This blog was inspired by Jess Ledbetter’s November blog entitled, Pressures of Teaching: Decreasing our Effectiveness? It’s definitely a serious issue that deserves our attention and further study. There are countless reasons why teachers become highly stressed: high stakes exams, demanding administrators, grading papers, lesson planning, and challenging students etc. On a daily basis, those circumstances can challenge teachers to do their jobs well—or overwhelm them. Even the most veteran and “put-together” teacher is dealing with an enormous range of incoming: demands for their time, energy and attention. Teacher stress is nothing new. Everyone knows that teaching is stressful, or do they? At some point, in our career, we have all heard these words: Teachers get to go home at 3 or 4 p.m; they have famously long holidays and their summers off. The truth is, however, you can find tons of research illustrating how this profession is actually the single most stressful job there is!
So why aren’t we seeing more done to help teachers “manage” their stress?
There is no easy answer to this question or quick fix. For one, as teachers, we tend to isolate ourselves and suffer in silence. We do a great job of masking our feelings. We are afraid to tell someone what’s really going on with us because we fear it will negatively impact our job. We don’t want to be seen as weak. This masking or covering up our feelings have led many teachers to quit the profession-or worse-they end up having a mental breakdown. As teachers, it’s our nature to keep giving until we reach complete exhaustion. However, as a profession, we cannot afford to look the other way or take a hands-off approach on this issue. Stressed teachers affect their environment, both personal and professional. Often, they are exhausted from lack of sleep and overwork, which has an impact on their preparation, their class demeanor, and their relationships with their colleagues. More importantly, students especially respond to teacher stress. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. Students sense teacher stress and react to it. Sometimes, the reaction is exactly what the teacher does not need: acting out. How can we expect educators to help students cope with their problems and be ready to learn without first taking time to care for themselves?
This brings me back to Ledbetter’s blog. I believe this inattention to teacher stress weakens our long-term development of teachers significantly. From the very beginning (preservice training), we should be preparing our teachers more skillfully on the types of stress they will encounter in this profession, and how to manage it more effectively. Just as we focus on the whole child, why not take this same approach with beginning teachers. We should give teachers an understanding of how this profession impacts their whole mind and body. I am currently studying mindfulness-based interventions; it’s quite a fascinating study. Mindfulness-based interventions and stress-reducing strategies can lead to improvements not only in teachers’ social and emotional well-being, but also in instructional climate and student engagement. Mindfulness-based interventions are designed to help teachers reduce stress and burnout. We have to start paying more attention to the inner dimensions of the teacher’s life. We must start giving teachers strategies for working with their physical response, their presence and shape in the classroom, so they can access tools and resources to handle the amount of energy that is coming at them. Administrators play a vital role in helping and supporting teachers manage their stress. Administrators must understand his or her role in teacher stress and then change that impact by supporting teachers when they need help. One simple way principals can show this support is to use teacher in-service days to teach or reinforce skills that will have a positive impact on school climate: stress management, conflict management, communication skills and effective techniques for parent-teacher communication.
I want to see more programs in our profession that are designed to help educators tackle stress, nutrition, fatigue, trauma and adversity. In our preservice training, we must start to address the whole teacher. The right methodologies and tools—including those that allow teachers to get in touch with their mind, body, and spirit—can help them do that. Such strategies, not only help teachers holistically, but it can also positively impact a school’s overall climate. I would like to see all of our school districts create specific, proven programs for reducing stress and for helping administrative, teaching, and support staff manage stress and improve communication and problem solving skills. We spend a lot of time providing professional development for teachers to address academic and social issues with their students, but we fail to provide teachers with tools to combat their own stress or offer strategies for teachers to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul.
The journey leading teachers to emotional burnout is multifaceted and influenced by both how teachers deal with stress and how stress shows up in the classroom. It’s an issue that demands and deserves our attention because building mentally healthy teachers can subsequently build emotionally healthy students.
What are you doing to relieve stress in your own life?