It’s 2.5 weeks into the beginning of the school year, and I have three to-do lists going (and I can’t remember where one of them is). I’ve already had a migraine, stomach bug of some sort, and I’ve not been getting enough sleep. Sound familiar year after year?
What’s the culprit? It’s simple – stress. A teacher’s life will always be stressful to some degree because that’s just the nature of the job — even more now than ever — but there are a few things that tend to add more stress than others. If you don’t want to repeat another year filled with stress, take a look at these tips for having an UNstressful school year.
1) Recreating the Wheel Produces Unnecessary Work
When I first started teaching over a decade ago, most of the time when I sat down to plan, I pretty much had to start with a tabula rasa because I had no textbook ancillaries, no Pinterest, Teachergram, or TpT. I was also in a district that I was new to, so I had no teacher-friends there. Nowadays there are so many resources and opportunities for collaboration that there is no reason to develop every single lesson for every single day from scratch. Certainly, there are new ideas that come along for a great project or assignment, and it’s nice to feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve created something new. Plus, I get bored easily with the same lessons over and over, so I’m always trying new things. However, when you’re to-do list is growing by the minute, and you can’t get a single thing marked off for new things being added, using ready-to-go lessons frees you up to do the many, many other tasks that you face. There’s also something to be said for using materials, lessons, and ideas that other teachers have classroom-tested and tweaked. Experience, they say, is the best teacher. And, the best teacher is the one who isn’t stressed.
2) Worrying About Things You Can’t Change Produces Unwanted Stress
There are so many things in education that are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. The short list includes class size, students in the class, class length, the administration, and federal mandates. We all wish for things we don’t have – the grass is always greener on the other side. Daily devotionals keep me grounded first thing in the morning, and I love First5 messages and my own pastor’s All In Daily Devotional. THE VERY FIRST ONE I read from First 5 was geared specifically toward this major stressor in my life. Worry – and worrying about things I can’t change. The key quote said, “Contentment is the key to success.” If I’m always wishing I had different students, for example, then I’m not doing the ones that are right in front of me justice, and the truth is, God put those kids in my classroom for this season for a reason. Shifting your focus from the “what ifs” to the “what is” will definitely provide more success than stress.
3) Listening to and Sponging Up Other People’s Negativity Breeds More Stress
In the morning you get coffee from the community pot, and two coworkers pull you into their conversation about last night’s basketball game loss. They can’t believe that coach’s bad call. Then, at lunch, you sit down to eat in the lounge where a couple of teachers are gossiping about the way new teacher dresses and how another teacher is always late. At class change a student comes up and tells you all about how she and her best friend are in a huge fight, and she needs to hang out in your room until it blows over. At the end of the day you have a headache, and you can’t concentrate. It’s a slippery slope if you are constantly subjecting yourself to this kind of environment.
Studies show that negativity leads to a bevy of health issues including heart problems, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Of course, you are concerned about your students and coworkers, but protecting yourself first is key to a healthy year. Having a truly helpful and healthy support system, friends and/or family, is the best way to survive a tough year or rough patch in this job. Thankfully, over the years, I’ve found a happy balance between showing concern and sponging up other people’s problems. It sounds harsh, but it’s a fine line. A genuine smile and an open ear go a long way with upset students, but their issues don’t come into my classroom, nor do they go home with me.
Their issues are ones to pray about, but I work really hard to choose that instead of the worry. Even harder, was the tough choice to avoid the teacher’s lounge and other areas where Negative Nelly or Downer Dave hangs out. Breaking away was awkward, but now I look forward to my quiet time in the middle of the day. Fostering healthy, positive relationships is valuable and sharing your struggles and bearing each other’s burdens is critical, but soaking up other people’s problems to the point that you internalize them is only going to weigh you down.
4) Working Without a Plan Leads to Chaos
I like to plan: my lessons, my meals, and even my outfits. However, so many times I’ve sat down to plan a lesson at the last minute and found a cute idea, but I didn’t leave myself enough time to get the supplies or make the extra copies. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to finish a project or task because of a lack of planning. Most of the time, a lack of planning leads to procrastinating or being rushed at the last minute. I also think planning helps with that feeling of how to eat the elephant. I tend to see everything I need to do as one big overwhelming pile, and then I can’t get started anywhere. Reminding myself I can eat that elephant one bite at a time is a huge stress reliever, and then I can make my plan to go forward. The best plan to have is the one that is flexible and takes into consideration that things change — if it’s one thing that we’ve learned from teaching through a pandemic, it’s this one. I do like to have a plan B for my lessons. You never know when the projector bulb will blow or when there’s going to be an emergency fire drill in second period. Planners gonna plan. However, if you aren’t willing to commit to some sort of plan, there are so many opportunities for stress to take over.
5) Thinking Everything Has to be Perfect All the Time Sets You Up for Failure
I’m a Type A, Enneagram #1 personality, so trying to achieve perfectionism in everything is a real problem, and it bogs me down very quickly. In our district, teachers are given a rating – a number. I’m sure that’s similar to other districts, or maybe they have other “incentives” to keep teachers on their toes. Unrealistic expectations and perfectionism can make unfulfilled goals feel even more stressful. To me, there’s nothing worse than that feeling of not doing the best. But the question comes down to “whose best?” – “not who’s best?” Once I realized that it’s my personal best – not in comparison with anyone else – and the growth and achievement my students are making based on what I can see in my classroom, my entire paradigm on perfectionism shifted. The thing is, it’s not reasonable to be a “5” every day in everything. Today might be a “5” day at school, but not at the game, or at home, or vice versa. Also, I think realizing that there are a few things that teachers work on to the point of perfection that may not really need to be at the top of the list could help relieve some undue stress. They (the cute bulletin boards, the perfect wall hangings, grading every single thing, etc.) take up valuable time, brain space, and energy. I love all those things, but physical, mental, and emotional health are key.
Another issue that fits into this category is not taking a sick day or resting when we really need to. Grab a sub plan, and let yourself recuperate. The reality is that we are teachers – not robots. No one wants to be a slacker, but sometimes cutting yourself some slack can eliminate the stress.
Maybe you can add to this list. I’d love to hear how you’re coping with the stress of school.
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