At its heart, teaching is about relationships, and we all know that relationships take work. Teachers put effort into building relationships every single day as they seek to encourage, understand and engage with students, not to mention parents and colleagues.
This work is known as “emotional labour,” and was first recognised by sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book. Emotional labour is about managing your own feelings in order to manage others’, and it produces real results – the encouragement and enthusiasm a teacher projects about a student’s achievements will directly impact their confidence to tackle challenges in the future. However, it can also be incredibly draining and is something that many teachers struggle with at certain points in their careers.
Below, we're sharing a few tips to help you build resilience and prevent the stresses of emotional labour from wearing you down.
Understanding Emotional Labour
Most teachers will agree that educating your students often goes beyond teaching them facts and figures; at a minimum, you’re teaching them how to problem solve, negotiate, manage their emotions and deal with challenges. And teachers have to do this (often for all their students at once) while keeping their own feelings in check.
The key to managing your emotional labour as a teacher is understanding where it stems from so you can develop strategies to handle it.
Tips for Managing the Stress of Teaching
In order to continue performing your best and creating meaningful, authentic relationships with students, it’s important to develop strategies to help you carry the emotional load you will inevitably face. Here are some of the ways you can mitigate the negative effects of emotional labour in your teaching practice.
1. Anticipate causes of stress
Knowing the emotional requirements of your job can help you plan how to deal with them. Reflect on your daily and weekly schedules and identify the periods in which you typically feel most stressed. It could be during a class that requires more management, when you’re preparing in the morning or when students are losing focus at the end of the day.
By anticipating causes of emotional stress, you can apply coping strategies to help alleviate some of it before it begins.
2. Maintain consistent boundaries
Developing and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential for your overall wellbeing. This could mean finding ways to let go of the emotional and mental struggles of school and break negative thought patterns when at home. But it’s also about creating boundaries with others. For example, be sure to stay consistent with discipline consequences for students and learn how to have uncomfortable (but crucial) conversations with parents when necessary. When you learn how to create healthy emotional parameters for your job, you'll be way ahead of the game.
3. Seek support from your allies
If you're experiencing a problem at school, it's likely that other teachers have probably gone through the same thing and can be excellent sources of advice as you navigate your own challenges. Mentors and school leaders can also be valuable allies, serving as a buffer during conflict, helping you to set realistic expectations, guiding you to develop coping strategies and providing an opportunity to vent your frustrations when needed.
4. Focus on the rewards and successes
When the emotional toll becomes overwhelming, it’s a good idea to have a resource to lift your spirits. Save reminders that will help you remember the rewards and successes of your job, such as thank you cards, emails and updates from students, or a collection of particularly impressive projects. On difficult days, sifting through some of those mementos can help you remember why you do the work you do.
5. Prioritise self-care
Achieving work/life balance by making regular time for self-care can help you cope with stress and reduce the effects of emotional labour. Learn how to recharge and rejuvenate over breaks to prevent burnout, and find ways to destress by spending time doing things you enjoy outside of school.
Emotional labour will always be part of teaching, but by learning how to effectively manage the load you can continue giving the best of yourself to your students.
What stresses you at work? What energises you? How do you handle the emotional labour of teaching? Let us know your thoughts.