Dilemma

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
I'm a head of department and work evenings and weekends. This term the stress has become so bad that I'm not sleeping. How can I get out of this cycle

The passion many teachers feel for their profession means it can take over their lives completely. You are certainly not alone in experiencing stress and long hours. In your situation, it is important to re-establish yourself as a person who happens to be a teacher, not someone whose sole purpose is to serve your school. We often ask callers to list their priorities. When we ask where they (and their needs) stand on this list, it can cause a very dramatic awakening - they are often at the bottom or not on it at all.

In order to regain control of your life - both personal and professional - first try to make sure that your time at work is as well organised as your school days will allow. Simple changes such as prioritising your tasks, making a to-do list (which will also act as a gratifying ledger of everything you have achieved that day) and avoiding putting things off can make a dramatic difference to your emotional wellbeing.

By improving how you organise your working day, you can also increase your opportunities to take breaks during school and set aside time in the evenings and weekends when you can completely forget about the job and focus on something else you enjoy - whether it is singing in a local choir or dining out with friends.

Keeping teaching innovative, without reinventing the wheel, is a good way of reducing stress. The age of the internet has ensured that teachers can access a wealth of resources online, whether background information to make lessons more relevant to particular classes or in-depth lesson plans. Although you will often want to tailor lesson plans to suit your pupils, make sure you can share knowledge between teachers in your school and across the country.

Your school is also responsible for your well-being and should recognise that a healthy, happy teaching body is key to the successful provision of education. You should be able to discuss workload, time management and other pressures with your line manager and colleagues. These conversations are rarely as difficult to hold as we expect and by establishing a dialogue about your working life with both senior staff and those you manage, you can help ensure the possibility of the more effective distribution of work.

For many teachers, the realisation that they are allowed to say no can be a massive relief in itself, even if it is not a right they exercise all the time. At the very least, teachers should feel free to give a negotiated yes, where they are willing to help out with extra work but not at all costs.

Many people experience problems sleeping at some point in their lives. Reducing the stressfulness of your days will help overcome this, but it is also important to make sure you do something relaxing before going to bed. Don't let marking be the last thing you do before trying to sleep because your mind will remain preoccupied with work. Instead have a bath, read a book or drink some tea

Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. www.teachersupport.info.

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