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Teachers: Maintaining your mental health on the job

Discussion in 'Health and wellbeing' started by janbfull, Sep 12, 2017.

  1. janbfull

    janbfull New commenter

    It is the start of a new school year. Stress should not have started to set in just yet, but it may as the school year progresses. Here, I share with you some insights to help you remain whole while doing the job that you were called to do.

    The teacher is sometimes maligned, a few times for good reasons, but most of the times the teacher is unjustly targeted because those persons who cast aspersions at the teacher and the job of teaching are not fully aware of the complexities of the job and the challenges that the teacher faces in navigating these complexities.

    Having been a teacher for more than twenty five years and having taught in a number of countries, I have garnered some insights into the nature of the teacher and the job of teaching. I have shared these insights in a new book, The Teacher's Gift.

    One facet of the teacher that I have explored in a number of chapters in this book is her mental health and how she can maintain her mental health, in spite of all the challenges that she has to navigate on the job. Here is one chapter of this book.

    Maintaining her mental health 3 – tempering her expectations of her students

    One way that the teacher maintains her mental health is by tempering her expectations of her students. The teacher realises that teaching is a stressful job, but only if she allows it to be. She is aware of all the negative effects that stress can have on her life. So, she takes steps to minimise the amount of stress that she allows into her life because she refuses to allow stress to steal her sanity. The teacher therefore is committed to maintaining her mental health. To do this, she accepts the following:

    1. That her students are different in many respects

    From her experiences of teaching students, from her reading of educational material about the educational needs of students, from her research of educational issues and from the research of eminent educational researchers (Psychologists among other researchers), the teacher understands that her students will achieve different levels of academic success because they have different abilities, different aptitudes, different drives and different temperaments. She does her best to help all of her students achieve excellence, but she does not take it personally when only some of them do. She understands that she needs to temper her expectations of her students since they are different in so many ways, ways which do influence their learning.

    2. That she needs to keep frustration at bay.

    The teacher learns that she has to keep frustration at bay. She does this by not judging her students’ performance according to another student’s excellent performance or according to her level of performance during her own academic journey. For example, the teacher does not get frustrated when she discovers that her students cannot read, or that they are reading below their grade level and tells them that when she was their age, she already knew how to read and was reading “a”, “b” and “c”.

    Instead, when she recognises her students’ weaknesses, she devises interventions or works with others. For example, she may decide to work with the reading teacher to help her students to elevate their reading level. The teacher seizes every opportunity to help her very weak students to transition into “ready” learners, learners who possess the basic tools to take advantage of schooling.

    Again, the teacher realises that in spite of all her best efforts, she will not reach all of her students in the way that she wants to reach them. But the teacher realises that being perpetually frustrated about her lot to teach, for example, slow students will cause her much stress, which in turn will negatively impact her mental state.

    The teacher does her best to tailor her lessons and the presentation of her lessons in such a way that she reaches every student at their level. Afterwards, she accepts that when she assesses her students' learning, the grades that they get may fall along the spectrum from grades A to F, or in some other category that the school designates. Again, she does not take this personally and does not spend sleepless nights agonising over this outcome.

    She knows that although she has a wide and deep body of knowledge from which she draws in teaching her students, there are factors outside of her control: the ability of her students; their willingness to cooperate in the business of learning; the quality of the physical resources to which she has access; the ability of parents to assist their children with learning in the home; the material and emotional resources to which the students have access in the home, among a longer list of other factors which influence the learning of her students.

    In spite of being aware of the factors that negatively impact the learning of some of her students, the teacher always does her best to help them master the prescribed curriculum and much more, to manage their emotional stress and, sometimes, when she can afford to, provide her students with material support.

    After she has given generously of herself to her students, she goes home, takes care of her business, still takes care of her students’ business (she takes home students’ work), rests, gets up in the morning to do it all over again. And each day, she tries harder than the day before to effect learning in her students. And every day, she acknowledges the limitations of her efforts.

    3. That children will be children

    The teacher who teaches children maintains her mental health by recognising that children will be children, no matter what she does to constrain them. She accepts that children in a group are noisy. She knows that they easily get excited about what they deem to be exciting, fun or comic in their world. After all, she was a child once so she understands.

