I remember my first day as a teacher. Years of study and sacrifice had gone into making this dream a reality. I was ready to shape the minds of the next generation, with creative teaching methods that would captivate their imagination.
My first day was a shocker. I was eaten alive by unruly students who showed me no pity. The school I taught in had a reputation for being difficult and the students delivered in spades.
Crack the whip
If anyone was going to have an opportunity to learn, I needed to take control of my classroom. Within days I transformed into a stern teacher who cracked the whip. Students quickly discovered it was my way or the highway as I routinely kept half of my students back every lunchtime until order was restored. I achieved orderly classes but, in the process, I became the grumpy teacher.
It’s essential for teachers to run orderly classrooms where student behaviour reflects school standards. It also matters that teachers build positive connections with their students and that can be hard to achieve if the teacher is a perpetual grump. Sometimes teachers inadvertently sabotage good educational outcomes by not managing their stress in the classroom.
You can have both
The good news is that it’s possible to achieve both orderly classrooms and positive relationships with students. Most teachers are well trained in classroom management. Sometimes teachers are less aware of how their stress impacts the learning environment. Teaching can be stressful but here are some tips to reduce the stress.
Don’t lose sight of the mission
A teacher’s job is to teach students. This may seem completely obvious, but it can be easily forgotten.
Teachers sometimes think their job is to teach their subject area such as maths or science. Stress can arise when we lose sight of the big picture. A teacher turns up at school and discovers an interruption in the day will result in their maths class losing half a period. An excursion or a lockdown has already caused the teacher to be behind in the curriculum and then the wi-fi goes down. These unexpected interruptions can make teachers very grumpy.
These challenges are real, but they’d be less stressful if teachers remembered the bigger perspective: I am here to teach students.
If I find myself behind in the curriculum, my mission as a teacher remains. Interruptions do occur but my purpose as a teacher is never interrupted. I am here to teach students, whatever the challenges, whatever the circumstances, whatever the subject. Whether online or in-person I am here to teach students to become responsible adults and great learners.
Teachers have no choice but to deal with challenges, but they will adapt better to stressful circumstances by not losing sight of the mission.
Teachers do more than deliver educational content. They are role models to students for how to become the responsible adults we want them to be. Because teachers are role models, teachers should endeavour to make connections with students by finding out about the hobbies and interests. Building connections will have an educational dividend, students will perform better for teachers they respect and look up to. Teachers should not be afraid to share some of their interests and hobbies with their class. Teachers know they are not the students’ friend, but it doesn’t hurt to be friendly.
Inevitably students will make poor choices, that’s part of growing up. Teachers will need to address inappropriate behaviour. Teachers should give careful thought to the way they discipline students. If done well, correcting a student can be a way to address behaviour and maintain connection with that student. When being corrected students need to understand the teacher doesn’t hate them but rather wants to help them to make better choices. If a student comes to believe that a teacher is against them, worse behaviour can arise in the future.
Teachers should punish behaviour while protecting connection with the student. When teachers get stressed, they sometimes make a mess of this. Sometimes teachers snap and give one of their students an almighty serve in front of everyone and shame the offending student unnecessarily. The student might have deserved a spray but by embarrassing the student, the teacher may have sabotaged the connection with that student. Perhaps an individual chat with the student would be less counterproductive in the long run.
Watch your words
It’s tempting to take out your frustrations with students in the staff room. Sure, students do stupid things and sometimes teachers need to debrief their challenges. We can’t hide what we believe about our students. What teachers say about their kids in the staffroom will eventually come out in their teaching directly or implicitly. I don’t think it’s possible to disparage students in the staffroom while simultaneously developing a positive connection in the classroom. Teachers have to have honest conversations about their students with other staff but disparaging students is not required. Teachers should speak about their students with hopefulness, wanting the best for them.
Crack the whip and smile
Teachers need to run orderly classes. Good teachers will crack the whip, but good teachers will also find the time to smile. Both matter.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.