8 Ways to Cope With Feeling Overwhelmed Now the School Year Has Begun

We are a few weeks into the start of this academic year and while this brings the prospect of new beginnings, new dreams and desires, excitement and adventure it can also be one of the most overwhelming times for teachers. The first term of a new academic year can be especially tough as there is a lot of unknown and uncertainty. Whether you are an ECT or an experienced teacher September can be a tough time making us feel overwhelmed. By the end of July things were second nature, you were familiar with the children, they were familiar with you and your routines, however, now it can feel like you’re having to start again. Things you were doing quickly are now taking longer while you focus on behaviour management and establishing routines with your class. You are not alone in feeling like this, all teachers feel like this at some point.  

It is important to get on top of feeling overwhelmed to stop these thoughts and feelings continuing throughout the year. It’s easy to feel down in September as the never ending mountain of work that ensues as school starts is already piling up. It can be too easy to begin neglecting ourselves, letting exhaustion and negativity engulf us. If this is you, you are not alone- but you are in control. Below are some tips on taking back control of your time and feelings during the beginning of the school year.  

1) Take A Break - After a long day with the children we often need a few minutes to ourselves to decompress from the day and regain our focus for our after school tasks, however, we rarely allow ourselves this due to not wanting to ‘waste any time.’ Going for a short walk – even just round the school grounds or spending 5 minutes making a drink and checking our phones can work wonders. This will reset and refocus our bodies and minds and eliminate the need for distraction. Although taking time away from working may seem like the opposite of what you want to do, without a break we are more likely to be distracted by our phones or take a longer time to complete tasks due to being mentally fatigued from the day. Reawakening our bodies and minds is key in after school productivity.  

2) Eliminate Interruptions - Staying after school to finish marking or prep for the next day is normal, as we all know the job doesn’t finish when the kids go home. It is important to make the most of the time that you are still at work and avoiding interruptions is one of the best ways to do this. Put your phone away or on silent so you are not distracted by social media or messages - unless you are taking a mindful break. Alternatively, only look at it for a couple of minutes every half an hour. Checking your social media accounts will not help you complete your work in good time and will result in you feeling frustrated at what is still left to do. Close your classroom door and put some focus music on. This will stop interruptions from outside your classroom distracting you.

3) Don’t be Afraid to Ask – Ask others what they do or how they manage. It is normal to compare ourselves to others around us – although we shouldn’t. Everyone is different and everyone has different methods that work for them. If you see teachers leaving school with no books at a time you are wishing you could leave, ask them how they do it! Especially if you are an ECT, some of the best advice I picked up was from asking other teachers for tips on how to manage my time. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to try a new way of working. You’ll find what works for you in time.

4) Ease the Pressure in the Evenings - The thought of juggling family and school life may be daunting but there are ways to gain efficiency and free up time. When you are cooking a meal always make extra where you can. What’s a bit of extra pasta in the pot or some extra veg in a stew? Freeze your extra portions so on the nights where you have had too much to do at least that’s one thing already sorted. Alternatively, switch on the slow cooker and take the pressure of cooking off. 

5) Learn to Say No -  This is by far one of the most difficult steps to take, especially when you are just starting out and saying no feels impossible. But it is so important to know your boundaries for yourself and for others. During the school day children, parents, teachers, administrators and many more people will ask you for things and saying no is not a bad thing. Saying, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t today’ or ‘I have a few other things I need to do today unfortunately,’ provides colleagues of realistic expectations of what you can manage. Do not get yourself into the position of feeling overstretched and overwhelmed because you've taken on too much. Ask a fellow colleague for advice on what to prioritise and what is ok to say no to if you are unsure.

6) To- Do Lists - Make three "to-do" lists. The first for things that you have to get done today or tomorrow. The second for things that need to be done by Friday, and a third for things you can work on if you get the time. Shift things from one list to another as needed. For me, just getting it on paper lessens my stress, and knowing I only have to immediately do the things on list one makes me feel like I can manage my time better and makes me feel less overwhelmed – it’s only one list after all!

7) Remember Why You’re There - Save all of the thoughtful notes and cards students give you. Put them in a box or wallet in the cupboard or keep a select few in the draw of your desk. When you have a difficult teaching day or are feeling overwhelmed, rummage through to remind you of why you’re doing this and that you have truly made a difference. It may not be a "time saver" but it will help you during stressful times.

8) Ask Why - Frequently, ask yourself 'why' you're doing the things you're doing. If the answer isn't because it's best for the children or because it will have (this) impact, then simply don't do it.

The above tips will help you to feel more in control of your workload and manage your stress. However, if you are feeling overwhelmed and need to speak with someone about your wellbeing please get in contact with us. Alternatively, the education support line also offers free confidential support for people working in education 24/7.

Working effectively is important, particularly as a teacher when you feel there aren’t enough hours in the day. Read our 8 tips to improve your time management, increase your productivity and prioritise your workload efficiently.

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