Four steps to being a happy teacher

Good teaching relies not just on what we do, but how we feel, argues Jo Steer

Jo Steer


So much is said, written and known about what it takes to be a good teacher.

But how much is known about how to be a happy teacher?

It turns out that in today’s climate, you can follow the "great teaching" map, do everything right and still find yourself feeling inadequate, hopeless and miserable.

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That’s usually because we – and our schools – have neglected to remember that good teaching is not just about what we do, but also how we feel.

Schools need to help teachers in this respect, but we can also do some things ourselves.

1. Assertiveness

Learning to say no can be incredibly difficult, especially if you’re a hard-worker with people-pleasing tendencies. But if you say yes to everything, you’ll go under.

If you’re struggling to say no, take a moment to weigh up the immediate short-term pain of an awkward conversation with SLT and minor heart-palpitations, versus the long-term pain of saying yes to a commitment that you don’t have the time nor will to complete.

Seriously – how are you going to feel after making your choice, working late into Sunday night? Enthusiastic, happy…or bitter and twisted?    


And don’t be afraid to negotiate. If I agree to this, what other work can be taken away? When will I be given the time in school to do it? What other deadlines can be pushed back? Remember: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

2. Organisation

The impact of being organised – or disorganised - can be measured as much in your mood and wellbeing as your professional success. Failing to plan ahead – to pre-empt what could go wrong; to save and file, physically and digitally – leads to ill-afforded wasted time.

Of course, much of this comes with experience – we learn from our mistakes. It shouldn’t take too many gruelling Sunday mornings, spent engaged in a teachers’ edition of Challenge Anneka (how will she ever mark, record and file all those sheets in time?!) before you’re seriously considering another approach.

Delegate appropriate tasks to colleagues where you can; develop structured routines before, during and after regular class activities; and trust (and train) the students to help, not hinder these routines.  

3. Take a moment to do nothing

With our enormous and ever-changing workloads, many of us can feel like our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions. And in a Year 9 lesson – yes, that’s probably the case.

Then again, if you still feel like this on the couch at 9pm…I don’t need to tell you that something is wrong.  

Spend more time in the present moment, with your breath, body or senses; when your attention drifts away, bring it back. Developing mindfulness into a daily habit will make you less vulnerable to the stresses of modern teaching.

Plus, it’ll help you to actually notice the good stuff, too.

4. Laugh

One last thing: work to keep your sense of humour, at all costs. Because as some wise soul put it: “Life is better when you’re laughing.”

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of special educational needs and disability interventions, as well as wellbeing strategies


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Jo Steer

Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant

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