By Leah Jones
Summit Elementary School, Jerome
Jerome Education Association
If you are in your first years of teaching, you are experiencing a new kind of stress; teacher stress. Lesson planning, grading papers, large classroom sizes, IEP’s and 504’s to follow, disruptive behaviors, staff meetings, helicopter parents, the list goes on and on for me. There is no stress like the stress of a teacher. We all knew what stress was before we became teachers; final exams in college, essays to write, paying our bills while we student taught; but actually stepping foot in the classroom as a teacher, that stress is on a whole new level. I am going into my 4th year and not only have I been experiencing the stress as a teacher, I have also begun to face the fact that this stress isn’t going away anytime soon.
“First, recognize that the way you are feeling is normal,” says Nora Howley from NEA Health Network. “What we call ‘stress’ is our body responding to threats.” Howley writes that stress is our body responding to the fear of danger, and it is designed to protect us. When our ancestors were faced with a charging saber-tooth tiger, they would run from it, fight and kill it, or be killed by the beast. These very actions released the stress. We no longer run from animals or have to kill what we eat, but our bodies experience the same amounts of stress and we aren’t releasing it like we used to. Therefore, we need to find alternative ways to relieve our stress before it becomes unhealthy for our bodies.
I had the privilege of being a facilitator at SPARKS (early educator retreat) this year and was asked to talk about stress management, so I shared my personal experiences with the new teachers. There is no “secret sauce” for stress relief, but taken together, these ideas can make a difference.
My first eye-opening experience with teacher stress was, of course, my first year of teaching. I was used to creating to-do lists and time managing my to-do lists before I became a teacher, but that wasn’t working. My lists where too long to accomplish in the time I had to accomplish them. I started staying later and later at school followed by arriving earlier and earlier. When I couldn’t be at school, I would take things home with me. Then I started showing up on the weekends, trying to “catch up” on the lists that could never seem to be accomplished. I went from feeling like I was holding my head above water, to drowning. I gained eighteen pounds in my first year of teaching. I didn’t feel unhappy or unhealthy; I love being surrounded by my students and my coworkers, I loved being in the classroom, but my body did not love me back.
I began to want to be physically capable again. Towards the end of my first year of teaching, I started taking better care of myself. I started with my lists and began to prioritize them. I essentially created other lists from my first list, a list that needed to be done right away, and a list that could wait. I planned my time. I also started doing more physical activities and exercising more regularly (it is tough to find time, but very much worth it). I started with something I knew I loved and used to do more of, yoga. I started by going to one class a week at my gym. When that became a habit, I started CrossFit classes. I love it and began doing it every night of the week except for Wednesdays, keeping my yoga class.
I also made time for my family and friends, and I started doing things that made me happy, such as nights out at a comedy show or other cultural activities, and enjoying the outdoors. Building solid, positive relationship, both at school and away from school, was also a big help.
I realized soon after all of this that I had lost 20 pounds and felt so much happier and healthier. Start your stress-free life with finding what you like to do for exercise. Whether it’s running, bike riding, swimming; just find something you like to do. Taking time to exercise moved my life in a whole new direction. Exercise was key, but I also make sure I find time for family and fun. I have chosen to be a happy teacher.