The level of stress and disorder currently existing within so many of our state schools is not news. A deteriorating situation is being witnessed by those within the system and the families that depend on its services for the education of their children. Amy Jeetley, a secondary school teacher and leader of science and biology at A level, sees daily how the ‘system’ is damaging the well-being of both teachers and students. She has found a way of responding to this stress which has led her to showing others the way forward.
We have all seen the calm, centred teacher who is in command of the classroom with well-planned lessons, for whom students will do most things, including work, be helpful, and support activities in the classroom. Yet for some teachers, no matter what they do, their classrooms seem highly charged and students just won’t settle.
As a teacher of science, I have seen first-hand the effects of me being calm and centred. Students respond to this by being open and honest. They feel safe and are not afraid to ask me anything. They know I will go to any lengths to help, support and teach them. It also means they are very forgiving if I have any ‘off’ days. I tend to have minimum behaviour issues in class.
Stressed teachers=Stressed students
Over recent years I have noticed a correlation between the state of the teacher and the behaviour of students in classrooms. Stressed and overwhelmed teachers produce highly charged, disorganised and at times, chaotic classrooms. I have purposely trained to navigate the skills of calm, centredness and command of my space. Having coached what leaders call “underperforming” teachers in schools, it is apparent to me straight away that the majority are highly stressed, overwhelmed, overburdened and overworked.
Increase in stress and ill-health
Startling statistics presented by the Education Support Partnership reveal that 76% of teachers are experiencing work-related behavioural, psychological and physical symptoms. Some 47% are experiencing anxiety, depression and panic attacks. There is further indication that the number of teachers who take long term sick leave, due to mental illness and anxiety related issues, is increasing each year. The National Education Union reported 81% of teachers surveyed were considering leaving the profession (as of 2018).
In my experience, teachers feel unable to ask for support from leaders within our education system, as this may be interpreted as being incompetent or an issue of capability. Yet, in the majority of cases, it is not a capability issue. It is a capacity issue. The current system is failing on every level to recognise this.
Larger class sizes mean more books to mark, data to manage, moderation of exam papers, assessments, increased accountability for results and so on. These are done with no actual extra time allocated within the school day. Teachers are also required to support and manage the well-being of their class of students, all of whom are from different backgrounds and family situations. In addition, teachers have their own families to attend to and there may occasionally be a crisis or difficulties of their own. Yet there is an expectation that they will always be on top of their school workload and their personal workload.
Teachers face immense pressures
I believe this degenerative situation can be managed, but only if something is removed to give a 'breathing space'. Unfortunately, at present, the only thing being removed is teachers taking themselves away from the stressful dynamics of the classrooms and schools in which they work. A teacher at overcapacity is overburdened and overstretched, and will most likely reach breaking point. Students will potentially then perceive that the teacher does not care. We cannot expect the students to realise the sheer mental, emotional and psychological pressures that their teachers are facing.
Put simply, teachers lack time in which to process the events of their lives, to plan effective lessons, meet deadlines and all other aspects of support that can only be managed by working hours outside of school. With such a teacher, some students will react by misbehaving, showing a lack of respect and causing disruption. If teachers are unable to manage their own stress adequately, the quality of teaching suffers, which inevitably affects student well-being and achievement.
My own method of dealing with stress and the potential for disorder in the classroom is a system that taps into the nature of how we sense and respond to each other. We all have the innate ability to sense the subtle nature of things. We sense when things are ‘not quite right’. We are all more sensory aware than we realise. It is important to realise that students instinctively sense when teachers are stressed and exhausted. We cannot expect our students to understand the situation or feel compassion towards correcting it.
As a science teacher, this is straightforward physics for me. Science teaches us that matter is primarily made up of energy. We also know through science that energy is not created or destroyed, just transferred from one form into another. Therefore, energies are transferring between students and teacher, and within the class space, continuously. If not managed and calmed, that energy becomes a heightened charge which will inevitably lead to some kind of release. It may come in the form of disruption, upset, shouting, or even eventually breakdown for the teacher and being absent through ill-health.
Until more funding is in place to help relieve the workload pressure, teachers need to be empowered to take action for themselves. A supportive school culture, strong leadership and a collaborative environment are all ways to ensure better job satisfaction for teachers. Furthermore, some awareness training in how to manage the energy exchanges being encountered, and development of self-presence and command, will help considerably in making positive change.
In order to keep myself calm, centred and clear, I regularly meditate. I also use visualisation and other techniques which I call ‘life management skills’. I have delivered workshops on some of these techniques to teachers and education leaders, and they have found them successful in bringing them a sense of calm, peace and centredness. Such self-empowerment equips teachers to find calm within the storm. Students in particular, will sense this physical and energetic presence and strength. It also helps increase energy and clarity to manage the classroom and the teacher’s workload. More importantly, it puts people in a clearer space and they become a transformative vehicle.
Imagine if all the teachers in a school were able to empower themselves by practising self-management, even simply through meditation and visualisation. Our students would move between lessons, from one teacher to the next, without ‘bouncing off the walls’. Over time, students could become more inspired, more creative and learn more effectively because they were being taught by calm and centred teachers.
Amy Jeetley has a Bachelor of Science degree in Life Sciences, and works as a school teacher of Science up to A level. She has a career background in business including sales, coaching and management, and has trained in several educational leadership programmes. Amy leads life management skills workshops, including meditation and visualisation and is an Advanced Energy Field Healing Practitioner. Learn more about Amy at www.amyjeetley.com