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November 30, 2016

Tips for Tackling Teacher Stress

By Angela Bunyi
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    It’s no secret that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs around. Thankfully, it is also one of the most rewarding. When a coworker recently told me how important I was to their team because I always have a laid-back approach to all the stresses, it was my lightbulb moment — I am not stressed this year! Laid back is not a phrase normally used to describe me, but here are my five magical tips that have kept stress and feelings of demands at bay.

     

    1. Delegate Tasks to Students

    Although it may never be realistic for you to be THAT teacher that walks out of the building shortly after the students leave, there is something to be learned from those that do. Out of curiosity, I had a conversation with a teacher a few years ago that regularly left 15 minutes after dismissal and arrived shortly before the students arrived. I started listing all the things I have to do before I walk out of the room, hoping to affirm my need to stay later.  All of my, “Well, how do you . . . ” were answered with, “I have the students do it.” Those secondary lights that you need to turn off before leaving? Have a student do it. Change the calendar and special area cards? Have a student do it.  I found this simple response very helpful in reducing not only the stress of teaching, but the general grind that can wear you down if you are not careful. Challenge yourself to see what you can remove from your plate and hand over to students instead.

    For example, sharpening pencils gets me down. I even found it cumbersome to get a parent volunteer to complete the task. Last year, I introduced mechanical pencils to my first graders. The introduction is complete with thorough procedures on how to take care of your pencil (e.g. not removing the lead, pulling off the eraser, etc.).

    My students receive one pencil — equivalent to two-and-a-half regular pencils — on the first of each month. It is their responsibility to hold on to it for the month. Most mechanical pencil packs come in a pack of ten with a few colors. I write student numbers on each pencil and try to keep the same colors together by table so it is easier to return to the student when found on the floor. Lost pencils are replaced with a regular pencil, but I make sure they are not fresh out of the box. I haven’t sharpened a pencil in two years.

     

    2. Know That Okay is Sometimes Good Enough

    Try imagining yourself being the ultimate super spouse or parent. All the time. It’s just not possible. Not to mention, it lacks fun, substance, or sustainability. Some of your lessons are just going to be okay. Some days your instruction is just going to be okay. Some days, you’ll just be okay. And that’s okay!

    It really helps when I stop and reflect on some of the accomplishments our class has achieved over the past week or so when the grind gets to you. Hey, we managed to get in a solid Socratic Seminar, completed a challenging STEM activity, and scheduled in a special speaker. That’s pretty good! Then you pat yourself on the back and move on. You can’t be amazing every lesson of every day. You really can’t.

     

    3. Make Time for Things Your Students Will Remember

    Our yearly Tea Party Soiree (in lieu of a Valentine’s Day Party) and random “Kitty” party one of my students headed last year.

    What will your students remember about your classroom? If you have to hesitate and have to think to answer this, then this must be remedied! I quickly have a few things that pop into my head, and even our quick dance breaks we have each day makes the cut. Without joy in your classroom, other feelings can find their way into your mind- stress and anxiety being an easy duo. Our dance breaks are just as much for me, as they are important for the children.

    So, at minimum, plan something fun/memorable every month or so for your class. In our grade, we look forward to author’s celebrations, a Tea Party, and even a fully-choreographed dance skit. It’s a wonderful feeling when you are sitting down having tea with your students and you think to yourself, “I am getting paid to do this!” Find more of it and make time for it in your classroom.  Last year, one of my students organized a rather random “kitty” party. All I had to do was say yes, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun.

    What does ten layers of lipstick look like? My students were curious, so we tried it out in class. Thank goodness I didn’t have red available!

     

    4. Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

    I am fortunate to work on a team that is extremely collaborative. It has made all the difference in the world. My team works so closely, in fact, that we recently decided to join forces and create a grade-level newsletter instead of the typical individual version. That saves all of us time and energy and also provides a message to our parents that our team is strong and works together. If you don’t have that team in place, find someone who is willing to join forces with you.

