Teaching is immensely fulfilling and there is no other profession like it. But it is not easy! In this month’s Ilm o Amal, Alizeh Zainab Razvi delves into the considerable stresses that teachers experience and looks at how to overcome them and maintain your work-life balance.

Take off the rose-coloured glasses

So you think teaching is a breeze? If you ask people (especially non-teachers) they will say ‘Yes’ and then give you one or all of the following reasons:

a) Teachers work fewer hours than practically everyone else i.e. they don’t work hard

b) Anyone who has been to school, knows what teaching is all about and so everyone can become a teacher i.e. it is not a big deal

c) People who cannot land another job, teach i.e. it is not a big deal

If you are not a teacher, you may have become skeptical after reading the title of this article. How can teaching burn you out? How can it be stressful? Teachers don’t even work a full day!

If you are a teacher, you are probably smiling and know that being a teacher is immensely fulfilling… but it is not easy.

For if you really, truly care about your job and feel responsible for your students then stress is a very real part of your work. So stop! Let’s take off our rose-coloured glasses for a while and talk you what it really like to be a teacher.

Teachers’ stress and where it’s coming from

Perhaps the most common reason that induces stress is that you have to deal with children who misbehave regularly.Stress It’s common for a single teacher to be in charge of a class of 25 to 30 pupils, most of who are buzzing with energy. Some don’t want to be there, others don’t want to sit, and still others are in a mood to answer back.

Teacher stress can also be brought on by simple social stress. Social stress is any stress that comes from having to spend time with lots of people. When you are with other people it’s hard to relax and be yourself because you feel that you are being scrutinized and as if others want your attention at all times. If you are very sensitive you may find that you can pick up on people’s moods and feel even more stressed.

In a classroom with 25-30 students, a lot of energy is required simply to be social (let alone to lead). Outside of the classroom you also have the social dynamics of dealing with other teaching staff. Coping with this can be draining and exhausting. While this isn’t unique to teacher stress, it is another factor that adds to the general stress that a teacher might feel.

Another aspect of teaching that makes it stressful is the fact that you have to stand up and ‘perform’. Literally. It’s easy for an outsider to dismiss this aspect of teaching by saying ‘Come on! It’s only children who are your audience.’ But all teachers know that there are days when crowd control in the classroom can be a tough call.

Also speaking in public is something that is pretty much always going to trigger a severe stress response. In fact several studies show that the fear of public speaking features somewhere near the top of the list of debilitating fears that people have. Thus we are naturally inclined to find this a scary process and our bodies respond to it by producing stress hormones. Even someone who enjoys public speaking experiences this fear to a degree and this also adds to a teacher’s stress.

Teaching is also one of the professions that are very closely scrutinized. Non-teachers may wonder how that can be a problem. For a teacher is practically her own boss and when she is standing in front of her students in the classroom, there is no supervisor breathing down her neck, like there would be in an office, right? Yet teachers do feel quite a bit of stress from parents, from regular inspections and assessments from headmasters and deputies. All of this is can add up to a lot of pressure.

The bottom line is simply that teaching is a big responsibility. A teacher is partly responsible for helping craft children into functioning adults, who have a repertoire of social and educational skills. This is a lot of pressure for anyone who genuinely cares about how well they are doing their job.

The sheer amount of work that goes into marking papers and homework and in preparing for your class is another stressor for teachers. People in other professions often sneer at this – thinking they’d rather be at home marking homework, than in the office taking calls.

It is like being self-employed

Teachers have work ‘on top’ of their work and they have to spend time marking children’s work, at a time when people working in other professions can just relax with their families. Managing your workload takes a lot of time and patience, especially when others don’t ‘respect’ all that you have to do. In this way, teachers face a lot of the Work_lifesame difficulties that are associated with being self-employed.

One of the problems with striking a work-life balance when you are a teacher is that different parts of your life will require different things from you as your life and your career progress. There will be times, for example, when your personal life will demand more of your time and others times when your work life will need to be the priority. There will also be times when both your work and your personal life will demand your attention.

Assessing your work-life balance

Before really being able to assess and think about how to balance these two crucial aspects of our lives, we must first understand and evaluate where we are and how we feel currently in life. There is no one size fits all approach, but to get a broader picture of how balanced your life is, it would help to conduct this self-survey.

Amount of Time & Energy I Spend on an Activity

Aspect Too Much About Right Not Enough
My Job & Developing My Career
Personal Administrative Tasks (cleaning, shopping, paying bills)
Physical Wellbeing (eating healthy, sleeping well, physical activity)
Emotional Wellbeing (doing things that make you happy, fulfilled)
Intellectual Wellbeing (learning new things, intellectual stimulation/challenge)
Close Relationships (caring for family, close friends, animals)
Other Relationships (Socializing, community involvement)
Personal Development/Relaxation (contemplative, being in nature, spiritual activities)
Free Time (rest, do nothing, as you wish)

How to tackle teacher stress

Picture this scenario. You love to teach, but these days you are finding it difficult to muster up the love and passion that motivated you when you first became a teacher. You spend most of your time stressing about all the tasks you have to get through in a day and are perhaps finding it difficult to deal with one or two children in your class. Here are some steps you can take to cope with the stress:

1. Mention to your headmaster or principal that you are struggling with the workload and/or controlling your class and you need help in the form of a teachers’ assistant or a smaller class.

2. Don’t take on too many extra commitments. Running an after-school club is a great thing to do for the children and to get ahead in your career, but it also means an extra hour of stressful work on top of what you’re already doing.

3. Take time off and if you’re feeling ill, definitely take time off.

4. Teachers often find it harder than other workers to get time off and this is one of the big contributors to teacher stress. It’s better to take a day or two off for a cold, than it is to keep going, infect your class and end up getting seriously ill.

5. Talk to others who understand. Having someone you can talk to can often help a great deal, especially if that person actually sympathizes with you instead of thinking you have it ‘easy’.

6. If you are really struggling, ask to change the age group that you teach. Some people find bigger classes easier to control as older children can be reasoned with, while others prefer working with younger children. See what works best for you.

Alizeh Zainab Razvi is an IECE alumni and works at TRC as Member-Training & Development Team.

April 2016