Monday, 21 November 2016

How to combat stress in an FE Classroom

Today was a refreshing teaching day, I felt on top of my lessons, out the door early preparing some new resources and planning the week ahead. Teaching Maths in Further Education (FE) on a monday gives you a feeling of anxiety before you enter the classroom (are the students alright, are they going to behave, is your resource going to work) and excitement from feeling fresh from a relaxed but restful weekend. One of my future blog posts is going to talk about how to turn off at the weekend for FE staff as this for me is extremely important in keeping myself mentally ready for the week ahead.

One of the biggest problems within FE is stress, knowing the symptoms, when people have reached the end, and when to consider other options. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped in an occupation you no longer enjoy (I've been there in other occupations) and I would hate to think that people enter the profession purely for monetary reasons.

Ask yourself one question "Why did you want to become a teacher?"

Do you want to help people? Do you want to shape minds? Maybe you like a challenge? Whatever your reasoning, your motivation for this job probably isn't, I want to feel worthless and upset over young adults not learning about areas and perimeters. I want you to consider that every job in the world has it's ups and downs, there are bad days and good days much like life. I don't personally believe that there is a job that someone is 100% happy in, if someone tells you they are, they are lying to you.

I've seen many staff members leave over my relatively short tenure at my FE college (nearly 2 years), which should, by now, be considered long service award worthy. This is due to problems with students, different job expectations, work demands, marking expectations all underpinned by one word; stress. How do we cope with stress in this role? Are we doomed to be stressed our entire teaching career and is it something we have to accept?

The answer is no.

I believe that there are ways to combat stress, deal with problems head on and keep your head above water. Most jobs involve a form of stress, a little stress actually makes you perform better in some scenarios, but it is given considering the current education climate and demand for results that you will inevitably have to deal with stress. I am going to share some ideas on how to cope with stress for you to become more effective and not dread your day going into work.

The first thing you need is a solid support group, look around your staff room and consider who you are happy to talk to, what do you talk about? Is it always professional? Do you really know the people in your staffroom or office? The best thing to do is invest time in learning about others, you gave a reason why you wanted to teach earlier so practice those skills here, learn to listen actively and respond appropriately to other people you work with. I make it a practice to try to talk to everyone in my staffroom to make sure they are alright in one day, try it for yourself and see if you feel more connected to your colleagues. When you are genuinely interested in their own lives, dreams and ambitions, they will become genuinely interested in yours too, we teach our students to be caring and considerate adults so let's be the perfect role models.

Another suggestion, change the dialogue in your day to day teaching. Jimmy may not be getting a piece of work and you are certain that he is not going to achieve this year, what does Jimmy think about? What is important to him within your lessons? Maybe Jimmy loves coming to college because he gets to socialise with his friends and practice his skills in cookery, does it make him a bad person for not achieving a learning objective you've set for him? There is a reason he is retaking this subject, there is a reason he may want to talk to his friends instead of complete the worksheet you've set for him, show him that you think differently. Change reprimand for positive language and positive outcomes.

A prime example happened today in my first lesson, I had a student who told me that she thought maths was rubbish (not the exact terminology used) and didn't see why she had to do it to get a job. I asked her instead to think about what skills could be learned from attending the lessons and how she could apply them to real life. It wasn't that I was telling her off, I was encouraging her to think like an adult. She saw that I genuinely cared about how she was progressing instead of getting defensive about the subject, this meant that she not only completed the work, she thanked me when she left the room after the lesson finished. Mutual respect between your students and yourself is a powerful thing. Please and Thank you's to your students cost nothing. Do you think she thinks about this altercation after she left the room? She won't, will you?

Please let me know in the comments what you do to actively destress, what would you do in your classroom and how do you cope with the day-to-day demands of the jobs? Many thanks for reading this blog post and I hope to see you all soon.