Exam stress - teachers feel it too! | Education Support Partnership

Exam stress - teachers feel it too!

With so much emphasis on exam stress faced by students and their parents, it’s often forgotten what a truly stressful time this also is for teachers and everyone working in education. So it’s vital you take good care of yourself. And the first step is recognising it.

Soon the papers and media will be full of the stress of taking exams upon which so much can depend for the students. But it’s just as stressful and difficult a time for the teachers, teaching assistants and lecturers who’ve worked so hard to try to get their charges through their exams and make a good showing.

Retired head Mike Gledhill likens this to being a football coach: “Teachers spend all year teaching and coaching students to succeed, then it comes down to two hours on the pitch and you've no control. It's a bit like being a premier league manager but sadly without the wages and no news of the results for ages!”

Mike, who was deputy head at Westwood High School, Leek, Staffordshire, then head at Rising Brook Stafford and The Kingsway School, Stockport, says “The stress disappears at the start of the summer holiday when it’s all behind you, for the minute. Then it creeps back with a vengeance as you approach results day. The euphoria of celebrating with those who've done well is brilliant but there's more than a tinge of sadness for those who haven't. No one sleeps the night before the results!”

Higher expectations

Many teachers feel they’re expected to perform miracles and get blamed when students don’t do as well as they – or particularly their parents - expected them to. This month a teacher wrote in an anonymous column for The Observer, I know the real source of our classroom rot: “Many students and parents believe that it is the teacher’s job to get a child good grades, whether or not they make an effort. If they do badly, or misbehave, that is your fault for making your lessons boring.”

Responsibility has passed from student to teacher so if a student fails or fails to get a good grade, it’s not their fault but their teacher’s. “I remember a parents’ evening when a mother and father screamed in my face because their son, a lazy sixth former who played truant, hadn’t got the A-grade that was his right,” adds this teacher.

Coping strategy

You may not be able to change the situation that’s causing you all this stress but you can develop a coping strategy. This will help you feel less powerless, less tossed about by events and other people’s expectations. A sense of taking control can be very helpful when dealing with any kind of stress.

First, try visualisation exercises. You may not be able to shoot off to a beach right now but imagine yourself lying on one - or whatever it is you’d most like to be. Plan your summer holiday, think about books you might read or films you’ll go and see, family and friends you’ll visit.

It can be very difficult to switch from high mental activity and intense arousal caused by stress. So rather than trying to switch off switch to something else - much like turning over a TV channel from a traumatic news item to a relaxing period drama. Give your mind something else to focus on rather than trying to think of nothing. So for example, maybe try tap dancing classes, learn to play a musical instrument or take a language refresher course. Whatever you’ve always fancied having a go at. This may sound like more work but doing something pleasurable, something that’s always interested you, is a good way to switch your focus from constant exam pressure.

When your mind is tired – tire your body

Your mind may be exhausted by all this exam stress as thoughts chase each other around your head. To aid the winding-down process vital to sleep and wellbeing, try to factor some exercise into your day. Some kind of activity – anything which tires you out – is one of the best ways to burn off those stress hormones coursing round your body and stop them from harming you. Think of it as a way of burning off excess heat created by the stress.

Remember you matter too! No student would be able to read let alone pass an exam without teachers. Value yourself and recognize the huge contribution you are making to young minds, their future and everyone else’s too.

Tips for dealing with exam stress:

  • recognise it exists - denial won’t help!
  • talk about it with someone - just voicing how you feel can be immensely soothing
  • build some exercise or physical activity into your day, even a ten-minute brisk walk helps
  • remember this will pass
  • visualise the time after the exams
  • make sure you have something to look forward to when exam season is over
  • if it all gets too much, our helpline is available 24 hours a day

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How we can help

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    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
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