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“It’s Been Emotional” – How To Be A Teacher While Staying Sane

For school teachers, a daily barrage of wildly different emotions comes with the territory – but if we fail to control them, they'll end up controlling us, writes Chris Curtis...

  • “It’s Been Emotional” – How To Be A Teacher While Staying Sane

Teaching is an incredibly emotional job. In fact, I’d say it is the most emotional job I have ever had.

From 9 to 3.30, I can experience so many emotions. I feel…frustration with the heating not being switched on when I arrive at school. Anger when I have to complete a task because somebody has a deadline to meet. Joy when a student asks a clever question in a lesson. Pride when I see the work a produced by a student who often struggles.

Fear when I see a troublesome class arrive.

Anxiety when the headteacher pops in my classroom to see a student – and relief when the headteacher leaves.

When I compare my days now to the previous jobs I’ve had, I recall how those days were punctuated by long periods of boredom. And there’s the rub – if teachers didn’t have all these different emotions, the job would be a boring and dull one.

That said, a balance would be nice. So how do I cope with my daily avalanche of emotions?

1. Name it

It took me several years to realise that I was grumpy and miserable during the first week of a new term. Each time, I’d start thinking that I’d forgotten how to teach, that I was now a lousy teacher. Once I began to realise that this was a regular pattern, I could deal with it better.

My grumpy ‘I can’t teach’ phase is one I learned to spot, and then thought ‘I will get over by next week.’ Instead of just psychoanalysing your students’ behaviour, try psychoanalysing your own behaviour and emotions.

2. Use, but don’t abuse your colleagues

Every school has one – that person who shares their moods with the rest of the world. You know when they’re in a bad mood because they take it out on everyone – and especially on the photocopier.

Understand that schools can operate like a family, in which each person has their own skills and experiences. Need cheering up? Then go see Frank. Need reassuring? Tina. Need some honesty? Gita. Use other people to help you change your mood.

3. Talk things through

It’s a cliché, but talking through things can really help. The immediacy and intimacy of school life often makes it hard to get some perspective, because you are caught in the middle of it. My wife has often listened to some of my worries. Articulating my concerns to someone else helped make them concrete, and enabled me get some perspective on the things that were troubling me.

4. Look for solutions

Teaching throws up a million problems. When we’re often expected to be miracle workers, it’s no wonder that teachers frequently obsess over the various issues they have to deal with.

Many of us are good at moaning about things that are wrong, but focusing on solutions is a far better way of looking at things. Look for solutions rather than issues.

Yes, X isn’t working – but I’m going to try Y and Z and see if they work instead. Solutions are about moving on and up to the next step. All too often we stagnate when grappling with an issue – and then there’s no movement at all.

5. Beware of negativity by osmosis

Positivity and negativity spread through schools very quickly. Be aware that if you are near a centre of negativity, such as someone who moans about everything in school, then you will pick up that negativity and spread it further.

Sometimes it’s not the school or context that’s the problem, but the people around you. Their ‘moan-tinted’ glasses may be making you see things badly, when in fact things are generally okay. Move away.

6. Learn what you can and cannot control

The issues surrounding our emotions in school can be categorised into those we can control and those we cannot.

Bad stuff will happen. I have lost colleagues and students to cancer. That was something that was out of my control, but I could control how I dealt with it emotionally. I was calm, supportive and kind, and that helped me to control those feelings of loss and sadness.

7. Be a steady ship

There will be ups and downs, but you need to stay the course. Students rely on teachers to be a consistent element in their lives.

Show them how to deal with emotions. Show them how to control their anger, disappointment, frustration and anxiety. Show them how you’re able to control your own emotions and not let them get the better of you.

Emotions are a part of our everyday lives. We either let them control us, or we control them. We are humans, with all the experience of emotions that entails – but it’s the way in which we cope with those emotions that our students need to see.

Chris Curtis is a teacher of English; he blogs at Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog and tweets as @xris32

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