As the annual exam period draws to a close, so does the flurry of articles about students’ stress and anxiety. Apparently, they’ve stayed up later, got up earlier, crammed, binged and worried more than ever before.
If true, that worries me. Most of the students I had the pleasure of working with studied hard – they revised, practised writing skills, learnt quotes and knew the texts back to front. Of course, there were those who turned up at the exam hall and had a flick through a box-fresh revision guide – but they were the vast minority.
With all this preparation (years of it) why did students feel the need for the late night cramming sessions? The exams are their opportunity to show off – not a system designed to trip them up.
This makes me ask – where did they learn to deal with stress and anxiety by overwork?
For that, I think we should look in part to ourselves. We, as teachers, are the leaders of these young people and whether we like it or not, our actions speak louder than our words. What do they see us do in times of stress? Stay up late and drink more coffee, or trust that the work we’ve done is enough?
Here’s a few things I’m going to do and share with my students to set a positive self-care example. They need to know from day one that their education is a marathon of years of continued effort and not a manic sprint to the finish.
Set hard boundaries around your workday
Have a time when you turn your computer off – whatever you’ve left can wait for tomorrow. Watch some TV, talk to your family, do something that doesn’t relate to work.
Set and reiterate clear expectations
I will keep my expectations with students clear and repeat them constantly. A year 11 student I spoke to some weeks ago complained that he was, “expected to learn French in a week,” clearly it had slipped his mind that the expectation was for him to learn it over the last five years – the test was his chance to prove it.
Realise the limits
Studies suggest that working over 50 hours a week actually results in people being less productive – so balance is key. This, surely, is especially important around stressful times – like exams – where sleep and rest are key to reach peak performance.
Relax, wind down and sleep properly
I will talk openly about the things I do outside of school, share my interests and encourage my students to lead a life of balance.
I’m going to try these things and communicate them with my students. I want them to realise that it’s great to work hard, but it needs to be done effectively. If I’m turning up to work tired, then I’m showing them that’s ok – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Teachers are leaders and leaders go first – we want a balanced life for our students, so we need to show them what that looks like.
Could you use any of these things to bring balance into your life, and the lives of your students.