ERIC Identifier: ED308657
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children Reston VA.
Fourteen Tips to Help Special Educators Deal with Stress. CEC
It cannot be denied: education is a stressful business. In a recent survey
done by The Council for Exceptional Children, 60% of the respondents rated
work-related stress between 7 and 9 on a 10-point scale. Major causes of stress
included too much paperwork, lack of time, attitudes of others, and student
behavior. Listed below are 14 tips to help keep stress manageable.
ORGANIZE YOUR TIME AND YOUR ACTIVITIES
1. Set realistic and
flexible professional goals and objectives. Don't set expectations that will be
impossible to meet--that only results in failure, frustration, and guilt.
Sharing those inflated expectations with others (e.g., telling regular classroom
teachers you can consult with them twice weekly while you are carrying full time
direct service responsibilities) creates additional pressure that results in
stress. Setting expectations too low, on the other hand, can create lethargy and
lack of motivation.
2. Establish priorities. Each day there seem to be many jobs which must get
done. It is helpful to establish priorities to deal with needs in the order of
importance. As one job at a time is successfully tackled, a sense of
accomplishment can develop. You may discover that low priority items may not
have to be done at all.
3. Leave your work at school. One of the major problems educators face is
bringing work home after school. This causes problems in that schoolwork never
seems to be finished, and it often interferes with personal and family life. One
way to break that cycle is to avoid bringing work home. Some educators have
found staying at school later in the afternoon may be required. Another
alternative is going into school very early in the morning to grade papers, do
planning, and set up the classroom. Staying in school until as late as seven or
eight o'clock on a Friday evening may allow you to enjoy the remainder of the
weekend without having schoolwork hanging over your head. Planning a late dinner
on Friday night (candles, wine, and children in bed--all optional) may be very
4. Pace yourself. Managing time is certainly a key to dealing with stress.
Approaches to help avoid wasting time and prevent procrastination include
setting realistic time lines, getting high priority work done early in the day
(when we tend to work most efficiently), and including time for yourself in each
day. Do not try to do everything at once. If you are a new special educator you
should not expect to master every aspect of the profession immediately. Nor
should you expect to be able to meet everyone else's needs in terms of
consultant services, diagnostic evaluations, and so on, while providing direct
service to children. It is necessary to pace yourself, not only each day, but
for each week and each year. The social worker or psychologist who wants to
revise the entire placement team process or modify the role of special services
personnel should expect that goal to take considerable time to fulfill. Small
steps to achieving those goals should be identified and cherished.
5. Use available human resources. Use the available human resources to their
maximum potential. Take the extra time necessary to train an aide or secretary
to handle more responsibilities independently. Training students or parent
volunteers as classroom aides can result in greatly increased instructional time
without increasing your workload.
6. Organize your classroom. Improved classroom organization can save time and
increase professional productivity. Setting up a catalog system for materials,
tests, and instructional techniques can make these resources more accessible to
you and to other professionals who have need of them.
Similarly, developing a general filing system or computerized management
system so that diagnostic information, IEPs, student performance data, and
curriculum objectives are available can improve classroom efficiency. Organizing
the classroom so that students can function independently by preparing work
folder learning centers or student contracts may free you to attend more
directly to individual student needs. Giving students access to classroom
materials such as books, paper, pencils, audiovisual equipment, and
self-correcting materials, and training them in their use can likewise improve
the learning environment.
BE OPEN TO CHANGE, INNOVATION, AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Change your environment. Changing roles from resource teacher to special class
teacher, for example, may reduce stress by allowing you to focus on direct
service instead of having to cope with the additional demands of diagnosis and
consulting. A school counselor who moves from a high school to a junior high
school situation may find the job description at the new school more
satisfactory. A simple change in environment from one elementary school to
another may give you a new perspective, new friends, different students, and new
8. Keep yourself motivated. It is important to keep motivated. Seeking out
new experiences can be one way to maintain professional interest and prevent
stagnation. A special educator can try new instructional techniques, implement
alternative programs, or develop new materials. A school psychologist can add a
test to his or her test battery or try a new counseling technique. Look for
opportunities to share your expertise--Present your project at a CEC federation
or national conference; submit your curriculum or research to the ERIC database.
