Monday, 12 June 2017

Teachers and stress

A lot is written at this time of year about helping children to beat exam stress, and very soon we'll start on the topic of how to ease your child into school for the first time. I've written about these topics myself (follow the links). But what about the teachers whose job it is to keep our children safe, learning and happy?

Teaching is a remarkable job and most teachers are dedicated, hardworking and amazing people.

Unfortunately, the job comes with built-in stressors. A study published in 2017 [1] reported that 45% of 778 teachers surveyed said their mental health was poor, or very poor. The year before, the charity Education Support Partnership (ESP) found that 84% of 2000 teachers surveyed had suffered from mental-health problems at some point over the previous two years [2].

Why is teaching stressful?

  • Workload - 81% of responders in the ESP survey said this was their main stressor. The job is not simply standing in front of a class and teaching. Most teachers put in many hours of preparation, marking and assessment.
  • Management - like any other job, teachers have managers. Also like any other job, unhelpful management styles, or personality clashes, can cause a problem. The ESP study said that only a quarter of those suffering stress had discussed it with their line manager.
  • Children - some children may struggle to cope with the work or the social skills they need to thrive at school. Some are deliberately provoking. Some have difficult home lives, health issues, or put themselves under huge pressures to succeed. Ensuring that each child gets what they need from you is a multi-tasking challenge requiring large amounts of mental, emotional and physical stamina. 
  • Pressure from home - my Mum was a teacher and her class of 7 year olds would often come up to her and say 'Miss, why were you in the supermarket yesterday?' They seemed surprised that she needed to go shopping. Teachers don’t live in the stock cupboard or go into suspended animation when the kids go home; they have lives like anyone else. Sometimes those lives are difficult, or stressful.
  • Outside pressure - teachers are continuously assessed and scrutinised by their class, parents, school officials and the Department of Education. Their exam and test results are monitored and published for all to see. Although there are good reasons for this, it can make them feel that they are constantly being criticised and judged and that they are not valued by the communities they are serving.
  • Taking the job out of school - teachers (at least the good ones, which I believe is the majority) have a passion for teaching and worry about the welfare of the children in their care. They take those worries home. They also often take a lot of work, blurring the lines between their career and their personal lives.

How can teachers reduce their stress?

  • Look at your work/life balance - ideally, do all your school stuff at school, to make a clear demarcation between home and work. If that's not possible, complete work tasks at specific times and in a specific place, in a home office for example. Consider these working hours and 'switch off' when you've finished. [more on work/life balance]
  • Learn time management skills - be realistic about the things you can achieve and prioritise if it’s not possible to do everything. [more on time management]
  • Take regular 'me' time - learn mindfulness or self hypnosis, do something fun. Switching off the stress response stops the production of stress hormones and helps you relax.
  • Get regular exercise - aerobic exercise helps you burn off stress hormones so you feel better.
  • Be aware of what makes you stressed - make a list of the triggers for your stress if you can. Work out which ones are within your control to change. A therapist like myself can help with this if you need it.
  • Learn and apply coping strategies - once you have a list of things you can change, go ahead and change them. Tackling one thing at a time is usually easier than making numerous changes all at once.
  • Learn to say 'no' and mean it - a very undervalued skill and an essential one if you are not going to end up overwhelmed.
  • Get a good night's sleep - if this is difficult there are some tips here.
  • Browse other pages on this blog - there are a few links to specific items in this article but you'll get lots more good ideas on developing resilience and managing stress by just looking around.
  • Talk to someone - your line manager, a friend or partner, a stress coach. It will help you put your worries in perspective.

Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593

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