I write a lot about happiness and balance. But sometimes, no matter what, teaching can just be plain overwhelming.
There have been moments when I’ve felt so overwhelmed I wanted to walk out the door and never come back. Fortunately, those days are far behind me.
Luck has nothing to do with it though. Instead, subtle shifts I’ve incorporated over the past several years have made me a badass when it comes to overwhelm. Simply put, overwhelm can eat my dust.
Life is too short for me to feel stressed every single day. I’m obsessed with happiness so that also means that I don’t put up with the bulls*** of stress. If you want to know my secrets, settle in partner, and follow the rules of how to make overwhelm in your rear view mirror, too. Follow these simple—though not always easy—steps, and say goodbye to your little friend.
Step 1: Get real. Overwhelm is a state of mind. I know you might be saying, “Brooke, have you seen all the things I have to get done today, this week, this year?”
Guess what? I have, my friend! I’m a teacher too, with a second job (Being Teacher), children, and a husband. And I’ve felt all the pain and suffering of my share of overwhelm and anxiety, I’ve learned that overwhelm is only a feeling, not reality.
There are 3 fundamental truths about the things we NEED to do and our feelings of overwhelm. First–let’s face it—no one is going to die if we don’t “get it all done” today.
Ask yourself, is anyone going to do die if I don’t get X (insert urgent task) completed today? No? Then relax.
Second thing: we’re not going to be fired either. You’re a good teacher. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading. No administrator anywhere said, “I’m going to fire this really good teacher who loves her students because she didn’t grade all her papers.”
Last—in the end—we always get it done, whether we stress about it or not.
Step 2. Get in control. Being proactive means taking control of your day. You may not have control of what occurs in any given day but you have control of your students—through sound classroom management and your choices.
Being proactive means preventing problems which cause overwhelm instead of reacting to a problem after it arises.
When teachers settle for being reactive, they give away their energy, brain power, patience, and their most valuable resource, their time.
You are a ship in a classroom-shaped storm. But proactive teachers are anchored to the ocean floor. Waves rise and fall, storms come and go–you’re focused on your goal, not on the distractions.
Step 3. Stop doing. Stop doing those things that you, in particular, don’t need to do. Your time is far too valuable to be sharpening pencils. Have a student do the things you do not need to do, everything on your Stop Doing List.
First, make a list of as many items as you can think that do not require your expertise in the classroom. Think of anything you do that does not require a professional development course, or college work, or even experience to do. Here a few things from my Stop Doing List:
- Sharpening pencils
- Cleaning the classroom
- Sorting papers
- Passing out papers
- Cutting anything
- Checking student folders
- Stuffing folders
- Erasing boards
- Checking off completed homework
- Getting together missed work
Get the picture? After you’ve come up with your list, determine who will do it. Do you have a parent volunteer, a student teacher, or students to whom you can delegate items?
Your students can help—and will help—much more than you probably realize. Even if you teach kindergarten, 5 year olds can sharpen pencils, sort papers, cut, and clean a room. I taught 4 year olds how to hang up their jackets, wipe down tables, and sort recyclables.
So, create a Stop Doing List and begin training your students soon to do classroom jobs that must be done, but do not require a skilled teacher to do them!
Step 4. Prioritize. What’s more important: being in control of your day or letting chaos and overwhelm reign? I would guess everyone out there chooses the former. To get control of your day, create a prioritized to-do list.
Use the first 5 minutes of your day to jot down a quick list of what you need accomplish before tomorrow. Just focus on today, only today. Now look back at your list and put a number by each one in number of priority.
If you need to make copies for your first lesson, that would be number 1. Answering a parent email should be further down on your list. (Student needs come first.) I’ll bet that some of your items can wait until the next day (or are not really a priority at all). After you have a numbered priority list, do the things in the order of importance.
By taking five minutes each morning to create a to do list, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and feel more balanced. Your list is right in front of you. Can you say, “overwhelm eat my dust?” You’re getting the picture, now. Read about one teacher’s success story with this list, here.
Step 5. Get more sleep. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Your brain can’t function properly without it and overwhelm can kick your a**.
So much research demonstrates how ineffective or unproductive we become with a lack of sleep. Look at it this way, the human brain is only capable of expending so much energy, based on the fuel it receives. And it needs rest to refuel. If you don’t provide it with rest, it will not produce for you. Caffeine is only effective for so long.
A few years ago, I made the mistake of skipping sleep to get more work done. And each day, I would forget something important, lose my temper becoming overwhelmed, or waste time solving problems that could have been solved easily if had enough sleep.
Feeling a little overwhelmed with all that needs to be done? Don’t. No one is going to die and neither are you. Is it worth your stress and unhappiness? You’ll get it all done, I promise.