Back to School 2017: How to Keep Stress at Bay

teacher shortage crisisAs you prepare to head back to school this fall, we’ve put together a panel of your colleagues to offer advice for how to handle the day-to-day challenges you’ll face this coming year. In Part 1, they addressed how they motivate their students and promote good behavior. In Part 2, they tackle a problem that affects students and educators: stress.

How do you cope with stress?

Heather Rains: I think my best stress management practice comes in the form of quiet reflection. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can improve, modify, correct, approach, and enjoy my time with students and staff. I work long hours before and after school and often on the weekends preparing myself and my plans for learning, so when I reach the point where I’m feeling truly tired and need a break, I give myself time to rest and reflect. I also try to take care of my health by eating healthy foods and making sure I’m getting enough activity.

Deborah Lazarus: Establishing the bus reading program came natural to me because I am an avid reader. So, often, I will curl up with a book and the stress just slips away. Also, my husband and I have date night once a week during the school week. It can be dinner out, watching a movie, or playing video games at home. The rules are always the same: No work, talk, or phone calls that aren’t a family emergency!

Saul Ramos: By reminding myself of why I’m here: Our students. All it takes is a smile or a thank you from a student to ease my stress. Seeing their eyes light up when they understand what is being taught, or simply take it upon themselves to help a peer student in need.

Fakhra Shah: This is a very important question and my biggest challenge. I try to get exercise, time to myself, and practice mindfulness—with other teachers or independently. We need a lot of support and its hard to get. I, thankfully, have a great wellness staff who is very helpful with supporting me in managing stress.

How do you help your students with stress?

Deborah Lazarus: Because I have taken the time to get to know my students, I can usually tell if something isn’t right that day. So, I always ask if they are OK and let them know that they can always talk to me if they want to. If there are several that seem off on a certain day then I make it a point to interact more with that group. That way no one feels singled out. Yet, for at least a few minutes, their thoughts aren’t on whatever has them upset.

Heather Rains: When my students express that they’re feeling stressed, or I notice stress behaviors, I like to take a step away from topic and address their needs. For example, as we were approaching our standardized testing this month, one of my students expressed how nervous they were feeling. I stopped our math lesson and asked all students to give their attention to our conversation. I explained that we shouldn’t feel nervous about our tests. I assured them that they were well-prepared and that I felt confident each and every one of them had grown their knowledge and understanding. Instead of feeling nervous, we should feel excited to demonstrate all the amazing things we’ve learned throughout our school year together! You could visibly see their shoulders relax and grins spread across their faces.

Saul Ramos: Sometimes, by just listening—by letting students talk about their feelings and letting them know that you understand and want to help them find a solution to whatever might be troubling them. Also, by making them laugh and reminding them how far they’ve come. A short or long walk in the hallway or outside in fresh air also helps them manage stress.

Fakhra Shah: We practice mindfulness as a class, and we practice effective communication together, so that we can manage stress together.