9. Consider career options. There are many alternative career avenues that
special educators and special services personnel should consider to diversify
their experience or stimulate interest. Career options include placement team
coordinator, itinerant diagnostician, work study coordinator, consultant, and
inservice coordinator. In some districts, educators have the option of taking
one of those roles for one year and then returning, refreshed, to previous
responsibilities. There are also many opportunities for part time jobs or job
sharing (two educators share one job--one works two days per week, the other
three) which may provide a change of pace for weary professionals.
10. Seek out personal learning experiences. Professional and personal growth
requires that we keep learning. Certification requirements and school salary
schedules encourage educators to take additional coursework. Seek programs of
study that are interesting and stimulating as well as appropriate for meeting
requirements. Programs that provide new skills needed on the job (i.e.,
consulting, teaching reading, diagnosis) or that broaden your base of knowledge
(a special educator taking courses in psychology or sociology) are ideal.
Dropping a course that is irrelevant, poorly taught, or too time consuming may
also be very therapeutic. Seeking out personal learning experiences can likewise
add productive dimensions to an educator's experience. Taking classes in
ceramics, knitting, car maintenance, or home repair, for example, can provide a
myriad of benefits. Not only do they develop new skills and interest, but they
might even save you money.
BE POSITIVE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PROFESSION
11. Allow a "moment of glory." Too often, schools are not very positive places to be.
Students, supervisors, parents, and colleagues do not often tell you what a
great job you're doing. It is, therefore, important for special educators and
special services personnel to accept and acknowledge positive feedback. When
someone does praise you, don't reject it. We are very good at allowing false
modesty ("I didn't really do anything special") or embarrassment to rob us of
our just rewards. A response like, "Yes, I really worked hard and it's
gratifying to see the results; it means a lot to me that you've noticed," will
not only allow you your moment of glory but will encourage the person gracious
enough to bestow some positive reinforcement on a fellow human being.
12. Look for the "silver lining." It is often helpful to seek out the "silver
lining" in an otherwise dismal situation. As a consultant to regular classroom
teachers, it is not unheard of to walk into a classroom that has received hours
of your support only to find calamity prevailing. At that point it is easy to
give up in total frustration. A better alternative, however, is to try to find
some glimmer of hope in that situation (e.g., "It could have been worse if I
hadn't been there; her behavior management techniques were terrible but she was
teaching a good lesson.") or to immediately go to another classroom where the
teacher has succeeded by implementing your recommendations.
13. Become directly involved. In many cases, working directly to deal with
the issues that cause problems can be both therapeutic and productive. Become
active in your professional association to institute desired changes. Work with
CEC's Political Action Network to influence state and federal legislation.
Becoming a member of an inservice training advisory board, curriculum committee,
or a task force of the local teachers association may allow you to effectively
deal with problems causing stress for yourself and your colleagues. On the other
hand, resigning from a committee that is causing frustration or is simply
wasting your time, can also be therapeutic. 14. Remember the children you serve.
Remember why you have chosen to be a special education teacher or member of the
special services staff. Focus on the personal, professional, and philosophical
reasons that give meaning to your working hours. Keeping your thoughts on the
handicapped children you serve, your pride in professional accomplishments, and
your empathy for those who society often rejects, will help you cope with a
narrow minded principal, difficult parents, an inane meeting, or the endless
paperwork that passes through your hands.
These ideas are based on suggestions presented in Stress and Burnout--A
Primer for Special Education and Special Services Personnel by Stan F. Shaw,
Jeffrey M. Bensky, and Benjamin Dixon, 1981, 61 pp.