How To Deal With Stress From Teaching

Stress from teaching is a very real thing and impacts all teachers at some point in time. The trick is to make sure that when you are dealing with stressful periods, whether from issues outside the classroom or from the inside, that you keep it from affecting your teaching and impacting your students. I’m going to share my personal experience with teaching related stress and how I initially didn’t deal with it well and what I did to change that around.

What is my experience with stress from teaching?

At the beginning of this year, I became the father of a baby boy. Something I never expected but none the less something that happened and something I was excited about. On the opposite end of that excitement, however, was a lot of stress coming from worrying about finances, the health of my family, taking care of our new son, and all of the hundreds of other worries that come when you are a new parent. At the same time that this happened, I began to take on more work with the company I work for both teaching as well as doing backend work with them. If you have children yourself then you know that this isn’t a recipe for long-term success. I made it about two months doing this before things finally came to a head and my performance in the classroom began to suffer. I became more irritable and acted more sternly with students. I was less forgiving of their mistakes and demanded a greater degree of perfection from them. This lasted a few weeks before one of the parents of the students complained that their child felt bad in the classroom. The problem with teaching, especially back to back online classes, is that it demands a lot of energy. Parenting I soon found out also demanded a lot of energy as it is a 24 hour a day job and unlike any other job in the world one that you can’t walk away from. Especially, since I was working at the time 7 days a week without holidays I came to the point where I was redlining my system and not giving it a break and not giving it enough sleep. There were challenges which I faced in the classroom which normally I would handle with ease which began to stack up and add-on to the stress. Talking with students no longer became a fun and easy task but instead something I was dreading as I just wanted to be alone. To top this off I had meetings and deadlines for the backend work and things were unrelenting. I had to make a change. That change came through the different processes which I will talk about below and truly helped me to not only learn how to balance being a parent better but also how to be a better teacher.

What steps can I take to relieve stress from teaching?

No matter where your stress is coming from there are a number of things that you can do to make sure it doesn’t affect your classroom performance. These steps and techniques can help you to keep under control and the make sure that your students see the best side of you on the outside no matter how you feel on the inside.

Evaluate Your Workload

If your stress is coming from work then the first thing you need to do is evaluate your workload and see where you can trim the fat. In my case which I discussed above, I figured out that I had taken too much work on and since I was working every day I didn’t have any escape from it. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t going to be able to reduce the time I was spending with my son so the first thing I had to do was reduce the time I was spending working. It was actually easier than I thought. The thing is unless you are the founder of a school then most likely the school or company you work for was operating before you got there and will probably be there when you leave. What this means is that if you need to reduce your hours or if you’ve taken on extra work that you no longer can handle then let it be known. Most likely there will be someone else there who is more than willing to pick up the difference. It is much better to have a low-stress life and be very good at teaching your core classes than to be stressed out all of the time and be mediocre or worse in everything you do. If at all possible reduce your workload and streamline your schedule so that you have the time you need to work on yourself and relax. It will be better for you which will reflect in your teaching and in the end, will be good for the school you are working for.

Tap Into Your Empathy

After I reduced my workload I found that I had to rediscover the job of teaching. In the first few months after my son was born, I found that classes had become mundane, monotonous, and energy draining. Seeing students laugh and learn no longer made me laugh and learn from them and instead left me stressed. I became hung up on every mistake my students would make and would demand perfection from them. My brain was redlined and this reflected in the way I interacted with my students. Now that I was working fewer hours, I had to get that spark back and the way I did that was by tapping into my empathy for my students and looking at things from their perspective. When I first started teaching it was fun and exciting and oftentimes funny working with young students and seeing them progress. But, somewhere along the way after the thousandth class, I began to lose that and instead of trying to keep things light and fun for the student instead focused on the students’ performance. The problem with this is that it will only work for a small subsection of students’ who want to learn and want to be there and are actually capable of learning at the pace you are trying to make them. For all of the other students who either don’t want to be there or don’t care about learning English or just aren’t capable of learning at the pace the curriculum has been developed to learn at then seeking perfection and trying to hold them at a higher standard is only going to make you more frustrated and the students more stressed which becomes a vicious cycle that feeds itself as the students begin to perform worse and worse due to the unnecessary stress you are putting them under.

I had to begin to empathize more with my students and I did this by looking through their lens and figuring out what their motivations were. If they were a student that didn’t care about the class then I learned to not care either. As long as I was doing my job and teaching the material what did it matter if the student was learning or not. That is for them to take up with their parents. If the student was having trouble learning at the pace they were expected to learn then I relaxed the pace a bit and tried to make things fun and relaxing for them so as to not put unnecessary pressure. For students that wanted a serious teacher who would correct every mistake and make sure their pronunciation was correct I did that but made sure to keep things informative and light when I did so that they didn’t become too focused on the minute details at the expense of the overall lesson. I began to realize that my students’ learning was very much tied to my attitude while teaching. Something that has been proven through science. Teaching was easy when it was just the students and I and there was little stress in my life but when the stress of a new child piled on I had to empathize with them to really see how my attitude affected them and to keep the stress from teaching at bay.

Separate Your Work and Stress

One of the best things you can do in order to keep stress from impacting your classes is to compartmentalize your life in a way that stress is entirely unrelated to teaching. Obviously, you are going to have problems that stress you out when you are in the classroom whether that is because of problem students or any of the other number of issues that come up. But, most classroom related stressors can be easily dealt with. The stressors that are going to cause you significant problems are going to be those outside of the classroom that comes from everyday life. Often times dealing with adults is incredibly frustrating and tiring whether that is the school’s administration or just people you come into contact with every day. But, children don’t know this. That is what’s great about them. As a general rule, they are innocent until it becomes spoiled for them. So, harness that innocence to create a space and time during your classes where the stressors of everyday life cannot enter. It may be hard at first but if you just begin to try and emulate the carefree nature of your students when you are in the classroom you will soon find that teaching is a more enjoyable process. That doesn’t mean the things that stress you out are going to go away or even be alleviated. But, it does mean that for those few hours a day that you are working with students, those stressors don’t exist. Instead, you can make it as though you are walking into some parallel universe where the people you talk with haven’t been influenced by people scamming, cheating, lying, stealing, or swindling them. They haven’t had the experience of bad bosses, toxic relationships, divorce, mortgage, or any other stressors that wears down most adults. All they know is they are curious and looking to be inspired. If you can learn to embrace that curiosity you will find your classes going a lot more smoothly.

What are some final thoughts?

In the end, I was able to get back to the basics with my classes and rediscover my enjoyment of teaching and even found that I was better at it as I was truly invested in my classes and keeping them fresh and exciting for my students. Just by applying the three things I discussed above I was able to go from a teacher with a few complaints against them and turn that around to a teacher that my students enjoyed learning from all over again. It took a bit of time. In my case, I was able to make the transformation in a few months. This coincidentally coincided with my son growing a bit older and sleeping better and having fewer demands. But, no matter what is stressing you out whether it is a new child as was my case or a divorce or anything else, if you apply what I talked about above you will significantly be able to reduce stress from teaching and, more importantly, reduce how that stress affects your teaching and your impact on students.