5 Tips for Reducing Stress and Enjoying Your ELLs More

These tips can help you make you a healthier, happier teacher.

I used to be a very stressed-out teacher, and these are some of the things that made a huge difference in my experiences in the classroom.

But Teachers Aren’t Supposed to Feel This Way

The anger and frustration we feel while teaching is not always something we feel OK talking about with others.

We may be embarrassed.

We may feel ashamed.

We may fear being judged.

But, the fact of the matter is that most teachers feel angry or frustrated at some point.

The Story of Kendra

Kendra lost it on her students, a group of too-big-for-their-britches sixth graders.“I have had it up to here!” 

“You guys never listen!”

“Why is it that every time I’m talking you guys interrupt me?

This whole class, all I do is get interrupted constantly. Nobody is listening. I might as well not be talking. Who is the teacher in here, you or me? If you guys can’t be respectful when I’m talking, then no one talks. We’ll just write.”

The lecture went on for about 5 minutes.

Particular students were called out.

One student’s eyes were red and tearing up.

Kendra forbid them from speaking and then gave the whole class a writing assignment.

Of course, they were English learners, and because she hadn’t prepared them well, none of them could do the assignment.

A couple of students started writing, but most just stared at the assignment blankly.

One student raised his hand, “This is too hard.”

“That’s because you guys never listen…” Kendra started again.

The students’ collective eyes rolled as another wave of fire and brimstone came raining down on their heads.

We have all felt like Kendra at some point in our teaching careers. There are just days when the students seem to have secretly decided beforehand to make our lives difficult.

If you feel this kind of anger or frustration a lot though, that stress can take a huge toll on your well-being.

You have to pay attention to your anger and frustration, especially if you consider yourself a patient person, able to push down your frustration, and keep going with a smile on your face.

It will catch up with you eventually.

It Had All Started Out Well

In Kendra’s example, her stress levels had been building for half a semester.

At the beginning of the semester, the students were new; the mood was light.

It had been all fun and games.

The students were just being goofy then, and only occasionally interrupted.

Kendra liked the banter, participated happily and let them get away with being a little cheeky.

At the beginning of the semester, the only real issue was the efficiency: Kendra spent too much time joking around or chatting with them and not enough time getting things done.

Kendra started to notice that the class was getting behind on the material.

Also, many of the students were not getting better; they were making the same mistakes over and over again.

Kendra was afraid to crack down because she didn’t want to lose the rapport she had built with the students.

She kept laughing, but less so with each passing joke.

She started to push them a bit, to try and get them to take things more seriously.

The more she pushed, the more they pushed back. The students’ friendly playfulness turned into regular interruptions, snarky comments, whispering and giggling.

Kendra’s friendly, easy-going demeanor began to change.

She was snapping at them more, and scowling, instead of laughing and participating.

The more Kendra scowled, the more the students turned on her.

“They are really rude and they never listen,” she told me one day when I asked her how class was going. “But it’s fine. It’s no big deal. I just need to get on them more. I know what I need to do.”

The next class, she snapped.  

I could relate with what Kendra was going through. I went through very similar experiences when I began teaching.

And it didn’t just affect my time in the classroom; I carried that stress home with me.

It Happens

We can’t always avoid getting angry with our students, and, if we have a good relationship with them, it can be a good thing.

Getting angry usually means you care. The students know that.

But if you find yourself getting angry a lot, there’s a problem.  

How can we avoid letting things build until we feel like exploding? 

5 Tips for Reducing Stress & Enjoying Your ELLs More

1. Pay attention to when you feel annoyed, frustrated, or angry.

  • After class, it is easy to just let it go, not think about what happened in class, but you need to take time to reflect.
  • It may be because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, but it may also be a sign that you need to make some changes to how you teach.
  • If you find yourself angry, you can usually trace it back to something that you should have dealt with earlier in a class or a semester, but didn’t.

2. Know and maintain your boundaries.

  • Know what drives you crazy, what is unacceptable, what cannot pass and communicate that very clearly to your students. 
  • As long as students are within acceptable bounds, let them enjoy themselves and be children. 
  • Give yourself permission to relax and enjoy your students.
  • Whenever a child crosses a boundary, deal with it. Make consequences clear beforehand and follow through in a way that focuses on the behavior, but doesn’t hurt your relationship with the student.
  • Very often, a simple change in your facial expression and tone is enough. All laughing and joking stops when a boundary has been crossed.
  • Don’t confuse your students by joking about boundary issues. Kids won’t turn on you for changing demeanor, only when you do it inconsistently. 
  • You will also want to have a system of warnings and consequences. However you decide to do it, have a very clear, consistent way of communicating that a boundary has been crossed and then adjust as needed.

3. Choose your battles.

  • If there are a lot of issues that are driving you crazy, at first, you’ll want to focus on a couple of the biggest issues and let the small stuff go. As time goes on, and the class is on track, you can focus on some of the smaller issues.
  • Give yourself permission to not be perfect, or to have perfect students, or to have perfect classes.
  • Sometimes the stress and anger comes not from the students but from our unrealistic expectations of them.

4. Don’t put things off. 

  • Don’t think that problems will go away on their own (even though, every once in a while, they do). If something is getting on your nerves, do something about it, consistently.
  • You might have a lot to do in class that day, or you might be afraid that the students won’t like you, or you might feel annoyed at having to deal with something in the middle of your lecture.
  • There are going to be lots of reasons to not deal with a problem any time and every time they come up, but if you put it off too long, it will only get worse.

5. Talk to your students about how you feel.

  • Many teachers are surprised at how effective this is. 
  • Tell your students how much you want to see them succeed and how much you need their help to make the most of each class.
  • Tell them that you don’t want to feel frustrated or angry, nor do you want them to feel frustrated or angry. You want to have fun classes where everyone learns a lot.
  • You may still have to crack down on certain behaviors even after a talk like this, but the students will better understand why and they will usually work harder to control themselves.

Stress is Bad for Your Health

Stress is bad for your health. 

Anger and frustration cause stress, and you don’t need that in your life, or the high blood pressure that comes with it.

Think about the stress points in your class, and then come up with a game plan to deal with them early on.

What tips do you have for avoiding stress when you teach? 

Tell me in the comments below!

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