A teacher’s tips for managing stress
Building recovery time into her busy-ness is the most important tip that English teacher Eliza Bartlett picked up from a recent resilience-building workshop.
The THRIVE online research-based workshops, run by Victoria University of Wellington, are funded by PPTA Te Wehengarua including paying for relief.
“The main thing I’ve taken away from the workshop is the need to build rest into the cycle of work. Work and then recovery. Allowing rest to actually be part of being productive, rather than the temptation of just pushing yourself more and more because there’s always more to do. I am trying to build in recovery time to my busy-ness, with limited success, but I am trying.”
Compartmentalisation and sleep
Another strategy which Eliza uses is compartmentalisation. “For example, I try and keep a sabbath on Sundays, and make it a work-free day, and I think that’s tremendously important. When I’m working I work hard and I’m focused but then when I ‘m doing something else such as family time I try to really separate those. I definitely prioritise sleep and I think that if I hadn’t done that I just wouldn’t have been able to sustain the work that I’ve done over the years, or keep all the various balls in the air.”
Equally important as strategies for stress management are support networks – even just one or two. “I’m a person who naturally recharges alone rather than in the staffroom. So for a person like me, it’s just having one or two or three close relationships within your school context, someone you trust and who can be a sounding board for you. And someone you can go to when you just feel a bit annoyed, something’s gone wrong and you realise it’s actually because your expectations were awry or you did something, just someone to talk to.”
Cultivating collegial relationships
Eliza says she was extremely fortunate for several years to have a wonderful job-sharing colleague. “Due to the nature of our job share we were meeting every week, to coordinate about our classes so we had a very rich collegial, debriefing relationship and it was very learning-focused as well. If you can cultivate a relationship like that I think it is superb.”
She says having a manager who is actively and successfully mentoring you, helping you address workload and other issues is very helpful. “In schools we need to put more emphasis on effective middle and senior management skills.”
Workload is the number one source of stress for Eliza. “I’m sufficiently experienced and I work at a school that I pretty much feel like I can handle the day to day challenges of the classroom. Being in the classroom is my favourite time, that’s my fun time.
Planning, marking, pastoral care
It really is workload and what drives the workload? As an English teacher our planning and particularly our marking workload is high because often we’re marking things that are long form, essays or writing which might be creative or formal writing which requires a kind of personal investment. A student has usually put some of themselves into it so you do need to respond in a way that does justice to that. There’s a lot of assessment of course, and moderation and all the processes that go around that, and then there’s a fair bit of administration.
“Another key stress is the huge amount of change in our sector. Sometimes it’s just hard to get on and do the job and there is such a lot to get one’s head around.
Workload a structural concern
“Our expectations about the level of pastoral care we engage in, including contact with parents, have gone up a lot. I think that’s wonderful, particularly for those students who are struggling. But a phone call home is probably at least half an hour by the time you’ve planned it, arranged a time, talked and written a few notes after. This is actually a significant part of each day. If the pastoral expectations are going to stay as high as they are, I think something else has to give.
“I want to emphasise that there is a structural concern about teacher workload for the profession as a whole. It is a union, government and community issue. It’s not just about working smarter.”
And her advice to a new teacher who’s feeling overwhelmed by the nature and stress of the job? “You’re not alone and we’ve all been there. It’s absolutely okay to say that you’re struggling with something, whether it’s curriculum, classroom management, workload. Share the tricky stuff that’s going on for you and let other people in there to help you to see what steps to take as well.”