Managing teachers' stress levels

Managing teachers' stress levels

There is no doubt about it, teaching jobs are stressful jobs.

The constant threat of inspection, the continued governmental fixation with exam results, the changes to remuneration and the increasingly prominent levels of ill discipline among pupils all add up to make cortisone levels spike before the end of the school day. TLTP Education's own research has shown uncertainty around resource levels and increased workload is creating unhelpful anxiety adding to levels of stress in the profession, while 40 per cent of teachers have been the victims of verbal abused in school.

It is clear there will not be much help from Ofsted or the government in the near future. While teachers' unions threaten industrial action based in large part on the difficult working conditions that many members face, governmental and regulatory advice has been limited.

Education secretary Michael Gove offered a simple reiteration of the existing sanctions teachers can use to curb poor student behavior, while Ofsted has declared it will be focusing on teachers' classroom attire come June.

While the merits of both actions are up for debate, all teachers could agree that more needs to be done to help combat growing levels of stress within the industry that are playing a huge part in scaring many suitable educators away from the classroom. 

To stop the detrimental shift of talent away from teaching jobs, perhaps the more experienced in the profession will need to take matters into their own hands.

Bill Rogers is an international guru on educational behaviour, although he is based in Australia he spends three months of the year working in UK schools, education workshops and seminars and has written books on how teachers can improve their stress levels. He explains there will always be the potential for stress in a role such as teaching, but teachers can learn to deal with it in a more efficient manner.

He writes on the Guardian Teacher Network: "Managing what is naturally stressful in our profession does not mean the absence of tension but our ability to collegially cope with, and support one another in that naturally stressful environment."

To do this, people in teaching jobs must learn to creatively live with natural tension and stress, and mentoring is a great way of doing this.

The primary thing mentoring will bring is support. A teacher who is struggling with high stress levels may often feel as though they are alone. A very challenging class of pupils can bring with it concern and anxiety that sucks the life out of a whole day and stops teachers from enjoying the profession they feel they were born to be in.

If possible, the mentor would be one with a free period in which they can link-up with the stressed teacher and work together to control the class and the stress levels.

"It is this existential sharing; this teaching with them (in their most challenging classes) that enables the sort of collegial trust that can utilise non-judgemental professional self-reflection," explained Mr Rogers.

Mentoring also fosters a different and more productive method of evaluation than simple appraisal - which in itself can be a source of stress. A method that is built out of a collegial culture in which all members of staff share common needs and senior staff can work on tailoring the working environment to these overt needs rather than guessing and tackling assumed needs. If teachers work together they can create a connected and engaged workforce, which will help stressed individuals cope more effectively with their concerns. 
It can be more than a simple stop-gap until those responsible at policy level can do anything to lower stress levels in the teaching profession. As things stand, many teachers are bullied in the classroom. Without a supportive network, the stressed teacher may automatically think that is the result of 'poor teaching' and this can exacerbate their concerns with their career choice.

If a collegially supportive school structure exists, teachers can explain problems to other staff, realise it may not be their fault without fear of implied or open censure and find extra confidence to deal with the issues and keep their stress levels from getting out of hand.