Back to school anxiety – Teachers get it too
Many children experience nervousness and anxiety at the thought of returning to school in September after the summer break but did you know that teachers commonly experience this too?
Of course to be apprehensive about the new school year is normal. By the end of the summer term you will have known your pupils inside out, how they learnt, what they excelled at, found challenging, loved, hated, worried about, set them off, not to mention the ins and outs of their friendships and family life.
But then they leave, move on and you are faced with new faces, all looking to you for reassurance, routine, structure and learning. Most of us take a deep breath, smile and get on with the job and the nerves subside once you relise you haven’t forgotten to teach after all and that the needs of these children are not too dissimilar to your last year group.
For some teachers however, the weeks and days before starting back can be hellish. Filled with upsetting thoughts, dreams, sleepless nights, illness and panic. The thought of doing the job, albeit a job you love, the responsibilities, expectations and pressures you place on yourself can be overwhelming and upsetting. I know, I was one of those teachers.
Before c0-founding Be The Jellyfish with Lucy I had taught successfully for many years. I was popular with the children, respected by the parents and considered to be an outstanding teacher. I also have an anxiety and panic disorder so as you can imagine, new terms were always a challenge. However over the years I acquired a number of strategies that really helped me to do the job I loved and to do it well.
Generally teachers like to feel in control of every aspect of the school day but an unfortunate fact is that no matter what we do to prepare we cannot control everything! So don’t predict and don’t rehearse ways to prevent and resolve situations that haven’t yet arisen as this can raise anxiety levels, especially as you realise that there are so many factors that are unpredictable and that you have no control over.
Instead visualise yourself in your classroom, feeling relaxed, teaching well. Picture the children engaged, happy and enjoying their learning and if negative thoughts pop into your mind just acknowledge them, let them pass and tell them you’ll deal with it IF it happens.
There is no such thing as an empty To Do List for teachers but the trick is to be as organised and prepared in a general sense as this gives you a secure foundation to work from once the list items clock up!
Sufficient stationary, exercise books, enough chairs and tables for the children and a tidy classroom all help to provide simple security and structure to your day. Having your long and midterm plans in place is also important so you know where you are headed and also setting up your assessment files, initial seating plan and groups before term starts can all help you to feel prepared.
Spend as much time in your classroom as possible. This is can be your space and your sanctuary. No doubt you have already spent time over the holidays rearranging furniture, labelling drawers, backing display boards and laminating anything in sight but now spend time with your room before the children arrive. Sit at your desk/on a chair, sip your favourite hot drink and take a few deep breaths. You have done your very best to make your classroom a nurturing space where children will learn and grow. This is your space, the room where you will prepare for, facilitate and assess learning. You will spend time here before the children arrive each day and after they leave so, where possible make it your special space.
I used to always ensure that I had my favourite herbal tea, hand cream and essential oils to hand as a little treat and provide me with familiar comfort every day.
Deep breaths in through nose and out through the mouth are invaluable. The children love doing them too so make start your day this way!
Deep down you know you are prepped and you know what you are doing and yet anxiety has a nasty way of making you doubt yourself and all that you do. Remind yourself that you have got this. At the end of the day you will do what it takes to help those children and you will do that to the best of your ability – No one can ask more of you.
Save and reread all those lovely pictures, notes, cards and letters given to you by past pupils and parents they will help affirm the teacher you are.
There is no getting away from the fact that being a teacher is hard work but focusing thoughts about the work load, the late nights, lack of weekends, endless marking, parents consultations, staff meetings, targets, tracking, progress etc etc will make you dread starting back even more.
Instead focus on what you are looking forward to this year. Presumably you went into teaching because you like children and you love to teach. Thankfully, children and teaching them are at the core of what you do and although sadly you can’t magic away the not so pleasant aspects of the job you can try to focus on the positives. Working with an old/new colleague? Getting to know and spending time with the children? Teaching maths more creatively? Reading groups in your exciting reading corner? An art lesson that you know has the potential to make an excellent display? The children’s excitement at the writing wizard you can’t wait to introduce to them? Your staff Christmas do? Whatever it is, no matter how small, jot it down and keep the list to hand to remind yourself of these things as they are the reason you most likely became a teacher.
Even when you feel like you want to burst into tears and a black thunder cloud is shadowing you a simple smile can work wonders to set off some happy, confident chemicals and give you the boost you need.
I have always been blessed in that I have worked with so many incredible teachers and teaching assistants over the years. Simply knowing you have people to turn to if you need to can be very reassuring and reminds you that you do this job as part of a team; you don’t need to carry the responsibility alone – Nobody has shoulders that big! Remind yourself that you are a cog in a big machine, joined by many other cogs and together you take each and every child form Reception right up to Year 6.
I really feel for teachers who tell me that that don’t have good working relationships with their colleagues and feel they have no one to turn to for support. Thankfully however there are so many wonderful online forums offering comradery, advice, support and a virtual shoulder to cry on if you need it.
Running a school is tough and when people are stressed they can be snappy, grumpy and generally a little bit off with those around them. The sensitive amongst us can often worry we have done something to upset them or that we have displeased them in some way. The important thing is not to assume that this is the case. You are an adult, if something in your work, conduct is not up to scratch it the responsibility of your colleagues to say so and if they do not then you must come to the conclusion the problem is with them and not you! Just give them time and space to get through their own To Do Lists and when they are ready you’ll soon be enjoying a friendly chat and a cup of tea with them again.
I hope that some of these suggestions prove of helpful and I wish you all a wonderful year with your children. You are amazing and capable of great things.