How to Destress as an Educator

Whitney P. Gordon
Whitney P. Gordon
Special Education and English Teacher; Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership, Thomas University, GA

Let’s be frank: teaching can be stressful. I would venture to say that teaching will become stressful for every teacher at some point. A career in education is a selfless and often arduous endeavor, and statistics show that burnout from stress can turn our beloved profession into a revolving door. If you are to live a full and healthy life while teaching, it is imperative to keep work-related stress in check. Below we will explore what causes teacher stress and how you can actively combat it.

Why Teaching Can Be Stressful

The act of teaching comprises only a small portion of the overflowing teacher plate. Teachers across the country are responsible for a myriad of tasks while wearing multiple hats of equal importance. If you are a teacher, you must be an instructor, counselor, disciplinarian, statistician (hello, data analysis!), and much more all rolled into one. You juggle several personalities and learning styles simultaneously.

The aforementioned facts are stressful alone, but unfortunately these classroom stressors work in conjunction with stressors from beyond the classroom. High stakes testing has placed a vast amount of pressure on teachers and is an impediment to teacher autonomy. Planning lessons, grading papers, modifying content for students with disabilities, contacting parents, and a slew of other responsibilities are sometimes relegated to a limited planning period that can, at times, be monopolized by meetings and professional learning.

How Stress Affects Your Teaching

The old saying “you can’t pour from an empty vessel” rings true for educators. When teachers are stressed, we are naturally less effective. The fact is that effective teaching requires full mental and emotional investment – an investment you can’t afford when stressed. When teachers are not at their best, students are not receiving optimal instruction. This negatively impacts student success, which should be at the core of each school’s mission. The bottom line is that our students need teachers who are steeped in wellness and actively monitoring stress.

The Importance of Destressing and How to Destress

Here’s an often unspoken truth that you should embrace going forward: your health is more important than your job, even for a teacher. The very fact that poor physical and mental health can negatively impact your teaching is proof of this. Destressing is important because your job is important, but more so because you are important. Here are some practical ways that you can destress.

Before School

This might sound counter-productive, but bear with me: be early. Leave from home at a time that accommodates for unforeseen traffic that will have you scrambling into the building. Arriving to work even ten minutes early can decrease stress if you use this time effectively. Starting your day peacefully definitely relieves stress, and when you are walking in the building and immediately assuming a duty station or making a beeline for the copy machine, that can be stressful. Be intentional about completing important tasks ahead of time so that you are not pressed for time in the morning. If overstimulation is stressful for you, take a couple minutes to be in your classroom in silence in the morning, with dim lights if preferable. This helps to ease you into the sensory overload that the classroom often presents.

During School

Destressing while in the thick of teaching is by far the most difficult time. This will require proactive planning. Training your students to follow classroom routines will significantly decrease stress. These routines can cover anything from collaborative work to using the restroom. Have activities on hand to implement brain breaks as necessary. These breaks can be just as effective for you as they are for your students. Also, have strategies in place to control the noise level in the classroom. Something as simple as moving a clip along a labeled poster on the wall to indicate the noise level can be effective. I like having designated quiet time at the beginning of class. This sets a calm tone, and students are less likely to become boisterous later in class.

After School

Set boundaries for working beyond school hours and stick to them. Choosing a night each week when you leave work on time and don’t bring work home is a healthy destressing practice. Also, prioritize engaging in activities that you enjoy. Take time for self-care such as exercise and cooking balanced meals. Last and certainly not least, go to bed on time. Set a bedtime that allots a full night of sleep and stick to it as best you can.

Teaching and stress will be a packaged deal at times, but there are ways to prevent and combat stress. Making a conscious effort to destress will make you healthier and more effective. Destressing is an investment in your wellness and your students’ success.

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