Managing Stress through Teacher Talk Groups Judi Fenton
Teaching is a stressful career. As teachers, we are responsible for much more than our students’ learning. We are also responsible for their emotional health and physical well-being. We must make sure that they can get along with their fellow human beings in the present, and we are expected to prepare them for their future lives. Simultaneously, we must cope with the often competing demands of parents, supervisors, colleagues, and our students. At some point in our days—usually after school hours and weekends—we are obligated to plan lessons and activities, purchase materials and supplies, and often write curriculum.
We are continuously reminded that the public believes that we are only doing our job when we are teaching in front of our students. Obviously, this is far from the truth, but when we allow ourselves to think of our career more globally than “What will I teach this week?” it can be incredibly overwhelming. Perhaps, we avoid acknowledging this reality to postpone anxiety, but invariably the stress will catch up with us.
One of the best ways to manage the stress is by interacting with our colleagues. This interaction can include sharing problems, issues, ideas, and solutions. Establishing a teacher support group enables new teachers to figure out answers to their questions, find alternative solutions for problems, talk out issues they’ve been struggling with, and laugh with others about the sometimes ridiculous dilemmas we encounter in our chosen profession.
Many of the new teachers I work with have reported that it is a great relief to recognize that they are not alone. In the support groups they see that others are dealing with or have dealt with the same issues they are facing. The sharing is extremely validating for them, and when they share, they gain access to the ways in which their colleagues have managed those problems.
In your own schools, your colleagues might have some truly inspired approaches. They may know ways to involve that difficult to reach parent or to get the difficult to teach child to do her work. And most teachers agree that getting advice from colleagues is easier on the ego and more productive than hearing from supervisors what you are doing wrong!
Often, teachers form relationships only with the other teachers on their grade or in their department. Peer support groups encourage forming cross-grade and/or cross-discipline relationships. This means that as a new teacher you will have more resources upon which to draw, more people to ask for help, and more ideas at your disposal. Often, teachers who get to know one another in our support groups build enough trust to invite one another to watch each other teach.
Teacher support groups can be set up with no funds, without “official” sanctioning, and with just a couple of other teachers.
Some Things to Consider when starting a Support Group:
Who will you invite to be involved? Will you open the group to all teachers or invite a select few? There are advantages to both.
Set group norms, or decide how you want to work together. For example, if your school is not yet a community of learners who share difficulties, you might want to establish a norm of confidentiality. This ensures that no one will speak outside of the group about the issues the group discusses. You’ll definitely want to agree upon a norm of respectful listening.
Will all participants have equal speaking time? Will each member have a chance to have her/his issue addressed? Will you use any protocols for your discussions? Who will facilitate? Will you take turns facilitating the group?
These are some logistical issues to decide as a group, before you begin to work together, in order to prevent problems later.
Remember, the mere act of talking out your stress can be such a relief. Even if the people you are sharing with are unable to come up with solutions, just being able to voice your issues, and hear others voice theirs, helps you to gain perspective. Good luck!
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