As a teacher, my office was often in the centre of the school. I regularly got visits from colleagues who were stressed.
“I am doing everything I can with the situation I have been given and I still can’t seem to make a difference with Johnny.”
This is a typical complaint from a number of very highly trained, compassionate teachers. Most of the time, teachers know what to do and how to do it. A number of factors increase the stress in the teaching profession and I would suggest that time constraints and multiple needs in one classroom with one adult, are among the highest on the list. However, I am not writing about those circumstances outside of a teacher’s control.
Within the circumstances we find ourselves in, teachers have to find ways of making a difference with our students and at the same time, not just coping, but thriving in our chosen profession. I suggest this requires good self-care, the ability to say “no” and healthy perspectives.
Mental health still has quite a stigma in many circles. There is a lot of talk about living a healthy lifestyle yet when someone is feeling low, they often feel they don’t want to reach out for help because of what others might think.
“…68% of those dealing with a mental health problem had decided to keep it a secret from bosses”1
“Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness” 2
The burnout rate for teachers is staggering! “Somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those that go into teaching are gone within five years.” 3
So many teachers are “surviving” their lives rather then flourishing in a profession that has the immense privilege of influencing and nurturing future generations!
This summer I lead sessions on coping strategies inside a workshop put on by ETFO. The discussions that were generated were wholesome and comforting as we realized that all of us are affected by stress in our profession. Here is what one teacher wrote afterward.
“Just a note to say thank you for an awesome workshop–thank you for tackling the problem of stress in our profession. Stress in teaching is unique and often not addressed as honestly and openly as you did. We certainly need the kind of empathy and thinking strategies you offered in your workshop. Please do let me know of any more workshops you may be doing in the future that would be specifically on the topic of tackling stress in teaching.” -Tricia, Elementary Teacher
Some learning points included the following:
- We learned about our emotional thermostat and how people can’t problem solve when their thermostat is higher then working temperature. The brain won’t allow it. This helped us understand our students as well.
- We role-played ways to listen so the thermostat of a partner would come down.
We learned that what usually controls our inner state is not the event but how we feel about it and the meaning we attribute to it. Once we can separate these, we have power and energy to move forward.
- We learned that perspective is everything and we have control over how we choose to look at a situation.
- We learned how to build trust and be trustworthy because that is invaluable!
- We learned to use empowering language out loud and in our thought world.
Good self-care also includes being proactive with things like:
“Connecting with others, learning, giving, being physically active and improving awareness …Encouraging everyone to look after their mental health makes sense for schools, including teachers.” 4
I have a passion to support educators with their mission to teach and develop future generations that are empowered to think critically and creatively, with empathy for others; citizens that are collaborative problem-solvers and generous in spirit. We must look after our main resource, our educators, to impact our future!
1. Sellgren, K. (2016, September 28). Teachers Report Rise in Mental Health Fears.
2. By the Time Canadians Reach 40 Years of Age, 1 in 2 Have – or Have Had – a Mental Illness. (2016, September 28). Retrieved from http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx
3. Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year. (2015, March 30). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/30/395322012/the-hidden-costs-of-teacher-turnover
4. Teachers five ways to boost mental health-‐mindfulness. (2016, June 5) Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher network/2016/jun/05/teachers-‐five-ways-‐to-‐boost-‐mental-‐health-‐mindfulness