Managing Stress

In keeping with this issue’s focus, John sent out the following question to the members of the panel:

Based on your experience in Christian schooling, what advice would you give to new teachers or administrators about dealing with the stress that is inherent in our work, or about ways they can support students dealing with stress or mental health issues in their lives? Feel free to recommend resources as well.

Gayle initiated the conversation by offering a helpful perspective on stress:

Stress? What stress?! I once read that in an experiment, some little organisms were placed in a completely stress-free environment, and they all died! I guess that the moral of the story is that we all need some stress in our lives, but the question is how much is enough and what do we do when we feel we have too much?

I think that an important thing for teachers (including principals) to remember is that there are rhythms to a school year. There are times when the tasks before us seem endless, and we leave from work exhausted, only to do another couple of hours of work at home. Those are super stressful times! But then there are other times when the pace of work is more reasonable. And then there are those glorious vacations: Christmas, Easter/spring break, and summer holidays!

I think that recognizing this rhythm is an essential part of dealing with those really stressful times. Be okay with the stressful times, knowing that they won’t last forever. I found a helpful article by Kate Hilton that included a quote with a great perspective:

“Or, as Lil Parker says in The Hole in the Middle: ‘No one is going to hand you a medal at the end of all of this because you ran faster and harder than everyone else. The point is to enjoy it.’ So forget about work-life balance, and try instead for joy in the midst of chaos. It sounds like more fun, doesn’t it? And even better, it’s actually achievable.”

—From “The Work-Life Balance Myth,” by Kate Hilton. January 12, 2014. HuffPost Living.


Christian responded:

Gayle, I like your take on this. Life, generally, is a rising and falling of stress-inducing situations. The best we can do is to recognize them, manage them, channel them, and deal with them. That said, there are times when it all just becomes too much. In these moments, we need to find a way to step away from it all briefly, especially when one of those prized breaks is still many weeks away.

Perspective is also important. We all want to do our best, and we feel the pressure of wanting to impress others and get ahead. Yet, we need to be honest with ourselves and our students by recognizing that no one is going wind up drunk and in the gutter if an assignment comes in late, a lesson plan falls flat, or a certain history teacher at Chicago Christian forgets to go to a morning staff meeting, even though he had been in the building since 6 a.m. grading papers . . . I’m just sayin’. Quality work done on time counts for a lot, but we can do great damage when there is no grace, flexibility, or understanding for extenuating circumstances. The Germans have got it right: no work emails after 6 p.m. Whoops, it’s 9:36 p.m. Gotta go.

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The panel consists of:

  • Christian Altena, who teaches at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois.
  • Justin Cook, who serves as the director of learning at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools in Ancaster, Ontario.
  • Rebecca De Smith, who is the Discovery Room coordinator and the curriculum coordinator at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa.
  • Gayle Monsma, who serves as principal at Covenant Christian School in Leduc, Alberta.
  • John Walcott, who is assistant professor in the education department at Calvin College.