5 tips to help with Teachers' Stress

What do Tom Cruise and teacher stress have in common? 
Click for song: Danger Zone

Teaching is a stressful job. Back to school, the day after Halloween, and parent-teacher conference week are times when you can almost feel the stress in the air of a school. It was during one of these anxiety-inducing times that I began humming the Danger Zone.  Do you do that, too?  Sometimes when life is a little crazy, rather than get bogged down with feeling overwhelmed, I step back and look at the situation a little differently.

Stress alert! Stress alert! You are getting ready to enter the danger zone! Cue Kenny Loggin's song Danger Zone. Do images of Tom Cruise getting ready to jump in his F14 Tomcat float through your mind?  What does this have to do with teaching you ask?

There are certain times of the school year that can cause a teacher to lose the work-life balance.  The demands and expectations of a teacher can make you feel overwhelmed.  I call these times the TEACHERS' DANGER ZONE. See if this list of possible stressors sound familiar:
You know you're in the teachers' danger zone when . . .
  • You have more meetings than prep periods. So, now in addition to not having your prep periods to plan for your students you need to do sub plans because you are being pulled from your class to attend yet another meeting.
  • You have more inside recess days than outside recess days. Can you say cabin fever?
  • You rarely get a full night's sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night with some epiphany that is going to be the new be-all-to-end-all for teaching this week's lessons. Now you can't go back to sleep, so Starbucks here you come!
  • You have counted the days until it's time to give the next test and realize there is no way you can possibly teach all you need to in this amount of time. This has now given you a bad case of TMJ, migraines, your ulcer is acting up, immunities are down so you catch the latest virus, or a host of any of stressed induced maladies which means a trip to the doctor which means a trip to Walgreen's. Does this sound like a teacher's version of "If you give a mouse a cookie?"

  • You're no longer clear what RTI means to you, for you, or for your students. The lines seem very murky. Exactly who provides which service, for how long, when do you do this or that, and then do something else? It all seems as clear as mud!
Now that we're all on the same page about a teachers' danger zone. What is a teacher supposed to do when he or she is in the danger zone?

This time period is going to be stressful. It is a fact that this time period is a stressful time in the teaching cycle. What you can do is try to lessen your stress level. If you stress level has been running a 12 on a scale from 1 to 10, sometimes a few interventions (yes, that's a word all teachers are familiar with) might bring your level down to a 7. While a 7 is still stressful, it's better than being a 12. Here are a few interventions to try:

  • STAY HEALTHY: Yes, it's easier said than done. We all know the traditional advice about washing your hands, getting plenty of sleep, and taking vitamins. Those are great but another thing I've found helpful is your drink in the classroom should have a lid. When I first began teaching I had a glass of water without a lid on my desk which was near my reading table. I think when my students at my reading table coughed the germs floated through the air to my drink. I was sick a lot! Finally, I figured out my problem. I need a cup with a lid. I was much healthier when I made this small change. Try it and see what you think.
  • SET REALISTIC GOALS: Yes, we would like 100% of our students to turn in their homework each day or week. Do you think 100% of the teachers at your school turn in their paperwork on time 100% of the time? My guess is no. So, if grown adults with a college degree can't do it with 100% accuracy, is it a realistic expectation for your students? Maybe a better approach is to look at where your class is now. Do 70% of your students consistently turn in their homework? A realistic goal would be next week having 75% of the students turn in their homework. Brainstorm with your class strategies to get them organized. Encourage them to exchange phone numbers so they can be homework buddies. If someone didn't understand an assignment or wasn't clear about the direction they have a couple of buddies that they can text or call. Put links to your assignments on your website so if assignments are lost or left at school they can download them at home. Once you have success at this goal for a couple of weeks, raise the bar again. Take baby steps. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day. You can take this same approach with whatever issue your class needs to work on. Maybe you have 5 students who never have their supplies ready when it's time to begin a lesson. Set a realistic goal, brainstorm strategies, readjust if necessary, and watch your students rise to the challenge.
  • ADD TO YOUR BAG OF TRICKS: There are some amazing people on your campus who could fill your bag of teacher tricks. When is the last time you asked your librarian for some ideas? Librarians were once classroom teachers PLUS they teach your students, so they know their attention spans, personalities, and a fairly good idea of their language arts abilities. If your students have been at your school for several years, the librarian has taught your students for several years. Every librarian I've ever worked with has been worth their weight in gold. Go talk to yours today!

  • Do you have a class with a wide range of abilities?  It is hard to find time to differentiate to the degree that you would like when you have a class like that.  Technology is a useful resource when you need to differentiate. Students can work at their own pace with some programs. Go talk to your tech teachers. They may have a program or game that is just what your student(s) need. Plus, there is something about putting on headphones that instantly makes a classroom quieter.

  • NEW STRATEGIES: All of the special education staff that I have worked with have always been happy to share ideas, even if the students I am asking them about are not on their caseload.  They are a wonderful source! If you have a student who has fine-motor skills or attention issues talk to the OT or PT. Some of the OTs that I have worked with let me borrow their tools to help my students.  

I hope you have a happy stress-free week!

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