Work overload is the most common reason for teacher stress. Here are three ways for managing it from teachers who have completed our surveys on wellbeing and mental health.
The Five-Minute Rule
Apply the Five-minute rule when you stay behind at school to work and again when you take your work home. Reduce the amount of time you spend on your work by five minutes each day. Do this for a total of five school days and five evenings at home. This will accumulate so that you reduce the amount of time in total by 50 minutes.
Catch your breath
Teachers often have no time for proper breaks. Catching your breath is a way of calming the mind and body so that you are not working at full tilt, fuelled by stress. This is the NHS method:
- Sitting or standing, place both feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
- Let your breath flow deep down into your stomach, without forcing it. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly. You might find it helps to count steadily from 1 to 5.
- Without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently. Count from 1 to 5 again.
- Repeat. Even 2-3 cycles of breathing in and out have a calming effect.
This is not easy, especially in a micromanaged school with high stakes accountability. But, constantly saying ‘Yes’ can lead to burnout. If not addressed, excessive demands make your job impossible. How to say ‘No’:
- Set out your concern in bullet points. Write no more than one side of A4.
- Say: ‘I am worried about the amount of work that I have to do for X. I thought it might be helpful if I put my concerns in writing’.
- First bulleted paragraph: Describe what you have been asked to do.
- Second bulleted paragraph: Explain why you find this task difficult or impossible.
- Third bulleted paragraph: Say how not being able to complete the task is affecting you physically/emotionally.
- Fourth bulleted paragraph: End with: ‘I would be grateful if I could discuss this issue in order to find a solution. One possible solutions is…’
- Send your document in an email attachment or provide a hard copy.
- Go to the meeting with two copies of your document - one spare in case the person you’re meeting hasn’t brought theirs. Focus on the statements in your document to reduce the likelihood of the meeting becoming personal.
- Whatever the outcome, write a note of appreciation that the person met with you. Include a summary of what was agreed and the steps that you will take next.
- The advantage of this approach is that the discussion is more likely to be objective. But, if it doesn’t go well, you have written evidence of the meeting and its outcome.
This is important if you continue to feel under unacceptable pressure and further meetings are needed.
The paediatrician Winnicott said that mothers don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be ‘good-enough’. As a teacher, you don’t have to be perfect. You owe it to yourself, your family, your partner and friends to be a ‘good-enough’ teacher so that you have time for them too.
Steve Waters is the founder of the Teach Well Alliance and a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching; the views expressed in this article are his own.