Without quality sleep, it’s hard to carry out quality teaching

Don't just worry about students getting a good night's sleep – it's equally as important for teachers, writes Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey

A good night's sleep isn't just important for exam students – it's vital for teachers, too, writes Tom Starkey

Exams are here and so are the stresses that go with them, piled high on top of teachers like on a plate at an unlimited buffet (I’m sorry, I’m writing this in my lunch break).

Sweaty-palmed kids and their sweaty-palmed teachers stand side to side against the oncoming rush of hours of questions that can mean so much to the future of a child. These are tumultuous times at best and can often lead to negative effects of the pressure.  

What’s heartening is that around this time, exam prep advice is often interspersed with suggestions as to how students can look after themselves. Wellbeing is a phrase that’s sometimes maligned (I’ve done it myself on occasion, especially in reference to it being enforced) but if there’s ever a time where there needs to be a greater focus on ensuring the students are alright, it’s probably exam season.

Quick read: Don’t let decision fatigue destroy your wellbeing

Opinino: 35 minutes – the reality of school lunchtime

Teachers: ‘Steep rise’ in teachers struggling with mental health

Workload and sleeplessness

This is why this piece caught my eye, in which Niki Kaiser discusses the effect of sleep on cognitive function. Not only does a decent night under the eiderdown mean a greater sense of alertness, a more stable emotional base and a lack of feeling like the world has gone a sick green shade of strange, she also cites research that suggests that regular sleep in between periods of learning actually aid the learning process. Double trouble.

This got me to thinking about the importance of teachers getting their head down. It’s often the case that workload and anxiety can mean many a late night or bouts of sleeplessness for those at the front of the class around exam season (or any time outside of the holidays, quite frankly). Without quality sleep, it’s very hard to carry out quality teaching. In fact, speaking as someone who occasionally suffers from bouts of insomnia, it’s very difficult to carry out quality anything (apart from increasingly demented early morning poetry in my case).

But it’s all well and good me saying that teachers need to ensure that they get enough sleep – it’s not as if they’re doing a marathon session of Apex Legends on four cans of Monster at four in the morning (and if you are, well, actually I’m quite impressed). As is the case with so many things, our capacity to have uninterrupted rest relies very much on a number of factors – some of which are external, such as workload pressure.

So, as well as making suggestions to the kids that perhaps revising all night might be the key to absolutely bugger all except difficulty in getting your eyes to focus on the exam paper come morning, perhaps teachers (and those responsible for making sure that teachers function optimally) should consider how to go about ensuring those quality zeds. Missing out on one of the essentials of a healthy lifestyle won’t get anyone the results they want.

Tom Starkey is an education writer and consultant

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