In light of my theme this week of preparing for the school year which starts tomorrow (eek!) I thought I’d share my thoughts on teacher stress and burn out.
This is a big issue for me. I think teacher stress and burn out (especially with the statistics you’re always hearing) is particularly relevant for recent graduates starting their first full time position but at the same time I feel very experienced teachers need a bit of a reminder from time to time.
My first year was hell. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It was tough and I really struggled. I lacked sleep, I didn’t eat properly, I constantly had headaches, I got sick a lot, I was highly emotional, feeling very alone and needing support but I wouldn’t ask for it because I felt like I needed to show everyone I was coping and capable. This was a big mistake. A huge mistake. Eventually of course, things became easier in terms of managing my lessons and what I was teaching. I worked through my stress by trying to find ways of managing it so that I was living a much healthier, more balanced existence.
It seems that in our culture we feel guilty if we dare take some time for ourselves. Everyone needs to do this in my opinion especially in a job as dynamic and stressful as teaching.
That is why I am now a huge advocate for work/life balance. -Here are some of things that have worked for me. Maybe you might like to try some of these when you’re feeling a bit “stretched.”
- Snacking 101 – Recess, Lunch? What are they? You know what I’m talking about . We’ve all been there. More than once. We don’t sit down to eat our lunch because we’re dealing with something or other. The amount of times my lunch doesn’t get eaten until after the school day has ended? Countless times. To avoid this I eat breakfast. Low GI carbs and some protein. My other trick is to carry around portable snacks and a drink bottle with water. Nut bars, carrot sticks, bananas, almonds. Anything I can fit in my pocket or pencil case. You’re topping up your energy levels with slow burning foods to get you through in case you miss another break. So make sure it is the right foods. Other ideas might be a tuna or chicken sandwich or a salad. I will sometimes make a batch of savoury muffins or a slice on the weekend, freeze it and take out what I need during the week. Great if you can’t be bothered making your lunch the night before.
- Prepare the Night Before – Planning meals and preparing the night before is crucial. You don’t want to feel flustered in the morning because you have a million things to do. This should include preparing your clothes and you bag. I know it sounds simple but so many people don’t do it and a calm start to the day sets the tone (hopefully) for the rest of it.
- Keep Watered – I carry around a 750ml bottle and by the evening I have to have filled it up and drunk it all twice. Make it visible on your desk so you don’t forget to take a swig after each period. Keep one in your car or in other high traffic areas to remind you. If you’re lucky enough to have your own classroom keep one in there.
- Take 5 – Before you switch off the lights and shut the door to move onto the next period, stop for five seconds and ask yourself out loud how you think the lesson went. Decide how you feel and how you want to deal with it. What do you need? Remind yourself to get what you need and make it a priority after the school day is over.
- Get a Massage – To deal with my headaches I started seeing a chiropractor and from there it was recommended that I see a masseuse to loosen muscles in preparation for my adjustments. Well, it completely changed my life. This is remedial massage so it’s not necessarily relaxing at the time but afterward you feel immediate relief and calmness. The way I handle stressful situations has improved immensely because I am not holding on to so much tension. This is my time during the month that I make for myself.
- Move – Exercise, I believe is absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy balance. When my kids frustrate me I go to a boxing class. My biggest exercise outlet though is running. Whatever your choice (walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates, zumba) make sure you’re doing something. Get that heart rate up at least three times a week. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
- Treat Yourself – I like to have something to work towards. So whether it is a holiday, a new gadget or a nice night out at a restaurant with friends, treat yourself to something at least once a term and tell yourself you worked hard for it. Say it out loud if it helps. I like saving mine up for the last day of term as a celebration.
- Connect with a Professional Network – Seek out networks to support you with any help you need in your classroom. Consider professional associations, attending a TeachMeet or Twitter. I’ve blogged about Twitter and its benefits here.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask – This is especially important for all new teachers beginning this year. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. You are not incompetent. People just assume you know what you’re doing. You’re learning and it will take a while to learn how your school functions. This goes for experienced teachers as well. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Ask for help if you need it. No man is an island.
and finally if you are feeling under the weather…
- Take a Mental Health Day – If you are feeling stretched sometimes it is OK to take a Mental Health Day. If it’s becoming a regular thing however consider talking to your school’s Counsellor, your GP or EAPS.
- If You’re Sick Stay Home – I don’t want your germs. If you are sick stay home and rest. Your body is telling you it needs rest so don’t ignore it.
Your health and mental wellbeing is so important. You cannot be an effective teacher without being mentally and physically on top of your game. So make sure this year you take some time for yourself and don’t feel guilty for it.
All the best for a great year.
What ways do you keep balanced? Comments appreciated.