For teachers and students, January is not the start of the new year. It’s August, a time spent preparing for and starting the new academic year. And it’s a time balanced by high levels of excitement at the prospect of a new start and stress about everything that lies ahead.
Anxiety for All
Students are worried about the pressures that come with a new school year—fitting in, making sports teams, facing new learning challenges, meeting new teachers, and for some, starting a new school.
Teachers, on the other hand, are concerned about managing students’ multitude of learning styles, meeting standards, evaluation systems, Common Core concerns, and for some, teaching a new grade, a new curriculum, or even at a new school. Changes in leadership or colleagues can create uncertainty with expectations.
And those anxious students? Teachers have to respond to their host of complex issues, as well. It’s enough to leave your head spinning by Sept. 1.
“As a former educator I can tell you that the day before school is a sleepless one,” says Bonnie Rubenstein, associate professor with the Department of Counseling and Human Development at the University of Rochester Warner School of Education.
Deal with today’s stress
To best deal with your immediate stress, it’s important to understand its source.
“Most of the time we look outward for the source of stress, but the way we experience it is internal,” explains David Donnelly, a licensed behavior analyst and assistant professor at the U of R Warner School of Education.
Before working at U of R, Donnelly ran an independent consulting practice that provided stress management training for school districts and nonprofit organizations.
Donnelly says that stress is triggered by different sources, and that trigger is different for everyone. The first step to dealing with it is to think about how the trigger makes you feel. That will help you manage your stress reaction. Teachers do what they do because they want to help people, and their stress is actually a sign that they care.
“There is no such thing as a stress-free life,” Donnelly says.
“You must look for better ways to cope and reframe how you see yourself in the world around you.”
Long-term stress avoidance
To manage the natural stresses that are part of their work environment, Rubenstein, who is considered a leader in the field of counseling education, offers a holistic approach for educators. Above anything else, she emphasizes the importance of collaboration.
“Teachers find strength and identity with their colleagues and school leaders, listening and sharing stories of success and challenges,” she says. “The best schools I’ve worked in had a strong culture of support.”
How does collaboration translate into your daily activities? Rubenstein points out that rituals and routines are important to creating a positive school culture and sense of community.
All those annual potlucks, exercise challenges, recycling programs and celebrations—big and small—nurture a sense of culture, community and school pride. By participating, you are solidifying an environment of support, which ultimately offers you emotional and social stability.