It’s that time again as teachers up and down the country begin to cast their eyes and their minds back towards the classroom. For some it means a fresh start after a restful break, but for most it can be a daunting prospect. It is easy to throw yourself back into the hectic school system but it is important not to initiate a routine which is impossible and unrealistic to sustain. It is shocking how many teachers, myself included, work themselves to the point of burning out. With this in mind it was important to recognise the warning signs and put in place strategies to avoid burn out. Below are some tips which may help to alleviate the stress of the classroom.
Decide what is important and let things slide. Enough is enough!
Teaching, as a career, is all consuming. It will absorb every spare second you are willing to commit to it and you will never, ever be done; you will forever be chasing that carrot on the end of the stick. Worse still, many teachers see themselves as great martyrs for the cause who simply cannot stop until another resource is made, box is ticked or book is marked. Before long you find yourself working from dusk til dawn, sat on the sofa with a laptop and a set of books beside you. Remember that your family and friends are at the very least equally as important as your pupils and should not be neglected. More importantly still is your own health, well-being and happiness. Decide what is important and what can slip and know when to call it quits on work. Put the books down, walk away and reclaim your life outside of school. It’s okay to give up for the evening.
Do things outside of school
Find something that you enjoy doing and make it part of your routine: Go to the pub with friends, watch that movie in the cinema you’ve seen advertised, get out for a walk, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, call round to your friends, visit relatives, join the gym. Look back and ask yourself ‘What have I done this week?’ for a month or two. If the answer always centres around school and work, you may want to reconsider your routine.
Sleep, arrive early and be well prepared
Get into a regular and healthy sleeping pattern. It is important to recharge the batteries. Try to ensure that you get a minimum of 7-8 hours sleep a night and allow yourself time to get ready in the mornings at your own pace. Avoid rushing around in a last minute dart to get to school on time. In fact, plan to arrive early in the mornings. Set up your lessons and resources in a calm and organised fashion. Go through your lessons mentally once so that you feel mentally prepared and have covered all bases. Have the resources at hand and ready to deploy during lessons. Then sit down and relax for the final ten minutes before collecting the kids. This can make all the difference to how your morning feels.
Incorporate humour into your classroom
Keep it light. The worst thing you can do as an educator is to allow the pressure on you to be passed on to the pupils you teach. Humour is a great alleviator of the stress placed upon you from all around. Seek opportunities to have a laugh. The difference between shouting at a class for silence and making a joke that meets the same end is remarkable. The atmosphere in your class will change significantly, it will keep you sane and it will increase your pupils enjoyment of lessons (even if half of the jokes go over their heads!).
Forget about scores, focus on learning
This is easier said than done when you have the SLT breathing down your neck and the weight of the world placed upon your shoulders, but ask yourself, ‘Is this why I came into the profession?’ When I decided to be a teacher it was because I wanted to help children learn, not to ensure a percentage make a certain level of progress in any given time frame. The data doesn’t always represent the learning that has taken place, but the pupil will always be better for it. There are elements of the education system we cannot change, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t put a bigger emphasis on our pupil’s achievements. Keep a positive attitude towards what your pupils can do and celebrate their successes. Never allow the pressure placed upon you to be passed on to the pupils you teach.
Believe in yourself
Believe me when I say I have doubted my ability more over the past few years than I really ought to have. As a profession, we often do. I suppose when you hear the government bash you enough times, and you teach within a culture of accountability and fear, it is only natural that you begin to question everything you do. This, however, is ridiculous. You are a professional. You have years of training and experience to draw upon. You have evidence to fall back on. You take your job seriously, probably too seriously, and care for your pupils dearly. Missing a statistical target, teaching a bad lesson or being on the receiving end of a tongue-bashing from a parent doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Believe in yourself. You’ll probably never get to hear the amazing things staff, parents and pupils say about you!
The stress we put ourselves under nowadays is surreal. The expectations we set for ourselves and the mountains of work we aim to tackle mean that burnout is an all too real possibility. It is vitally important that we recognise the warning signs, both in ourselves and those around us. An ill temper and shortness with pupils or loved ones, an unexpected tearful moment, exhaustion, irregular sleep patterns; they are all real signs. Pretending otherwise is unhealthy and unwise. Should they arise, I hope this is helpful.