In shocking news to no educator, a recent survey from the American Federation of Teachers shows a majority of teachers feel stressed at work. Compared to 30% of the general population, more than 60% of teacher respondents expressed that their work is always or often stressful.
The role of a teacher is demanding and many-sided, and thus, so are the stressors – whether it be the pressure to perform, finding time to master learning objectives, or that (seemingly impossible) dream of work-life-balance. While we likely can’t eliminate all our work-related stressors, there are a few strategies to support stress management for teachers in order to better manage day to day.
A simple four-part outline for getting stress under control is by leveraging what The Mayo Clinic calls “The Four A’s”: Avoid, Alter, Accept, and Adapt.
While we often coach our students (and selves) to face problems head on, we can set ourselves up for success by recognizing which stressors are simply avoidable. With a little planning and foresight, you can begin sidestepping unnecessary issues that get in the way or slow you down. Begin to shift your perception of “avoidant” behaviors from evasive to tactical.
- Traffic or Commuting: Gaining an understanding of traffic patterns may help you avoid the stress of your commute. Learn when to leave home or work early in order to avoid the stress entirely. Add in a good audio-book or podcast and your commute could become one of the most anticipated parts of the day.
- Catching Stress: If you find the worries of coworkers are beginning to cloud your brainspace, set boundaries for topics of conversation that aren’t 100% work related or highlight the finer parts of your days. Make a point to not engage in gossip or strained groupthink topics. In this situation, imagine stress as a virus you can catch from those affected – best to quarantine and avoid!
- Taking on Too Much: It is easy to commit to extra leadership roles within your department team, agree to take on extracurricular coaching opportunities, or joining several staff committees. These positions often bring a lot of joy, especially if you’re contributing to a goal or sport you love, but if you feel like you have too much on your plate, learn to say no or relinquish control.
- Needed Breaks: Too many of us skip lunch in its entirety. Though the first ‘A’ is avoid, proper meals are one area of your day you shouldn’t be shirking. Nourish your body and mind by taking the break you deserve while avoiding distractions or multitasking during your downtime.
Not every stressor is avoidable, so for those you can’t cross off the list, it’s time to get creative. When evaluating what causes stress in your job, you’ll likely find most problems fit neatly into this category, which fortunately means you can better manage your stress with slight alterations.
- Work-Life Balance: Schedule your time thoughtfully so you can enjoy your non-work life outside of school. Instead of taking your work home, staying up late into the night, and working through the weekend, extend your school day by showing up a little earlier and staying a little later, maybe one or two days a week. Develop a calendar and hold yourself accountable to it.
- Meeting and Planning Time: Time is valuable, making wasted or misused time a huge strain on your happiness and relationships with colleagues. In alignment with better managing your non-work hours, ensure that your meetings and planning periods are productive by developing an agenda and setting priorities for your time.
- Financial Stress: The education industry is unfortunately not offering sky-high salaries, but there are a few options to invest in yourself to improve pay over time, including earning a masters degree or obtaining additional certifications. Perhaps most importantly, there are more resources and tools than ever to help manage your finances through budgeting and investing to reduce any financial strain.
- Secondhand Stress: Our students sometimes face difficult situations or circumstances in their home lives. Though you are their protector and cheerleader for a large part of their day, accept and learn how to not take on others’ stressors as your own. Remember your classroom is fully within your control – use your time with students to make their learning as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.
There are some pressures in life we must learn to accept. Focus on managing what you can control by strengthening your coping skills, remaining positive, and recognizing that frustration only further depletes your energy.
- Adjusting to Newness or Top-Down Initiatives: Change is hard. Uncertainty and anxiety are common emotions when dealing with a switch up. Whether it be an unfamiliar curriculum or brand new leadership team, practice managing your emotions and expectations, and commit to feedback, feedback, feedback along the way.
- Meeting Students’ Needs: As a teacher, you’re always seeking out fresh teaching strategies, learning tools, and buzzy gimmicks to cater to your students’ learning styles and interests. This is great and I encourage you to continue doing the best you can by students, but we must also accept that there are only 24 hours in a day. Forgive yourself when you’re unable to reinvent the wheel and accept that you’re a great teacher. You’re an even better one when your stress is in check!
- Mistakes: We all make them. Start by practicing positive self-talk. Then commit to learning from your mistakes, without allowing them to take residence in your mind. They do not pay rent there. Introduce your blunder-related stress to grace and let. it. go.
- A Shared Experience: You’re not alone in dealing with the unique stress that comes with teaching. Find a mentor or friend to confide in, whether that be within your school or district, or build your professional learning network via Facebook Groups like The Connected Educator Group or Twitter education chats.
With some stress, it’s a matter of adjusting our standards and expectations. Education is a benchmarked world, but start to make the same accommodations for yourself that you do for your students. We don’t expect every student’s success to look the same nor do we demand near constant perfection – what would they learn from that experience and how bland would it be?
- Student Expectations: The hardest lesson I learned as a new teacher was not to play the comparison game between groups of students year to year and class to class. Instead of being reactive, holding tightly to expectations, and elevating my blood pressure, I learned to adapt to students’ unique personalities and incorporate their quirks into lessons rather than fighting them.
- Classroom Management: There are likely thousands of articles and trainings focused on strategies for better classroom management, and I am no expert in the field. My best advice for adapting to tough situations is directly from the original 4 A’s blog post – develop a mantra like “I can handle this,” and mentally repeat it whenever you need.
- Performance Reviews: Some stress certainly pushes us in a positive direction. Offering students a high quality, future-ready education is our main goal, and we should hold ourselves to high standards. But, we shouldn’t strive for perfection – people make mistakes. You’ll start to find joy in what you’re doing well and growing in.
- Questioning Your Impact: Your formal review is valuable, but what is most important is how you view and talk to yourself. Create a list of what is going well in your classroom, where your students are growing and excelling, and what goals you’d like to accomplish for the month and year that would ensure you’ll feel successful. Come back to this list often and you’ll find your mind more at ease with a global record of your results.
Stress is a part of our lives. Whether it’s the beginning of a new semester, school year, or even week, commit to taking a look at what’s causing tension or pressure in your school day and teaching career. Own what you can control and accept what you can’t. You’ll become a better you for yourself and your students with strategies for sustainable stress management.
Amber Osuba is the Senior Marketing Manager for K-12. Prior to this role, Amber served as a Senior Implementation Manager supporting educators and districts across Pennsylvania and Maryland for three years. She is a former first grade STEM teacher and curriculum lead. You’ll find her at EVERFI’s national conference booths asking teachers to grab swag, take a selfie and tag @EVERFI.