    Knowing the nature of children, the teacher is not swift to take offence when they respond to her in unexpected ways. For example, she is not quick to get irritated when her students laugh in class. She knows that it does not usually take much to amuse children.

    She knows that they may laugh if they find something she says in the course of her teaching the class to be funny. They may laugh and laugh.

    She knows that they may laugh if they find something hilarious about the outfit that she is wearing one day, no matter how much she thinks that she has hit the spot with it. She knows that they may nudge each other and laugh.

    She knows that they may laugh if in their minds, she reminds them of an animal, a cartoon character, something funny. She knows that they may share their observations among themselves and they may laugh.

    She knows that one mischievous student may even decide to give her a nickname. She knows that they give other teachers names so why not her as well. The teacher knows that these nicknames may elicit smiles from her students when she is in their presence, probably at inappropriate times. She accepts this. She was once a child.

    What she does, though, is to gently nudge her students back to attention and continues her lessons when they are obviously distracted from paying attention to her lesson by their own antics.

    The teacher knows her purpose in the classroom. She understands human nature, having experienced the vagaries of it from she was a child and during her adulthood. So, she does not allow herself to be stressed by the goings-on of her students and she does not take their inattention during parts of her lessons personally. She works around it. Neither does she take herself too seriously. She learns to laugh with her students, albeit ironically at times.

    4. That she should expect the unexpected

    The teacher who teaches very young children, from the kindergarten level to students in at least grade 7 in junior high or high school, depending on the context in which she teaches, knows that many of her students see her as a parent figure in the classroom. Therefore, if one of her students in a rash of forgetfulness calls her “Mommy” in enquiring about something to which she has drawn his or her attention, the teacher knows that these things happen and reacts accordingly.

    The teacher does not get irate, goes to complain to her colleagues about it, telling them that she is not the student's parent so the student should not call her “Mommy” or that she is nobody's parent, insisting that the children should call her, “Miss So and So”. She does not complain about what is wrong with children now-a-days and she does not malign their parents. More importantly, she does not snub the student in front of his/her peers. She becomes “Mommy” for that student, for that moment.

    In addition to mistakenly calling her “Mommy”, the teacher knows that the likelihood exists that children will touch. She knows that sometimes some of her students will forget that they should not touch another person without that person's permission, as many children in some societies are being taught. When this happens, she reaches for the tolerance that she has worked hard to develop.

    She is prepared for the unexpected. She understands that her students will not behave exactly as she wants them to behave. She accepts the idiosyncrasies of her students and she moves on.

    The teacher tempers her expectations of her students. She hopes that they will all be “good” students but if they are not all “good” students, she accepts this. She remembers her job and she does it.

    If you are interested in reading more of this book, you may get it right here in the TES store and feel free to visit my blog at http://educationexplored.blogspot.com. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
  2. EmanuelShadrack

    EmanuelShadrack Star commenter


    It's a shame that there have been no comments so far to this. It looks like you've put quite a bit of work into creating the above, and I would like to acknowledge that.

    The main thing that strikes me is that very unfortunately the teachers in the UK don't have the freedom to put these points into practice. We have such a crazy, stupid, ill-thought out system here in the UK, where inspections, bullying and intimidation are rife. It would be these factors (all emanating from senior management) that would be responsible for stress and sleepless nights, rather than the students themselves.

    Teachers aren't trusted to simply get on with the job. My guess is that conditions are far far better in Jamaica.

    If we had a decent system in the UK, I think your points would resonate with more people.

    All the best :)
  3. janbfull

    janbfull New commenter

  4. janbfull

    janbfull New commenter

    Hi Emanuel,
    Thank you for your wishes. I wish you the best as well in coping with the stresses of the job.

    The system in Jamaica is not much different from that in England. There is much demanded of the teacher who is given limited resources to achieve the results mandated by the government. A number of teachers have not been coping well, according to news reports.

    The above is only one of the four chapters that I devoted to the issue of maintaining one's mental health on the job. The others are understanding (and coping with) the bureaucracy, understanding the environment of the school, taking care of self ...

    I guess some teachers are so jaded by what is happening in the education system that they are only counting down the days until retirement or are actively exploring their options.

    Try to have a relatively stress free school year.

    Best regards,

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