By Emilie Mueller and Maxine Moss. Art by Karina Takayama.
For all the attention we give to student stress, we often neglect the well-being of our teachers. Believe it or not, teachers get stressed out too. According to Lance Powell, environmental science teacher, “stress is the baseline of a job as a teacher.”
For many teachers, anxiety stems from the challenge of catering to the individual needs of a large quantity of students. Stephanie Cuff, who teaches history and economics, said the “need to personalize [learning] for each student” is a major source of stress for her. She continued, “When you have 160, 170 students, and each student has unique needs, trying to find a way that somehow this lesson will be enjoyable and meaningful for them [can be difficult].”
Anne Olson, history and gender studies teacher, added, “I feel like I take on my students’ stress as my stress… When I see my students super stressed out it hurts my soul, and that kind of adds to my stress.” Powell agreed, “There is stress that pours over from students’ lives. You learn about things… whether that be stress in the home life or too many AP’s.”
So how do teachers cope with all of their anxiety? For Cuff, it’s setting aside time for herself. “It’s a balancing act,” she said, “So finding people in your life with whom you can decompress, but also have structured ‘this is me time.’”
Olson also finds solace in separating herself from her work. She takes advantage of “opportunities to travel” during school breaks and has designated Sunday as a day without work. She added, “For me, it’s also taking time to give back to the other relationships in my life… give my nephew some love, my friends, even some of my professors from college.”
Other teachers have incorporated ways to relax into their daily schedules. Lee Trampleasure, physics teacher, said, “Everyday I commute by the train and have a nice bike ride on the way home… it’s a little bit longer but it’s so pleasant. It’s such a great way to end the day.”
History teacher Corinna Ott took steps to alleviate her stress when she noticed that students were coming to her with their problems and “[she] wasn’t feeling great [herself].” She explained, “I felt like I couldn’t be a good example for my students if I wasn’t taking care of my own mental health.”
M-A staff members make an effort to look out for each other as well. “Everybody on campus, no matter what role it is, has so much going on behind the scenes,” Cuff said. “Everybody’s trying to support each other.” She added that “yoga days” on campus with the other staff members and PTA-sponsored breakfasts have been helpful in promoting a relaxing environment.
Maintaining perspective amidst the chaos and stress has also proven to be beneficial for Cuff. She commented, “I think the worst days are sometimes days that students may not even know are the worst days. It’s little stuff… when you feel like you’re trying to give it your all and you’re being taken advantage of. That one really stings. But at the end of the day it’s also about perspective… we’re dealing with human lives, and lives are complicated, and if we want students to consider that we have complicated lives we need to do them the same in return.”
When it comes down to it, teachers are responsible for making an impact on student lives, and that’s stressful. As Trampleasure put it, “I really want students to care about learning, and a lot don’t. I find that stressful.” However, most teachers accept this challenge as part of the job. Powell said, “If there was zero stress, then what would we even be doing? It would be boring.”
Olson summed up the pressure of teaching: “I am doing everything I can to help my students succeed, and reach whatever their definition of success is. So maybe that is the core of all of the stress. I feel like there’s always more to do, and the stakes are so high because these are human lives. If I don’t do my job it’s somebody’s life that’s being affected.”