Understanding the Stress of Being a Teacher

Be the absolute best that you can be for your pupils by learning how to control the stress in your life.

By Linda Hinkle

hand squeezing a stress ball

The subject of stress in a teacher’s life has been researched and studied to death. Statistics have been compiled, and reports written and published. However, until you’ve lived it firsthand, it’s hard to understand just how stressful it can be to devote your professional life to teaching. April is National Stress Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to take a close look at some of the most common causes of teacher stress. If you identify its sources, you can develop strategies to eliminate or minimize much of the stress in your life.

Plan for Seasonal Stress

Let’s face it, being a good teacher is really hard most of the time. Certain times of the school year tend to be more stressful than others. A wise administrator told me early in my career that the two hardest parts of a school year are getting it started and getting it stopped. It didn’t take long for me to understand what he meant. The beginning of a new school year means getting your classroom ready, attending endless meetings, and making sure you’ve got the perfect lesson plans ready to help your class settle in during those first hectic days. Once students arrive, you’re busy getting to know them and figuring out how to mesh all those new personalities into the best possible learning environment.

By the end of the school year, everyone is tired and ready for a break. There are exams to be administered and graded, reports and paperwork to be completed, and end-of-school activities to organize and attend. You have to pack up your classroom for the summer and go to more meetings. You can see light at the end of the tunnel, but getting there can be very stressful.   

Other particularly stressful times of the school year, for most teachers, occur at the end of each grading period and during times of standardized testing. For some, it may be when you are preparing for and conducting parent-teacher conferences. Think about your own past experiences throughout the school year and determine when you have felt the most overwhelmed and stressed. Then, plan for those times and implement strategies that will help you get through them more easily. It may mean getting more organized, preparing your lesson plans ahead of time, or scheduling events in your personal life so that they don’t coincide with your busiest times at school. It may take some experimenting, but take some time to find what works for you to reduce that stress!

Accept Unexpected Stress

All too often, teachers have to deal with stressful situations that are sudden and completely unexpected, such as the suicide or accidental death of a student. The stress is multiplied in situations such as these because, in addition to dealing with your own emotions, you’re helping your students cope with their stress. Because you have to reach way down deep for all the resolve you can muster, try to be extra good to yourself during such times. Pamper yourself with whatever stress reliever works best for you. It also helps to remember that learning, and teaching, includes much more than just academics.

Another source of unexpected stress for teachers is trying to deal with a difficult personal situation while maintaining effectiveness and professionalism in the classroom. We have to remember, teachers are regular people who go through divorces, have problems with their children, and take care of elderly parents just like everyone else. Ironically, you may find that you are actually at your best professionally when going through a personal crisis. I found that to be true and I think it was because I found such solace and escape when I immersed myself in my school work. Again, everyone is different, but the message is the same: don’t feel guilty because you are dealing with personal problems. That only adds more stress.

Protect Your Personal Time

One of the hardest things for a dedicated teacher to do is find the right balance between personal and professional time. You give of yourself all day at school and when you get home, you may feel like there’s just not much left over for yourself or your family. Quite naturally, you feel guilty about that. However, you also know that even the best teachers could work 23 out of 24 hours a day and still not be able to do everything that needs to be done to help their pupils. So you feel guilty about that, too. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself in a constant state of stress because you feel like everyone in your life is being shortchanged by you. As difficult as it is, you have to try to find a proper balance. Be the best you can be for your students, but also give yourself permission to have a life outside of school. When you do, you’ll be much better equipped to handle the stress that comes your way.   

Other Resources for Managing Stress

Classroom Management Tips

Your school year will be much less stressful if you have good classroom management skills. Use the effective techniques presented in this article in your own classroom, or use them as a guide in developing your own principles.

Helping Students Cope with Stress

Make your job less stressful by helping your pupils learn how to manage their own stress. Some activities are designed to promote healthy social interaction between learners, while others focus on how to prevent stress. You'll even find some stress relief exercises that both you and your pupils can use.