Navigating Back-to-School Stress: A Guide for Teachers

Teacher works with students in school library

For most schools in the U.S., the first day of the new school year is just days away. No matter how much teachers may rest and prepare in advance, that first day feels something like a polar bear plunge into icy waters: jolting, exciting, numbing, and perhaps a little crazy. Amidst the chaos and noise, class norms and life rhythms develop quickly while teachers navigate student crises, parent complaints, lesson plans, special events, and extracurricular expectations. 

If you’re a teacher, you spend a lot of time managing the stress and demands of others, but likely very little time tending to your own needs. In such a demanding environment, how can you protect your mental and physical well-being in order to rejuvenate yourself and thrive as an educator? No easy answers or magic formulas exist, but here are three important self-awareness questions you can regularly ask yourself.

  1. Am I taking care of myself? There may never be “enough time” for you to fully recharge during the school year, but it is possible to carve out moments for activities that can help you to relax manage stress, and be at your best. When teachers are well-balanced, they’re less anxious and better equipped to support their students. This article providing 5 tips for teacher well-being is a great place to start.  At the root of self-care is self-compassion, and teachers are notorious for extending compassion to everyone but themselves. To be more mindful of your own feelings and needs, try integrating some of the tools in this short article on self-compassion into your week. 
  2. How do I know I’m making a difference? Another underestimated hack that can help you mitigate anxiety is consciously remembering the positive impact you’ve had on students in the past. Reflecting on your personal strengths as a teacher and the achievements you’ve witnessed over the years can provide much-needed perspective. Some teachers maintain a file where they keep thank you notes or cards from students and parents, photos, newspaper clippings, or mementos of student successes and breakthroughs. A file like this is easy to keep handy for quick reference if you’re feeling discouraged. While on the topic, here’s a great 2-minute pep-talk to affirm that very thing: Teaching is tiring (and worth it).
  3. Do I need a time-out? Incorporate stress-management techniques into your routine, such as deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, or physical activity. These strategies can help you manage stress and maintain a calm demeanor in leading your classroom. Remember, teaching can be a challenging profession, but with proper self-care, support, and a positive mindset, you can reduce back-to-school stress and create a nurturing environment for both you and your students. 

As an educator, your commitment to shaping young minds is an endeavor that requires not only intellectual prowess but also emotional resilience. As the new school year unfolds, remember that self-care isn’t an indulgence; it’s a necessity. By nurturing your own well-being, you ensure that you are present—mentally and emotionally—for your students. They look to you for guidance, knowledge, and support, and in many cases, you may be their beacon of hope. So, as you step back into the classroom amidst the familiar cacophony of chatter and challenges, hold onto the knowledge that every effort you put into nurturing yourself is an investment in not just your future, but also the future of your students. Here’s to a year filled with growth, gratitude, and the gratifying moments that make teaching the treasured profession it truly is.

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting.

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.

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