Stress has become the leading reason for teachers taking time off or leaving the profession altogether, according to recent polls by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). The 2014 survey, which questioned over 900 school and college staff, found that 55 percent believe their job has had a negative impact on their mental health, 80 percent said that they were stressed, and 70 percent reported that they felt exhausted by their work.
Similarly, a preliminary study by the UK’s NASUWT teachers’ union revealed that 67 percent of the 3,500 members surveyed believed their job had an adverse effects on their mental health.
These high numbers are hardly surprising when you consider the daily life of a teacher. Not only do they have a number of roles to fill on any given day--classroom instructor, committee member, student advisor--but teachers also cope with an alarming number of emotionally taxing circumstances, from trying to reach students who lack motivation, to maintaining classroom discipline, all while managing a cumbersome workload.
With the number of roles teachers are expected to fill, it’s hardly surprising that teachers’ reports of feeling burnt out and reporting instances of poor mental health are so frequent. With the many challenges that exist in seeking help for mental health conditions, and the stigma attached to mental health treatment, prioritizing mental health only becomes more complicated for teachers.
Given the importance of the teaching profession in our society, it’s important that educators be equipped with tools to manage the stress of the job. Here are 6 ways teachers can prioritize their mental health during the school year.
1. Don’t Take Work Home With You
A teacher’s work is never done, and as such, separating home and work life is often difficult for educators, who often have a variety of responsibilities on their plate. Even during long summer breaks, the average teacher is preparing for the year to come. But it’s important that educators realize that no matter how high the stakes seem to be, there’s always room to plan the following work day. It’s important for educators to be able to unwind and spend time with loved ones and relatives, doing activities that are unrelated to work.
2. Don’t be Afraid to Take a Mental Health Day
Teachers are afforded a bank of sick and personal health days. While many choose to save those to bank for retirement, many teachers agree that sanity and mental health is more is more important, not only for their own mental health, but for their students as well. Not only do you do you get a mental health break, but students benefit from a refreshed teacher.
3. Collaborate with Other Teachers
Collaboration is a useful and highly under utilized tool in education, but often times, sharing the workload and the stresses that come with it can drastically improve the lives of teachers. “This is the second year in which I have had a teacher next door to me who teaches the same age group. Sharing the workload has helped both of us reduce stress,” notes Nevada teacher Christi Wilson. “We plan lessons together, group students across the two classrooms, assign the same homework and troubleshoot areas of concern. Having a colleague to plan with has made a world of difference, and I do not feel the same amount of burnout that I normally would during the school year.”
4. Focus on the Positive
While the daily challenges of educators are often overwhelming, it’s often too easy to dwell on the negative aspects of the position. For teachers who feel that they’re on the verge of a breaking point, it becomes useful to take note of the small victories: the students you’ve reached, the memories you’ve made with your students, and the accomplishments and breakthroughs you’ve made. After a tough day, take a look back at this list, to keep you cognizant of the positive affects you’ve had on students, and that your students have had on you.
5. Maintain Realistic Goals
While setting the bar high may be motivating in most professions, setting the bar too high in education is an all too common trap. It’s entirely too easy for educators to fall prey to a “superman/superwoman” complex. Make sure you’re putting in a reasonable amount of effort, and once you reach a breaking point, decline anything that may disturb your productivity.
6. Take Note of the Positive Qualities of Being a Teacher
Rather than avoiding the obvious stressors that come with the position, it might be valuable to take note of the positive aspects of being a teacher. Whether those be the joys of learning new things from your students, or the relationships built with students and their parents, teachers have a unique opportunity to be a part of their community in ways other careers don’t afford.
Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the country. With the job comes a variety of titles that can too easily become emotionally taxing and cause burnout. With effective practices throughout the school year, teachers will not only be able to prioritize their own mental health, but will be able to guide their students to do the same.