How Teachers can Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety

Michele Snoke
Michele Snoke
Elementary school principal; M.S.E. in Educational Leadership
Stressed teacher with her head down grading papers at her desk.

At the beginning of every school year teachers are faced with extra work. Some may be moving into a new classroom, into a new school, and/or a new grade level. These changes could create a level of stress due to worrying over factors that are out of the teacher’s control and the fear of not being able to make a smooth transition. This combination of feelings could create anxiety, whether it is temporary or a persistent feeling throughout the school year. Regardless, it must be managed and decreased in order for teachers to perform the duties of instructor, mentor, caregiver, and role model in the classroom.

Establish Routines

Teachers rely on structured routines to create consistency and balance for effective classroom management. On the first day of school the teacher sets the tone for the daily routine. After a few weeks of practice with the daily routine, students feel confident with the teacher’s expectations, which provide comfort for them to attack all academic tasks.

Prior to planning the necessary routines for students, teachers must establish routines for themselves as well. A teacher’s routines could begin before arriving to school, such as preparing lunch and even the next day’s clothes the evening before each school day. Preparedness is a good routine to begin with, provides a sense of security, and sets the tone for the rest of a teacher’s day. A successful day of teaching begins with well thought out lesson plans and all necessary materials ready for lessons to be executed. At the end of the day, teachers can establish a routine to arrange all necessary items and supplies for the next day of teaching.

Routines give teachers organization for what will be taught. A well-organized classroom and teacher gives students a sense of calm for learning. Creating a calm learning environment can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety for both students and teachers.

Make Self-Care and Wellness a Priority

The summertime for teachers is a season without demands, due dates, and expectations. It is a time to turn off alarm clocks, set personal goals, and renew the love for hobbies set aside during the school year. Summertime also gives teachers an opportunity to invest in self-care and wellness and explore what works best for them before the school year begins.

Self-care and wellness practices can include healthy eating, exercise, meditation or positive self-talk, and much needed sleep. Each of these factors needs time and self-discipline. It is important to practice and prioritize these habits before returning back to the classroom for a new school year. If a teacher prioritizes their own wellness, it will be simpler to carve out before the school day begins or after the school day ends.

The priority of daily self-care and wellness must become a habit that starts before the beginning of the school year. Once that habit has become second nature, the teacher will easily make the necessary time to continue to feel good. Healthy self-care brings peace and positivity to a teacher’s emotions, allowing the teacher to feel good with planning, teaching, and inspiring in the classroom.

Find Ways to Decompress

After a full day of managing a classroom, teaching students, and setting it all up again for the next day, decompressing is necessary. There are many different ways to decompress at the end of a school day. Here are a few ways you can try:

  • Brisk walk on a greenway
  • Listen to instrumental music
  • Sit quietly and meditate
  • Play with a pet
  • Participate in a yoga class
  • Read
  • Create: needlepoint, embroidery, paint
  • Go out to dinner with friends
  • Sit outside alone on a beautiful day
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Go for a run or bike ride
  • Go to bed early
  • Exercise and stretch
  • Talk to a good friend
  • Watch television

An effective decompression activity must be selected by the person and completed naturally and with little effort. Decompression should not be a demand but an enjoyable activity that allows the teacher to relax.

Develop Strong Relationships with Other Educators

Many teachers have grade-level partners to plan with, discuss students’ concerns, share teaching ideas, and support one another in tough times. A teacher’s teammates can be a sounding board when expressing an anxious moment. They can offer suggestions to improve situations that may be causing unrest and celebrate each other with positive attitudes.

It is important that teachers on grade-level teams or that co-teach or even those that teach alone must find the support of another educator that can relate to the experiences of anxiety teachers develop when in the classroom.

While teaching in a remote setting, a grade-level team can share the planning and provide support for varied technology abilities with one another. The team effort and sense of camaraderie will decrease the anxiety teachers may feel during remote learning.

Teachers Deserve Grace

Teaching is a challenging profession that is not the same every day. The profession has shifted quickly recently from a traditional setting to behind a screen miles from students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers with varied degrees of technological abilities have been asked to teach just like in the classroom, work longer hours, and have larger demands placed upon them in comparison to a normal school year. Parents have used remote learning and the convenience of technology to communicate with teachers any time of the day.

The frequent and sometimes over-reaching communication between parents and teachers has caused teachers a sense of anxiety. It is important that during this difficult time, teachers are lifted up and offered grace from parents, administration, and, most importantly, themselves.

Grace is a pure sense of forgiveness that teachers must allow. The true feeling of grace can decrease a sense of anxiety for teachers. Grace puts the situation in clear perspective for a teacher, especially in a unique challenge such as remote learning. All teachers deserve grace and time to work through new challenges and expectations of teaching.

Teachers feel anxiety because the passion felt for the profession is intense. There are many coping mechanisms for teachers to use to settle the anxiety. It is important for a teacher to find the best strategy to decrease the anxiety and listen to all emotions.

 

*Updated October, 2020
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