     

     

    5. Keep Your Weekend. Live Your Life. Remember What’s Important.

    Now, this sounds SO much easier than it is to put into action, but I learned this the very, very hard way. Although I have kept my married name for this blog, last year I went through a surprise divorce. It was an eye-opening experience for me. When I reflected on my previous year(s), I realized I had put so very much into my job and very little into my relationship OR myself. What did I have to show for it all was my burning question? Were those weekends spent on classroom “stuff” really that important? Would my students be damaged if I devoted less hours on them? Thank goodness, we are always provided a fresh school year to give it another stab and another try. So, I am here with that experience to share with you. I have had an excellent year so far, and this is with a class that has been particularly demanding.

    Here's the short of it, just go out and enjoy time with friends. Play that board game with your child. Go to that barre class. Give your best when teaching, but know when it is okay to turn that button off to recharge. I am doing significantly less this year. It’s not that I don’t care any less. Teaching is definitely my calling. It’s just not my everything anymore. I started off the year asking for my principal for grace and telling myself it would be okay to fall short of my usual milestones regarding test scores and observations.

    But, here is the good news. My students’ reading levels are still progressing at or above the same rate as I usually expect. Our standardized test scores are still the same, if not better. And my most recent classroom observation is near identical to what it was last year — the highest overall score you can earn.

    Have I failed to meet a deadline or two? Absolutely! Do I fall short of my expectations from time to time? Sure, although it is muted in comparison to the past. I don’t think of mishaps as being the end of the world. What would be a crime, in my opinion, is knowing that I only have four years left before I am an empty-nester and not taking advantage of that now while I can. If I missed a deadline because I was at my son’s track meet the night before, I am okay with that. I have actively picked an evening dance class over weekly grades going out on their typical day. So they went home a day later. The world keeps spinning.

    And I’d rather the earth be spinning around while I enjoy it.

    May you enjoy the holiday season and find what brings you daily joy and happiness!

    It’s no secret that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs around. Thankfully, it is also one of the most rewarding. When a coworker recently told me how important I was to their team because I always have a laid-back approach to all the stresses, it was my lightbulb moment — I am not stressed this year! Laid back is not a phrase normally used to describe me, but here are my five magical tips that have kept stress and feelings of demands at bay.

     

    1. Delegate Tasks to Students

    Although it may never be realistic for you to be THAT teacher that walks out of the building shortly after the students leave, there is something to be learned from those that do. Out of curiosity, I had a conversation with a teacher a few years ago that regularly left 15 minutes after dismissal and arrived shortly before the students arrived. I started listing all the things I have to do before I walk out of the room, hoping to affirm my need to stay later.  All of my, “Well, how do you . . . ” were answered with, “I have the students do it.” Those secondary lights that you need to turn off before leaving? Have a student do it. Change the calendar and special area cards? Have a student do it.  I found this simple response very helpful in reducing not only the stress of teaching, but the general grind that can wear you down if you are not careful. Challenge yourself to see what you can remove from your plate and hand over to students instead.

    For example, sharpening pencils gets me down. I even found it cumbersome to get a parent volunteer to complete the task. Last year, I introduced mechanical pencils to my first graders. The introduction is complete with thorough procedures on how to take care of your pencil (e.g. not removing the lead, pulling off the eraser, etc.).

    My students receive one pencil — equivalent to two-and-a-half regular pencils — on the first of each month. It is their responsibility to hold on to it for the month. Most mechanical pencil packs come in a pack of ten with a few colors. I write student numbers on each pencil and try to keep the same colors together by table so it is easier to return to the student when found on the floor. Lost pencils are replaced with a regular pencil, but I make sure they are not fresh out of the box. I haven’t sharpened a pencil in two years.

