Teachers share their tips for coping with back to school stress | Education Support Partnership

Teachers share their tips for coping with back to school stress

September can be the most stressful time of the year for teachers who are feeling underprepared or overwhelmed, so it’s important to feel you’ve taken steps to make sure you’re ready. The Education Support Partnership’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 found that a staggering 67% of teachers consider themselves to be stressed, with the figure shooting up to 80% when senior leadership staff are asked, and these feelings can be compounded with the added pressure of getting ready for the start of school.

At Twinkl our aim is to help those who teach, and in order to do that we’ve asked our staff members to share their top tips to help teachers beat back to school stress this September. Our team is made up of a host of former teachers, with decades of classroom experience behind them and a firm understanding of the joys and challenges facing educators.

Have realistic expectations upon returning to school

In dealing with stress, the act of meticulous planning can make us feel like we’re achieving - but unless your planning is realistic, you could be setting yourself up for even more anxiety. Former teacher Sarah Saxton says “Make sure you have relaxed and enjoyed your summer. Have realistic expectations... it takes a while for a new class to settle in and for everyone to understand each other. Ensure you start out with a good work-life balance and be clear about what you can and can’t achieve in a specific time frame”.

Stress is compounded when we think of all the separate tasks we have to complete without any clear timescale for completion in mind. That list of manageable back-to-school jobs can quickly seem overwhelming when you’re still in holiday mode. A key time management tip when you’re getting started with back to school prep is to divide your ‘to do’ list into sections, prioritise your tasks in order of urgency and assign a time slot and date for completing each job. Once you can visualise the tasks on your calendar, you can get a much more realistic sense of how you’ll need to manage your time.

Establish a functional space and respectful environment

Content writer for school wellbeing scheme Twinkl Life Faye Booth has a massive 20 years’ teaching experience, and her decades of teaching have shown her the value of making sure the classroom is ship-shape before the school term starts. She says “Get into your classroom during the holiday - just for a day - and get it looking exactly how you want it in terms of wall displays, desk arrangements and so on”. This could even be done together with colleagues - make a social event of it, play some music, order lunch and lend a hand in each other’s classrooms where you can.

“Make sure you have a seating plan for the first day and spend time on class rules, class charters and lots of PSHE, to build respect and core values in the class from the start. Begin on a positive note with your class, rewarding good behaviour and celebrating success from the word go. Start each day with a positive affirmation for yourself and reflect on one thing that went well at the end of each day, and encourage your class to join in as a group activity”.

Make sure to keep some time in the diary for yourself

Being kind to yourself is a common theme in suggestions for teachers managing back to school stress. Rebecca Haley-Dunford qualified to teach in 2007, and has worked in both KS1 and KS2, so she’s got a wealth of experience and insight surrounding the role and is keen to share some tips. She says “Try not to get overwhelmed on that very first INSET training day. It's often the busiest day of the year and to add to that, you've just had six weeks off! There can be so much to take in and it can be quite a shock to the system, so be kind to yourself… you'll find your rhythm in your own time”.

Rebecca also believes it’s key to maintain some ‘me time’-shaped gaps in your diary: “Try to plan a nice treat for yourself the weekend after the first week back. It’s a nice incentive and something to look forward to! Longer term, try to keep at least one evening clear during the working week so that you have some dedicated time to just be ‘you’, rather than ‘teacher you’”. Taking some time to pursue your own interests, catch up with friends, cook a favourite meal or curl up with a book will leave you feeling refreshed and re-energised, ready for what the rest of the week may bring.

Accept the inevitable, and roll with it!

“It could even be that the night before the first day back, you'll go to bed early and not be able to get to sleep. Then, after a bad night's sleep, it will be morning and you'll get to school and you will have forgotten how to teach!” jokes former educator Sally Smith. Feeling like you’re a bit out of practise is almost inevitable, so don’t become stressed about it, “because as sure as night follows day, five minutes into the first lesson it will be like the summer holidays never happened! So, expect this little rigmarole and don't let it stress you out”.

It can help us feel less stressed if we can identify things that are within our control to change. If learning materials haven’t arrived, or if you’re short on pens, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things - what you can control is providing your students with fun, engaging learning experiences. So take back control, and improvise! Your students won’t remember whether the wall displays were finished on their first day, but they will remember how their teacher welcomed them and made them feel at ease. Concentrate on nurturing these important, brand new student relationships, and everything else will fall into place.

Support from school leaders eases stress

School leaders can pave the way in forming a school environment that’s conducive to learning. Even though things feel chaotic at the start of term, this is something we’re used to as educators, and each September we get through will teach us more about planning for the next. It’s hugely important that teachers are rested and refreshed, in order to most effectively support the students in their care.

Leaders should keep an eye out for colleagues, and lend a hand where you can if you notice a teacher at your school is over-worked or showing signs of burnout. Spare an additional thought for NQTs and any new starters at your school: it’s easy to forget that new-kid-on-the-block feeling, but a small gesture like checking in on your new colleagues will go far. When teaching professionals pull together, it provides encouragement - so why not be the force in spreading a supportive and nurturing environment?

Get support when you need it 

There may be times when your mental health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted by any work or personal issues. When this happensget support when you need it 

The counsellors at the Education Support Partnership helpline are fantastic! Their free and confidential helpline is available 24/7 throughout the UK on 08000 562561.

Twinkl is a publisher of teacher-created planning and assessment materials and teaching resources for inside and outside the classroom.