Stress, a word that is bandied about quite a bit. We’re all suffering from it. We’re all feeling the effects of it. What exactly is it? How do we recognise it – in ourselves and in others?
The Oxford dictionary definition offers, as a noun, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances” or as a verb, “subject to pressure or tension”. A medical dictionary offers “an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures”. All slightly different but all give us the idea that stress is not a good thing. The medical dictionary carries on in a section called ‘description’ to say that stress results from interactions between people and their environment which are perceived as being beyond them and outside of their comfort zone – they use lots of long words but that’s what they mean!
These definitions do at least help to show why different people suffer different amounts of stress from what seems to be the same situation. Stress is directly related to the person and the environment that they are in, how they are at the time, what else is going on that they need to cope with. It is perhaps easy for us in our little offices to have a meeting and decide that teachers can/ should/ will do this that or the other because for us, not having 30 children to deal with, it seems like a small ask. For a teacher who is already having to deal with differentiating every lesson, directing 1-1 and other teaching assistants, fit in personalised targets, organise a trip, do the marking, get ready for a staff meeting, run a lunch time club as well as teach and sort any behaviour issues that small thing may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Some people seem to thrive on the pressure, the targets, the deadlines. Does that mean that someone who is struggling should be made to feel inferior – NO – definitely not. Stress is personalised. How hard is it though to go and say, “I can’t do any more.” I would hope that staff with whom I work would feel able to say it but how far does it have to have gone, how bad does it need to be before they realise?
We need to be more aware of how people are, it’s easy to ask a general, “How are you today?” but we need to take time, look and listen as the, “I’m fine” is shouted back. The teaching profession is losing large numbers of teachers for lots of reasons but a lot of teachers are stressed. Some of the teachers are excellent teachers, from the outside they have beautifully organised classrooms, well behaved children, good progress is being made, their teaching assistants know what they are doing, with whom, where when – but what is the real effect on some of these people? It is easy to forget that these people have lives outside of school – ill partners, sick children even a poorly pet – these things are adverse, demanding circumstances that are outside their comfort zones.
I don’t have an answer; dealing with lots of children in a class with leadership teams who are driven to get results by a government who raise the bar, change the rules and move the finishing post will always cause pressure. Leadership are pressured and stressed too. It may be part of the job but we need to look out for each other and be confident enough to say, “I’m feeling stressed, enough is enough.” Perhaps we can then all work together to find ways to reduce the stress. I was always told that quiet teachers have quiet classes, perhaps if we have less stressed teachers we will have less stressed students who are able to learn better and make more progress – this would further reduce the stress on the teachers, they would perceive that they were coping in their environment …. and so the spiral would continue.
I was sent a cartoon recently that said Stressed is just desserts backward perhaps eating is the answer – although then I’ll be stressed about my weight – perhaps there is no answer!