     

    2. Know That Okay is Sometimes Good Enough

    Try imagining yourself being the ultimate super spouse or parent. All the time. It’s just not possible. Not to mention, it lacks fun, substance, or sustainability. Some of your lessons are just going to be okay. Some days your instruction is just going to be okay. Some days, you’ll just be okay. And that’s okay!

    It really helps when I stop and reflect on some of the accomplishments our class has achieved over the past week or so when the grind gets to you. Hey, we managed to get in a solid Socratic Seminar, completed a challenging STEM activity, and scheduled in a special speaker. That’s pretty good! Then you pat yourself on the back and move on. You can’t be amazing every lesson of every day. You really can’t.

     

    3. Make Time for Things Your Students Will Remember

    Our yearly Tea Party Soiree (in lieu of a Valentine’s Day Party) and random “Kitty” party one of my students headed last year.

    What will your students remember about your classroom? If you have to hesitate and have to think to answer this, then this must be remedied! I quickly have a few things that pop into my head, and even our quick dance breaks we have each day makes the cut. Without joy in your classroom, other feelings can find their way into your mind- stress and anxiety being an easy duo. Our dance breaks are just as much for me, as they are important for the children.

    So, at minimum, plan something fun/memorable every month or so for your class. In our grade, we look forward to author’s celebrations, a Tea Party, and even a fully-choreographed dance skit. It’s a wonderful feeling when you are sitting down having tea with your students and you think to yourself, “I am getting paid to do this!” Find more of it and make time for it in your classroom.  Last year, one of my students organized a rather random “kitty” party. All I had to do was say yes, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun.

    What does ten layers of lipstick look like? My students were curious, so we tried it out in class. Thank goodness I didn’t have red available!

     

    4. Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

    I am fortunate to work on a team that is extremely collaborative. It has made all the difference in the world. My team works so closely, in fact, that we recently decided to join forces and create a grade-level newsletter instead of the typical individual version. That saves all of us time and energy and also provides a message to our parents that our team is strong and works together. If you don’t have that team in place, find someone who is willing to join forces with you.

     

     

    5. Keep Your Weekend. Live Your Life. Remember What’s Important.

    Now, this sounds SO much easier than it is to put into action, but I learned this the very, very hard way. Although I have kept my married name for this blog, last year I went through a surprise divorce. It was an eye-opening experience for me. When I reflected on my previous year(s), I realized I had put so very much into my job and very little into my relationship OR myself. What did I have to show for it all was my burning question? Were those weekends spent on classroom “stuff” really that important? Would my students be damaged if I devoted less hours on them? Thank goodness, we are always provided a fresh school year to give it another stab and another try. So, I am here with that experience to share with you. I have had an excellent year so far, and this is with a class that has been particularly demanding.

    Here's the short of it, just go out and enjoy time with friends. Play that board game with your child. Go to that barre class. Give your best when teaching, but know when it is okay to turn that button off to recharge. I am doing significantly less this year. It’s not that I don’t care any less. Teaching is definitely my calling. It’s just not my everything anymore. I started off the year asking for my principal for grace and telling myself it would be okay to fall short of my usual milestones regarding test scores and observations.

    But, here is the good news. My students’ reading levels are still progressing at or above the same rate as I usually expect. Our standardized test scores are still the same, if not better. And my most recent classroom observation is near identical to what it was last year — the highest overall score you can earn.

    Have I failed to meet a deadline or two? Absolutely! Do I fall short of my expectations from time to time? Sure, although it is muted in comparison to the past. I don’t think of mishaps as being the end of the world. What would be a crime, in my opinion, is knowing that I only have four years left before I am an empty-nester and not taking advantage of that now while I can. If I missed a deadline because I was at my son’s track meet the night before, I am okay with that. I have actively picked an evening dance class over weekly grades going out on their typical day. So they went home a day later. The world keeps spinning.

    And I’d rather the earth be spinning around while I enjoy it.

    May you enjoy the holiday season and find what brings you daily joy and happiness!

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