Teacher Stress and Anxiety: The Infinite Quest for Inner Peace

Teacher Stress and Anxiety: The Infinite Quest for Inner Peace

Casey M. Brown
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7524-7.ch003
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This chapter illustrates the author's struggle with stress and anxiety associated with the teaching profession. After conversations with colleagues, it is apparent that many teachers drive to and from school with knots in their stomachs, exhausting themselves with worry about students, parents, administrators, state standards, and more. As educators, we search to find balance between our school lives and our “normal” lives. We struggle to take a mental break from our jobs. In this chapter, the author uses a multigenre style to illustrate her anxiety and healing throughout her teaching career. Many authors write about the needs of the student, yet it is also worthwhile to explore the mental health of teachers. Teachers cannot best serve students if teachers cannot first take care of themselves. It is an idea that is often overlooked, and the author hopes this chapter may help educators who have experienced similar issues of anxiety in their careers.
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Disclaimer 2: Anxiety About Writing About Anxiety

These pieces, although based on my experiences, are not 100% true. I have used creative license when needed by adding characters, changing names, borrowing stories from close friends, etc. This is a memoir, yet a semi-fictional memoir. Mostly true, but not 100% true.

I feel anxious about sharing my story, but I think ultimately it is a good thing. I feel anxious that others might feel I am portraying them unjustly (especially the fictional representations based on teachers I know). I feel naked to the world when I put what I have gone through on paper. I hope you will accept this paper with an open mind and no judgment.

I just wanted to put this out there to feel a bit less, you know, anxious…

1st Year of Teaching Journal

See Box 1.

Box 1.

January 17, 2001

How did I not know? How did I not know how much exhaustion I would face as a teacher? I’m 22 years old, and I’m in charge of five classes of fourteen to eighteen-year-olds. Five different classes with five different textbooks and five different workbooks (and CDs and test books and listening activity workbooks,…so much…) Five hours of presentation a day and non-stop juggling. And just plain acting.

“Mme Brown, you’re always so happy! Are you ever in a bad mood? You never seem stressed.”

Oh, but I am. Yet, it’s easier to present a happy face. And it motivates the students more if I don’t really show them how tired I am. “Never let them see you sweat?” “Fake it ‘til you make it…” Teacher mottos to live by…

Don’t get me wrong—I love teaching. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and I’m happy to do it. I feel oddly at home and “in the zone” in class. You might even say I’m doing pretty well at it. However…to do well, I’ve been driving myself insane. I don’t leave school without at least two to three hours of work to do. Weekends consist of me on the floor surrounded by my lesson plan book and mounds of textbooks. I have family functions where I always bring things to grade. It never ends.

And when I’m not planning or grading, I’m thinking about school. When I wake up, when I go to bed, when I’m in the shower, when I’m driving to and from school, I’m constantly prepping for or reflecting on lessons. Is this normal? Am I crazy?

Daily, I am torn between the highs of teaching and the exhaustion I feel from doing it all. Does this ever get easier? I can’t imagine it does. I just want one day where my brain can relax and not think about school. Just one day…

Oh, and today I agreed to coach dance and lead sophomore student council.

I think I am crazy.

Just Before Class

There’s a bell that runs my life.
Most grown-ups escape it. Not me. 
Every 54 minutes a bell. Five minutes pass. Another bell. 
Like rats in a cage, we live and die by a bell. 
With every bell, there is a pit in my stomach. 
Is everything set? What am I doing first? And then after that? And what if they don’t get it? What if they are bored? What if they just stare at me? What if I finish way early? What if I take way too long? What if—
Here they come…

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