The classroom can be a stressful place, and being able to survive while keeping your sense of well-being and sanity intact can be a chore. Regardless of whether you are teaching at a high school, primary school, or university, it’s no secret that a career in teaching is as challenging as it is rewarding. From heavy workloads to Ofsted inspections, here’s how to improve your performance, sense of well-being and resilience with our top 10 classroom survival tips for teachers.
1. Self Care
There is always more you could be doing, and this is especially the case for teaching. Planning for lessons, marking assignments, and various other prep work always needs to be completed, and for many, this bleeds into our lives outside of work.
Yielding to that sense of pressure at the expense of your downtime is a false economy and threatens to burn out both you and your personal relationships. Understanding that there will always be something to do and being okay with that must be a priority. It is key to your self-care and your survival. Plus, time out for breaks, time with the family, or just to watch a film is critical.
2. Build a Support System
No man, woman or person in between is an island. Although it may sometimes feel that way when you have upwards of thirty pupils all needing your attention. The number of school children in cohorts of 36 or more has trebled in the last five years.
Take time out in the staff room to connect with other teachers, mainly in your first years of teaching. This support system and knowledge base is an invaluable source of backup. It’s also wise to build relationships with the office administrators and the broader school team.
Becoming part of the school community will add to your sense of support and well-being – and you never know when their knowledge may be of benefit to you.
Involve yourself in school events, and make an effort to chat during break times. Having someone in the same position as you to listen and laugh with can make all the difference.
3. Connect With Your Students
A positive student/teacher dynamic will help to engage and inspire – it will also make your life much easier. Students need to feel that there is a sense of equality in the classroom. The fair application of boundaries will let everyone know where they stand. It will also build a safe and trusted environment and stop you from being seen as a respectful figure.
Sharing stories from your own life and class icebreakers is an excellent way to discover your student’s interests. You can then take that information and build a lesson around the things that inspire them. A great way to bond, connect and learn.
Show your sense of humour and your human side. They will be more likely to confide in you and be pacified should home issues begin to affect their mood in the class.
Ask about the issues you are aware of, such as a sick family member or changes in circumstances. Your attentive nature could make all the difference to their day and their ability to take in new information.
Need some inspiration? Check out our Top 5 Ways To Engage Students.
Each teacher is unique and on their own journey. By reflection, each class and cohort of students will bring its own challenges, rewards and personalities.
It’s normal to make a comparison, and it’s okay to have those kinds of feelings. It’s important to remember which stage of your career you’re at and that more seasoned teachers will naturally have more experience to draw on. If you feel overwhelmed by another teacher’s performance, turn it into a positive with our next tip…
5. Find a Mentor
It can take time to discover who you are as a teacher. What is your philosophy? Teaching style? These are questions that take time, and more often than not, they are confidently in the process of development.
The best way to select a mentor is to find someone you resonate with, admire, and take a similar approach. If you’re really unsure, it can help to spend some time writing about this, figuring out your motivations and not putting too much pressure on yourself to know all of the answers at once. When you begin to approach, potential mentors trust your instincts and see what feels right.
You may find it beneficial to have more than one mentor. You don’t have to make it ‘official’ with one person over another, and ultimately, if their advice doesn’t sit right with you, don’t take it. A good mentor is invaluable. However, the ultimate goal is to trust yourself and grow from your own experiences.
6. Photocopy Your Classroom Materials the Day Before
If there’s one thing that’s going to upend your meticulously planned lesson, it’s not the kid in a mischievous mood, the Wi-Fi going down, or even the sight of a dog in the playground sending everyone rushing to the window. No, it’s the photocopier.
The machine you only ever underestimate once if you’re a teacher cutting it fine before class. The sweet relief of giving the toner a shake and getting 10 more copies is going to stress you out more than you think – especially when this happens right before a class.
It’s one of those jobs that seems small and incidental, but if someone else is using the machine, it breaks down or comes up with some unknown error in impossible robotic language, the lesson you originally planned is over.
7. Plan in Your Social Time
The office in your bed, and on your couch is bad for you. Even though we don’t need to be told working late into the evening isn’t good for us, we still do it. Just like that one kid who keeps ignoring your instructions, here you are in the blue glare of that screen.
Anything that isn’t really important gets naturally de-prioritised, or else it finds another pair of hands. If your life is in so much overwhelm that you can’t have some rest and time with people outside of work, then you should be shouting up for assistance.
Don’t allow anything to infringe on the time you’ve planned for yourself. Even if it’s just to sit in your pyjamas on the couch. Do not let work creep in. This is your only safeguard against eventual burnout, and it will keep your personal support, relationships and sense of identity strong.
8. Communicating With Parents
As well as building a support system with the school, and a connection to the students, it’s essential to know how to build relationships with parents. Have strategies for several eventualities – good and bad.
- You can begin to make positive connections with parents through the praise you give their children. Call a pupil’s parents if the child has performed remarkably well. This can act as a reward for the student and as a way to lay a positive foundation for your role as an educator in their life.
- When there’s a problem, and you inevitably run into an angry guardian, you would be well advised to have some stock answers in your vocab to buy you some time to deal with the problem and to safeguard against a full-blown argument. Answers such as ‘Let’s book in some time after school. I’d like to investigate the issue further and give it the proper time and attention.
- In the meantime, log the issue with your school office and headteacher. Make a note of the conversation so that you can refer to it later if you ever need to. Buying yourself extra time will also enable you to bring another staff member into the meeting with you if necessary.
Always keep a calm demeanour, and having your own stock phrases ready will assist in this. If it looks as though the situation isn’t going to be peacefully resolved, offer to make the parent an appointment with the headteacher.
It’s natural for a parent to be protective and emotional about their child. There’s a lot to learn and consider within this dynamic.
9. Get Organised
Multitasking is a part of teaching. Sometimes when we have so much to juggle, it’s easy to forget something important. Get your cloud storage sorted. Keep your files tidy, and make sure you have your files saved with specific and relevant names. That way, if you can’t remember where it is, a search should bring it straight up.
Paperwork is important. However, a well-organised desk at school and home will make your life much less stressful in the long term.
10. In Case of an Emergency
There will always be schoolyard drama, emergencies and kids that have turned up to school on a rough day. The teacher’s ‘in case of emergencies’ kit will keep everyone calm and happy.
Spare birthday cars, clothes, snacks and hairbands along with deodorant, wet wipes, tissues are just some of the items often cited by teachers.
It is the little touches that turn you into a teacher that is remembered and trusted.
We’d love to hear your teacher survival tips. Tell us your stories in the comments section below…