Mental floss to protect your sanity

27th October 2000 at 01:00
STRESS BUSTING FOR TEACHERS. by Chris Kyriacou. Stanley Thornes pound;12

YOU'LL NEVER DREAM OF DENTISTRY AGAIN

Rewarding, fulfilling, challenging I those are the words career guides use to describe teaching. Somehow they forget to mention the one word that is truly appropriate: stressful. In his new book, Chris Kyriacou addresses the variety of stressful situations that arise within the profession and suggests simple ways of coping with them.

The main reason for people leaving the profession and the cause of rising disillusionment is surely stress. We have all felt it, whether caused by mountains of paperwork, our masters' ever-rising expectations or simply through children who view it as their mission to create havoc, armed only with a crayon and a mischievous glint in their eye.

The result is a dramatic fall in social invitations because "all those teachers do is complain", closely followed by the classic phrase: "I mean, how difficult can it be to look after a few children. They all look really sweet!" Such a book is obviously necessary and Kyriacou approaches it in a well-rounded, knowledgeable manner. He covers the real life situations that we face most days, without resorting to a Joyce Grenfell monologue to gain the reader's interest.

The chapters are well structured and the author's tone is encouraging - notwithstanding the story of a teacher who couldn't cope and shot himself!

But will stressed teachers find the time to read this book, especially since it could be regarded as a little too long? It would have benefited from brief recaps, with bullet points.

Kyriacou takes the role of acalming influence, who listens and then quietly suggest a logical, achievable solution. He outlines the sources of stress - teaching pupils who lack motivation, pressures of time and workload, poor working conditions and so on - and generates a feeling that you are not alone.

Then he describes coping strategies. Suggestions include keeping problems in perspective. Discuss problems and express your feelings to others. Have a healthy home life. Prioritise.

Initially, these all seem so straightforwarded that you wonder why you need someone to write them down. But who, in a stressful situation, can honestly say they had the clarity of mind to get everything in perspective and approach things rationally?

Seeing something in black and white gives it authority and a sense of guidance, which just might make you take a step back and reassess the situation.

Kyriacou avoids the "happy clappy" feel that would push this book towards a self-help manual, although the paragraphs on collegiality do bring pictures of everyone in the staffroom sitting in a circle singing "Kumbayah" before morning registration.

Kyriacou's pragmatic approach to a serious problem, which he treats with respect and optimism, gives a source of advice you can dip in and out of when necessary.

He doesn't tell you anything you don't already know but, by listing causes and strategies, he gives you the support and back-up that might just make the difference between being able to relax with a glass of wine with your friends I and screaming: "I should have become a dentist!" Peter Briley is a primary supply teacher in west London


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