Teach Your Heart Out! The Emotional Labor and Stress of Teaching

Teach Your Heart Out - Teacher Stress and Emotional Labor

Teaching Your Heart Out! It's what you do, and it has its price. The stress of teaching is real. The emotional labor is real. So let's talk about it.

In this post, you'll discover 5 sources of teacher stress, and we'll share a few tips and quotes to help you teach your heart out without the emotional labor wearing you down.

I Didn't Mean To Make Them Cry

A second grade teacher shared the story about her first year teaching. She was exploring tone and mood in a text, and she mentioned how authors come up with ideas.

She made her second-grade class cry.

In her words,

I didn't mean to make them cry. I was sharing one of Tomie DePaola's simple books Nana Downstairs, Nana Upstairs

I began thinking aloud how Tomie must have felt about his two grandmas. How when he wrote, a tear might have fallen down his cheek. Then I asked the class how they thought he felt.

The class was engaged and paying total attention, which was something that didn't happen often at our school. 

It was total silence, and I was about to continue...

Suddenly a boy in the back spoke up -

I looked up and saw it was the same student who wouldn't stay in his seat, never had his supplies, and often argued with others. I was anticipating an off-task remark. What I heard changed my life.

The whole class turned to watch him, wondering what he was going to say, and he simply announced, "My dad died. He was stabbed."

Silence.

Then tears. First his. Then mine. 

I didn't know what to do.

Events like this are common in teaching. If you're in a classroom you know this is part of the challenge. It's part of the stress of teaching.

You teach your heart out. You strive for each of your students to learn at high levels, and you know Bloom's taxonomy is the farthest from what many students need.

Many students come to class needing food, shelter, safety, and love. It's Maslow's hierarchy. And it can take a toll on you, the educator. 

But you teach your heart out and meet those needs!

The Emotional Labor of Teaching

The emotional labor of teaching comes from many sources. Here are five:

  1. Passion to continuously improve.
  2. Student trauma and secondary trauma.
  3. Seemingly useless meetings and/or training.
  4. Challenging adult relationships.
  5. Pressures of tests, grading, and scores.

In addition to these five areas, it's not uncommon to find teachers using their own money to fund the school and curriculum, doing tasks far from their assigned role, and constantly going above and beyond to make their classrooms better for students!

Student Emotions

It's difficult to predict the emotions that students are ready for or prepared to handle. It's impossible to know the trauma they bring to school.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 out of 3 students experience a traumatic life event before the age of 16.

Teacher Emotions

In addition to the emotions they bring, you also bring emotion to the classroom.

You entered this wonderful profession to reach students, to enhance lives, and to share your passion for learning and teaching! 

The emotional labor of teaching comes from the fact that before you reach the mind, you must connect with the heart. This can be even more true with challenging behavior (which often stem from stressful emotions).

Connection is the cure for challenging behaviors. It doesn't fix problems. It does form a relationship that can help you carry the emotional load that comes with teaching.

Let's talk about some ideas to handle the stress of teaching while you continue to teach your heart out.

“Teaching seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while simultaneously providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.”

Franklin Habit

How To Handle the Stress of Teaching

We don't have the secret recipe, sorry. We offered a few ideas on how to be a happier teacher here. We also discussed what is toxicity and how to deal with it in your school (if it exists).

Here are a few great ideas to help you reflect on your own wellness as a teacher.

“As we approach the start of the 2019-20 school year, teachers, do not forget about your personal wellness. In order to be our best for students, we have to take time for ourselves...guilt-free.”

Lauren Richardson, @richardson_edu

It can also be energizing as well as healthy to lead your students in positive work. Work that contributes to others.

Also, quick discussions about health, exercise, and food can help. Especially, as you incorporate brain breaks as a class. 

“Talk to students about food. Walk the walk. Start a drink water challenge. Teach a cooking lesson. Get a local grocery store to donate produce. Get kids to research equity issues & support students taking action.”

Stephanie Smith, @eduhealthy

Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do - the emotional labor of teaching is intense. Sometimes the stress of teaching is immense. But for the rest of the times, strive to establish appropriate boundaries for life balance and personal priorities. Remain aware of you own emotions and manage them in healthy ways.

You really are the world for our students!

Teach your heart out, but don't let it wear you out.

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Published/Updated on August 2, 2019  

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