First Step - Take a deep breath

30th October 2009 at 00:00
A lot has happened for new teachers already this year. If you are feeling stressed, fear not, help is at hand

Demands placed on new teachers during the first year of full-time teaching can be overwhelming. Being held strictly accountable for your results and having to juggle a 90 per cent timetable, as well as pastoral and administrative duties, can lead to stress-related symptoms.

For Rachel Cranmore, who teaches AS psychology at a secondary school in Northolt, Middlesex, the most stressful aspect is dealing with her tutor group. "After breaks, the pupils rock up in play mode and it's impossible to calm them down," she says. "The pressure can get intense."

You can reduce these feelings of anxiety by having open discussions with your colleagues, says Kate Aspin, a senior lecturer in education at Huddersfield University. "Seeking support makes things a whole lot easier. Try to pinpoint what it is that is really worrying you. That way you can go to your induction tutor at school and have a focused conversation."

Ms Cranmore agrees. "Chatting to other teachers about strategies can be relaxing," she says. "I also tend to talk to my father, who is a teacher. Getting advice from someone with that level of experience calms me."

In order to alleviate feelings of stress, allocate time to something completely unrelated to teaching, Mrs Aspin advises. "Taking up a new hobby can help - something that is absorbing and will take your mind off teaching," she says. "Do not hide away to get work done: you will be fresher after a proper break."

Although the occasional glass of wine may help you to relax, it will not aid your health or career in the long run. "Try to hold on to the old adage `A day a week without, a week a month without, and a month a year without'," says Mrs Aspin. "The same goes for chocolate, eBay, bingo or whatever your choice of `sin'."

Instead, try to spend time organising your resources. "If your files are a mess and your plans and resources a tip, this is only going to add to stress," adds Mrs Aspin. "Cluttered desks do often reflect cluttered minds."

Another way to blow off some steam is exercise. "Exercise definitely helps," says Ms Cranmore. "I have started going to the gym three times a week, straight after school. I put my music on full blast, which allows me to zone out completely."

Neil Shah, chief executive and founder of the Stress Management Society, says breathing techniques and energising exercises are an effective way to relax. "A five-minute walk around the playground during breaktimes can help to alleviate feelings of stress," he says. "Take some deep breaths and try to regulate your breathing. That way you can bring yourself into a state of balance."

In the long term, new teachers should try to be reflective. "Knowing what is going on inside your body while you are stressed is useful," he says. "Try to incorporate relaxation and stress management into your daily routine."

If you are concerned about your stress levels at work, you must bring this to the attention of your induction tutor. "If things get too much and you feel yourself slipping into depression, talk to your tutor, your friends and family, or your doctor," says Mrs Aspin. "Try teacher-support helplines and online forums such as The TES, but beware of just having a moanfest. This can make you feel better for a while, but does not solve deep-seated issues."

Reduce stress and refrain from .

- Eating on the run or in a disorganised manner.

- Smoking or drinking excessively.

- Rushing, hurrying and being available to everyone.

- Doing several jobs at once.

- Missing breaks and taking work home.

- Having no time for exercise and relaxation.

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