Imagine yourself in the front of the classroom, teaching your primary class on a Wednesday afternoon, and you’re tired from volunteering at the basketball game and McTeacher’s event the night before. As you’re teaching, you have the pressure of preparing for the after-school club, lesson-planning, and grading papers in the back of your head, and all through these thoughts, you are passionately getting first graders pumped about this week’s sight words. During this lesson, you have a very special student who is wiggling in his seat, interrupting your every other word. Literally. If he is not interrupting, then he is singing, humming, chirping, tapping, stomping, snapping……. And throughout this disruption you are trying so hard to keep the students engaged in the lesson. The pressure in your head builds and builds, until you feel like you can snap. What to do? Persevere through this? Call the office and ask for help? Move the student into the next room for a quick break to preserve your sanity? I chose the latter as I had this experience this past week. I knew my breaking point, and it was quickly coming. Luckily I have a great supportive grade level team who helps each other out when we need a break. I want to be the best teacher to all my students, but I knew it was time to ask for help. I did not want to be that teacher who snaps.
February- the very mention of this month can strike fear and anxiety in the hearts and minds of Arizona educators. Although it is nice to get an average of 12 chocolate boxes from adoring students for Valentine’s Day, Arizona teachers also have to contend with the stress of evalutions, staffing decisions, “end-of-year” benchmark assessments, and the countdown to AIMS. More teachers are feeling the clench of the job security noose around their throats. This stress is draining and can lead to anxiety and depression in today’s educators. We are trained to identify mental health issues in our students, but are we stopping to look around at our peers to see if they need a helping hand?? Mental health is a critical element to a successful teacher, but I think it is being overlooked in today’s society. As much as teachers have on their plates, their emotional and psychological well-being should be a consideration in their effectiveness. Productive, positive classrooms are headed up by emotionally and psychologically grounded teachers.
Time for solutions!! If people proactively preserve the emotional health of educators, we can ensure happy, positive classrooms.
- When you are visiting with an educator, don’t ask “How are you?” You know what the answer will be! Ask a teacher what their celebrations and challenges are in the classroom… and out of the classroom. When a teacher is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or lonely, this specific question will usually tap into an authentic emotional response, which can lead to helpful conversations and restoration of one’s sanity.
- Instead of greeting fellow educators with “Have a great week!” on a Monday morning and walking away to your classroom or office, stop and ask, “How can I support you this week to help you feel successful?”
- Know when it’s time to borrow a student. We all have students who are dealing with emotional baggage of their own, and sometimes they like to take it out on the classroom environment. When your teammate has shared about a trying day with a student like this, ask to have them be your classroom guest. Give that teacher a mental break so they can regroup.
- Write an encouraging note. When I had an incredibly stressful job last summer, I found an anonymous sticky note on my desk. Three simple words: “You are awesome!!!” (Yes, with three exclamation points!) It was a breath of fresh air to know that someone out there appreciated me. Don’t let your own time restraints hinder your effort to encourage an educator- just write a quick note of encouragement. Simplicity is powerful. It’s the thought that counts!
- Preserve down time! Why do teachers feel guilty about having fun during their off hours, instead of grading papers, calling parents, and lesson-planning?? Sometimes those responsibilities just need to be pushed aside to have fun and relax. Ask your fellow educators how they spent their weekend. If they don’t exactly have anything to share, encourage them to find a way to relax.
- Assess the school staff morale every quarter. Encourage your administrator to use a survey to check the morale of the staff. If it’s going down, maybe it’s time for a team-building meeting to uplift one another.
Just as the flight attendants always remind the parents of small children on the planes, they must first attach their oxygen masks before the children’s. Let’s keep that in mind as we assess and address our own mental well-being before and during helping our students.