Cut the Back-to-School Teacher Stress
Back to school time can be a lot. For students, there is the anxiety of the end of the summer, the loss of independence, the fear of the unknown.
Now take that and multiply it exponentially because on top of the same nerves that students can experience teachers have the added pressure of preparing for all those anxious kiddos by buying and upacking supplies, setting up the classroom, designing bulletin boards, creating activities and materials, meeting parents and attending open houses, participating in what seems like endless meetings, and that is often the just the tip of the iceberg.
Many teachers nervously await room assignments until the last minute, receive class and schedule changes, or face an array of unknown obstacles as they re-enter the school after a summer away.
Put simply, back to school time is stressful. So here are some quick tips to help you ease into the new school year as gracefully as possible.
It sounds way easier than it is. While prioritizing what needs accomplishing at the beginning of the school year can take off the some of the weight you are feeling from the mounting “to do’s” and quickly vanishing timeline, it takes some thoughtfulness to get it all straightened out. The trouble is two-fold.
Slow Your Roll
First, you have to slow down enough. You need to find a moment of quiet. A moment where you can slow your thinking and reflect on ALL that needs to be done. Finding the time and/or gifting yourself this time at the beginning of the school year can be difficult. There are teacher meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, and more meetings – every moment of which you are daydreaming of working in your classroom. So, when you finally have a moment to work in your classroom it’s hard to sit yourself down to reflect. But, it’s worth it and believe it or not (trust me you should believe it) it will save you time in the end.
Develop A Plan
Secondly, when you finally do sit down with the intention of prioritizing all the things that you need to do it seems like an impossible task. How can you get this all done? It’s overwhelming the amount that you need to do. This is why the parking lots are full at schools you pass by in August, even before teachers are paid for being there. And, this is why the parking lots are full when you pass by a school in the late evenings and night in August after the teachers have returned.
Teachers are not given enough time in their contracted days to get ready for students. That’s a fact that I have never heard disputed.
This is why creating a plan of attach is so important.
- STEP 1: REFLECT on what really needs to be done. If it can wait, it should.
- STEP 2: BATCH – look at the tasks and group them together by activity. (if you want to know more about batching check out the FREE Resilient Teacher’s Timesaving Guidebook here). link physical tasks in your classroom separately from running to the office to make copies or sitting down at your desk. By batching you will save time and relieve some stress.
- STEP 3: RANK what is most important to what is least important – this may take looking over your list a few times first. Keep your batching in tact as much as possible and be honest with yourself on what is the most important to you. For you, maybe your lessons are more important than your room or vice a versa. Or, writing a welcome letter to your students and their families is more important than finishing that bulletin board. This is your moment to set yourself up for success
- STEP 4: SCHEDULE your time that you can accomplish these tasks. By doing this now you won’t waste any time getting right to work when you have those rare free moments
Focus on the Students
This will help with prioritizing and also those nerves that begin to take over when you know you have two more hours of this meeting on school policy and you should be working in your room. By staying focused on those students, envisioning them coming into the classroom on the first day, imagining what they want to see and what they have to say, you can remain centered on what really matters. Yes, a lot if thrown at you that handful of days before students enter the school (even more so if you are new to your school or district), but don’t lose sight of the real reason everyone is here. Perhaps this warrants a reevaluation of that priority list – will students really care (or know) if you have your planner all set up or you have copies made for Thursday when it’s only Monday? No, but they might know if you are frazzled and overstressed those first few days.
Let your purpose guide your actions and remain focused on what benefits your students most. Let everything else fade to the background, at least for now.
When I think back there a few times that I declined help. I am still not sure if it was pride or stubbornness. Either way, when a parent and friend offers help it is a magical moment and it shouldn’t be overlooked lightly.
Sure, I like things my way and yes I enjoy blasting 80’s music and pretending I’m in a movie montage when I clean, but that shouldn’t derail the kindheartedness of a friendly offer. Teachers are master delegators and these skills are just as effective for adults as they are on students. So bring in that parent volunteer or retired teacher, put your kids or significant other to work, and maximize those precious hours before your classroom is flooded with the bodies of nervous and eager students awaiting your instruction.
Ask for Help
Honestly, our work often seems so heavy because we carry it by ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be that way always. There are ways to that others can and will help you shoulder the responsibilities of this stressful time.
No matter how much easier having a new [fill in the blank] would make your job or how wonderful it would be to leave the building and go on that field trip, host that guest speaker or whatever your heart desires – always, ALWAYS frame it in the perspective of how it benefits the students. This is a simple tip that will take you far and get you more of what you want easier.
SCHOOL: When it comes to classroom furniture, often teachers are eager to wheel and deal their furniture. If you are wanting to change up your classroom send an email out through your school or district and offer a trade or even ask if someone has a spare of whatever your heart desires. You’d be surprised at the number of desks, shelves, and kidney-shaped tables out there not be utilized.
STORES: Often stores will have boxes, storage, packing, and miscellaneous supplies that they will be happy to donate. Some materials have I asked for an received over the years include fabric from a car seat manufacturer, paper from a newspaper, bubblewrap from a gift store, and cardboard from a framing store. Think about who might have the materials you need and just ask, the worst they can say is “no”.
Ask in writing
If your school is in an area which families may be able to help out, consider including a list of materials that you would like donated in a welcome letter available during back-to-school night or in a newsletter that will go home. Better yet, include it on a school or class website. You can have a list of items you will always accept and then have a different list for project-specific supplies. You might be surprised the donations that come out of the woodwork if you just ask.
If supplies are more your concern and your budget is tapped, seek help online.
DonorsChoose.org is a great website that allows educators to establish campaigns for materials and supplies that will help their students learn. I have personally had great success funding my classroom endeavors through this site. You can attach links to your social media and school website and on parent letters. There are often large organizations and celebrities who will donate large amounts to the cause as well, if asking your community for support isn’t an option.
Amazon Wish List is something I have seen more and more teachers use. You can add books, supplies, furniture and share your wishlist everywhere that allows you to post a link. You can even add the Joy in Teaching books to your list. Those not in education find the familiarity of Amazon easy to use and donate to your cause.
Be Kind to Yourself
The school year brings with it a sense of eagerness, an anticipation for what is to come, new beginnings and fresh starts, but also a lot of stress. Teachers carry the brunt of this stress. Take time to enjoy the moment and don’t give yourself a hard time if it all doesn’t get done.
For years my teaching mantra was, “No matter what I do, the students will come in and I will teach”. It eased my anxiety surrounding preparedness and reminded me that I can rely on my content knowledge and skill set as a teacher to make each class a successful learning experience – even if everything wasn’t done.
Chances are that everything won’t be perfect as your students come pouring in on that first day of school and that’s ok. Rest assured you did what you could do and enjoy your time with your students. And, if you are looking for more tools and ideas to reclaim your joy in teaching check out the Joy in Teaching books right here and have a great start to your school year!