Teaching Stress

@Oldandrewuk started an interesting discussion on Twitter earlier after posting a poll asking about the proportion of teacher’s stress that came from management. Not an easy question to answer and highly dependent on the schools you have taught in. I have found that stress comes from a number of sources – some directly from management, some directly under their control but others fall in to the very wide category of “it’s a bit more complicated than that”.

  • Outside pressures – I have found that a major source of stress over the last five years has been having a Minister for Education who seemed desperate to demonise teachers who didn’t support his reforms as “enemies of promise”, a media who showed nothing but contempt for my profession and a public keen to jump on the bandwagon. Feeling that the work you do is not valued is a source of stress. Management can certainly make a difference here by keeping an upbeat tone and emphasising the positive work the school is doing.
  • SLT priorities and expectations – I am very lucky at the moment but have been in schools where the senior leadership team are a major source of stress. The biggest problem seems to be different members of SLT all having their own priorities that they are desperate for you to focus on first. This then leads to unrealistic deadlines and tasks to complete urgently with no consideration for the time demands of the other SLT pet projects that might have been foisted upon you. This is clearly the area that management can have the biggest impact on. If they worked as a team to have a clear set of priorities and communicated with each other to ensure that staff weren’t being overloaded with demands for reports, forms and data from all quarters.
  • Fellow teachers – A much overlooked source of stress. I don’t mind OFSTED inspections. I’ve been though a few and can keep fairly level headed about the whole thing. Until I make the mistake of going in to the staffroom. It is hard to keep your head when all those around you are losing theirs. You feel you may not have grasped the gravity of the situation. The same thing can happen the rest of the year. I find I have to work very hard to stay happy and positive and calm if those around me are talking about little else but stress and pressure. A cult of busyness is established where everyone has to talk about how busy they are, how stressed they are and how over worked they are. If you are not also busy you are clearly negligent – not simply good at organisation. Management though should set the culture of the school. They should be working hard to make sure that there is a positive and constructive environment in which teachers can thrive and do their jobs. If they don’t set the right tone then this cult of busyness becomes embedded.
  • Pupils – This seems to affect teachers more in their first few years of teaching but can rear its ugly head at any time. Poor behaviour often seems to be a source of stress. Individual poor behaviour can usually be dealt with by using the school’s behaviour policy but pack behaviour can be more complex. Even when behaviour isn’t a problem worrying about a lack of pupil progress can be a source of worry and stress. Good management again needed to ensure there is a no blame culture where people are happy looking for help and where there are clear structures in place to provide it.
  • Self – At times we are our own worse enemy. We can create all kinds of stresses for ourselves by not seeking help, buying in to the cult of busyness or by always seeking perfection.

In summary I’d suggest there are many sources if stress in teaching but all can be tackled by effective leadership. There would be a lot less stress and a lot more productivity if senior management ensured that;

  1. They had clear priorities
  2. They calandered all additional tasks well in advance and worked out a time budget for them.
  3. They discouraged a cult of busyness and instead praised, encouraged and coached time management.
  4. They put in place structures that provided support and allowed teachers to seek help and to focus on the job of education.
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