Teaching With Joy

September 2002


Teaching & Stress
by Joy Jones

     If there was a personal masseuse stationed at every school, and I had a Jacuzzi in my classroom, I could take the stress of being a teacher easily in stride.  But there is no whirlpool to whirl away my troubles and no massage salon in the teachers’ lounge.  So what to do?

     We know what stress is.  We live daily with the mental and physical tension of trying to discern when to go back to basics and when to embrace a brave new world, figuring out how to use the new software without losing everything on the disk, deciding if it’s worth it to stand in line at the grocery or if there isn’t something in the pantry we can fix for dinner.  As teachers we have additional stresses.  Teaching is a stressful job; there’s no surprise at the fact that according to a Newsweek article, (6/4/01) 20% percent of new teachers leave in three years and by the fifth year, one third of them have left the profession.

     What makes teaching difficult? Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D., professor of psychology at University of Maryland said, “The hardest part is reaching students who are at different levels of interest and background - and all at the same time!”

     I find disciplining the most challenging part of my job.  Trying to regulate fifteen or twenty different personalities and still get some instruction in has always been tricky for me. 

     “Stress and teaching - is there any difference?” said  Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis.  Too often there isn’t.  But the stress doesn’t stop at the classroom door.  I spent years working in central administration where the endless demands for more paperwork, the office politics, all created pressure and resentment.

     Parker J. Palmer, Ph.D., author of The Courage to Teach, invites teachers to look beyond the nasty principal, the difficult children or the mounds of paperwork as the cause of stress.  “The stress comes from us being out of alignment with our own lives,” he stated.  But by delving deeply inside to re-align one’s self with one’s genuine nature and truest values, he believes we can achieve serenity and attain sanity.

     The key to sanity for me was through journaling.  Journaling is not just for aspiring writers and keeping a diary is not only for adolescents in love.  On the job, when I couldn’t express my frustration outright, writing down my thoughts was a big stress reliever.  My reflections on how I was feeling were the genesis for my book, Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers.

     In addition to journaling, there are other tools you can add to your teacher survival kit.  Some easy and practical stress soothers include:

 1) Breathing deeply - It sounds simple, and it is.  But because breathing deeply is simple, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also profound.   It is no mistake that the word inspire derives from ‘inspiratio’  which means ‘to breathe into’.  Breathing deeply helps to connect with that which gives us life, that which can give us inspiration.  It helps us to draw in that divine influence that can help us cope with a situation.

 2) Quiet time - a best selling author once commented that he performed better when he regularly scheduled rest breaks for himself.  However, when he would tell people that he needed time alone to rest, they would often interrupt him anyway.   As a result, he decided to tell others he needed time alone to pray.  Then they almost always honored his request.  However you have to do it, make sure you schedule in some personal down time.

 3) Creativity - I’m a big believer in the ability of art to save the soul.  Whether one is enjoying the fruit of someone else’s creativity (good) or expressing one’s own creativity (even better), the experience of the creative is rejuvenating to the spirit.  I think of Carolina Maria de Jesus who lived in extreme poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  She fed herself and her children by salvaging scraps of food she found in garbage.  To distract herself from the daily stress of her dismal existence, she wrote in a journal.  That journal evolved into a book entitled, Beyond All Pity, published in 1960 which immediately became a best-seller.  Carolina Maria de Jesus‘s formal education had only taken her to the second grade.  But her imagination took her to the peak.

     Stress can’t be eliminated from anyone’s life.   After all, stress is even a part of good things - getting married, having a baby, starting a new job, holiday celebrations.  To try to live without stress is to live without truly living.  Therefore, we must strive to find peacekeeping and creative ways to approach stress, which means we will be able to live lives that are peaceful and creative.

     Although, a masseuse assigned to every school wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Joy Jones is a third generation teacher, a playwright and the author of Between Black Women: Listening With the Third Ear, the acclaimed children’s book, Tambourine Moon, and Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers.  You may view her web site at: www.JoyJonesOnline.com.

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