chance to express your creativity
- Influencing others/being a role model
- The academic diary – aligning with family life and holidays
Remembering these benefits helps you develop a sense of gratitude. This shift in focus can help to interrupt negative thought patterns, reduce worry and improve overall mental health.
Hopefully, applying some of these practical steps can help you regain a more positive perspective and find a sense of joy in what can ultimately be an extremely rewarding career. Teaching may not always get the respect it deserves as a profession, however, it offers the chance to literally shape the future by influencing younger generations. Many adults can recall those teachers who made an impact in their lives, often many years after leaving school. This is testament to the powerful impact teachers can make in our lives. Teaching plays a crucial role in society. They deserve our respect and appreciation for the valuable contribution they continue to make as we navigate an uncertain future. Thank you!
Finally, if you’re struggling with your mental health, please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to friends, family or colleagues and let them know how you’re feeling. If you feel you might be depressed, remember that it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a health issue that many people face and there are people and organisations you can reach out to for help and support.
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