Paul Bress asserts in his article on teachers’ fears that teaching is a stressful occupation for many people because it involves public performance – and it is certainly true that teachers find themselves under the spotlight for most of their working day, scrutinised by both their students and their employers. Several of our contributors offer, if not solutions to the problem of stress, at least guidance in ways of identifying, processing and analysing it: strategies which may go some way towards alleviating the tension.
In our main feature, Chris Roland describes the ‘stress sandwich’ effect: how negative thoughts often arrive in pairs and seem to squeeze out any positive thoughts that may occur between them. This has the result that the abiding memory of a lesson can be a disagreeable one, even when there were many good things in it to celebrate.
Nick Howlett also believes that recognising stressful situations, identifying stressful incidents, reflecting on them and subjecting them to critical analysis represent moves towards overcoming anxiety. He mentions using the expression being dealt a knockout blow to talk about an incident with a difficult student and how he later reflected that he may be seeing classroom interaction as a confrontation or fight. One of Nick’s colleagues also admitted to feeling sweaty when put on the spot by students. So it is clear that there is a physical aspect to our perception of stress.
Physical action is perceived by Trev Hill as a way of dealing with stress. He recommends martial arts both as a fertile subject for discussion and language exploration and as a beneficial activity for teachers who want an outlet for built-up tensions and students who need to let off steam.
There are, of course, many factors that can cause stress and many ways of dealing with them. For many of us, teaching adolescents is a highly pressurised, often problematic, activity and Fari Greenaway has suggestions to make teaching teenagers a little less challenging, even if it is never going to be relaxing.
Of course, classroom stress isn’t confined to teachers. Robert Lowe identifies being the focus of attention as a possible barrier to the comfortable integration of a disabled student in a language class. He describes how he worked hard to ease the stress that a blind student might otherwise have felt in joining a class of sighted students.
Rania Jabr, on the other hand, describes a pecha kucha activity in which her students are deliberately put under the spotlight. They have to give a presentation using 20 PowerPoint slides. The slides advance automatically every 20 seconds, so the pressure is on to say everything they want to say within the time limit. I know from personal experience how stressful this can be! Of course, the stress evaporates once the presentation is over and is replaced by a feeling of achievement.
I hope you enjoy this issue – and don’t forget to relax!