Hello. My name is Chad, and I'm a stressed teacher. I can't count the nights I've laid awake in bed, tossing and turning because I'm thinking about unfinished business with my students. How should I respond to a parent email I just received? Will Johnny remember to do his homework? What will Jordan try to lick or eat tomorrow?
The belief that teachers only work Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a common misconception. A teacher's responsibilities and concerns rarely just stay at school. In fact, I often find them coming home with me as the stack of papers, chanting "Grade me!" from the back seat of my car (sometimes they're so loud, I miss my driveway). Teachers all around the world often lose sleep over the people they care about the most: their students. Here are five thoughts that a stressed teacher might have before going to bed.
1. Will My Students Ever Learn What I'm Teaching
I still remember when I came home from the first day of teaching kindergarten. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and worried about whether kindergarten was the right grade for me to teach. I wondered whether my students would ever learn to line up in a straight line (instead of doing their spot-on impression of a snake on the move) or remember to push in their chairs. It's things like this that can sometimes make us frustrated. However, it's important to remember that it will get better. Teaching your students the routines and procedures of a classroom takes time, effort, energy, and practice.
Further reading: 9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know
And as far as academics go, kindergarten is not what it used to be! The days of naps and unstructured play are long gone. I often worry about whether my students will be able to keep up with today's demands in kindergarten. Whether I have a student who takes longer to master an objective or students who are struggling to keep up, I remind myself that it's important to not give up and to continue to work with and encourage my students.
2. Do I Have Clean Clothes? Do They Need Ironing?
I have to admit that I spend a lot of my time in the morning trying to figure out what to wear. However, it's not until I get into my warm, comfy bed that I realize I forgot to set out my clothes for the next morning. This is when panic mode sets in. I take time to try to visualize my closet and make a professional (yet comfortable) decision that doesn't require any extra ironing. But before I know it, I'm sound asleep before I even could make a decision. When morning rolls around, I often decide to put on the same pants I wore the previous day and a wrinkled shirt, and just hope no one notices.
3. What If I Have a Pop-In Observation?
Teacher observations are probably one of the most dreaded and stressful situations throughout the year. Just hearing the word observation is enough to make any teacher feel stressed. Take some time before you go to bed to briefly go over your lesson plans for the following day. Make a list of anything you need to accomplish in the morning to make sure you're prepared for the day. Lastly, read a book or watch some TV to keep your mind off of it. In the morning, seek advice and support from your colleagues if you know you have a scheduled observation. It's important to keep a positive mindset and to not overthink things.
4. Did I Pack My Lunch?
We all have those days when we don't feel like packing a lunch (or forgot to pack one), so we order lunch from the school cafeteria. Besides, who can resist those incredibly delicious, homemade school lunches the cafeteria staff was up all night making, am I right? (I am not right.) But after realizing I spent way too much money on school lunches one year, I resorted to frozen meals, which were convenient and didn't taste too bad either! I learned that my best bet was to prepare my lunch immediately when I got home from school and place all my school belongings on the table by the door. This habit lessened the number of times I left the house in the morning and realized I'd forgotten to make a lunch the night before.
5. What Could I Have Done Better
Reflection is such an important part of teaching. Identifying what went well and/or what could have gone better helps you grow as an educator. However, it's important to not be so hard on yourself. It's easy to take things personally and think "I'm the worst teacher" if a lesson doesn't go as planned. However, know that there's no such thing as a perfect lesson. Instead, focus on the impact you made on your students and what you taught them. As an educator, you spend more time during the day with your students than their parents do, and students often look to you for guidance, encouragement, compassion, and strength. Let that motivate you to improve instead of getting weighed down by missteps.
Further reading: 6 Strategies to Relieve Teacher Anxiety
These thoughts, and many more, are just a few of the ones that have plagued me, and some nights are worse than others. But at the end of the day, I know it ultimately shows how much I care about my job and my students, so I guess I'll take being stressed over being disinterested!