How to deal with stress, anxieties of being a teacher in Hong Kong?

When most people think of stressful jobs, they usually do not have ‘teachers’ in mind. That is understandable, I suppose, considering that a teacher’s life does seem more relaxed compared to, say, a surgeon’s life.

However, becoming a teacher comes with its own set of anxiety issues and problems. You might not be responsible for somebody staying alive right now, but you are responsible for shaping someone’s future and providing them with a good education. Those things, virtually everyone should agree, is a significant job.

A Quick Summary

  • While it might be surprising, teachers can suffer from anxiety too.
  • Teachers who suffer from or think they are suffering from anxiety should remember to exercise, socialise, keep doing different things, find a trustworthy colleague, and get help if needed.

As also mentioned in previous articles, Hong Kong, being such an academically focused city, puts pressure on students and teachers. The demand from students, parents, and the education bureau or tutorial centres can be relatively high.

The responsibilities include conducting effective lessons, preparing new and useful materials, marking the students’ papers, and helping the students emotionally too if need be. On top of that, teachers are under constant deadlines to finish a particular syllabus within the limited class period. The current pandemic has only made all of the above jobs harder for teachers in recent times.

They also have to answer to their higher-ups in schools and to the parents in tutorial centres. In either case, they are expected to make sure their students get excellent grades, which can be challenging. Teachers are also required to portray a specific image and, as such, have limits on how they can act in public or at least in front of their students.

All of this can and, in many cases, has led to a phenomenon called teacher anxiety. Below are some ways to relieve that burden:

Do not sit and stand all day

The life of a teacher can be quite inactive. It consists of a lot of sitting in cubicles or the classroom, standing up and walking around. That is about it. What most of us seem to forget as we grow up is how important being physically active and healthy is for our mental health. This does not just mean going to the gym. This can mean any active exercise ranging from running to play sports. Such exercises greatly help us to perform catharsis and release dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that help us be happy and stress-free. Therefore, if you want to be happier and also a better teacher as a result, exercise can be of great help.

Do not be alone

While space is essential for everyone, it is generally recommended not to be alone if you suffer from anxiety. It is important to try to communicate with friends. It can be by chatting online, but nothing beats meeting your friend in person. You do not need a ton of friends. You need one or two close and trustworthy friends to do some simple stuff and talk about your issues and fears. It is healthy to pour out all your feelings once in a while to get it all out of your system. This can make you a happier person and hence, a better teacher.

Do not just teach

To be honest, the life of a teacher, or any profession, can get consumed by their job. When you spend most of your days and weeks doing the same thing over and over again, it is easy to feel burnt out. Therefore, it is crucial that you teach and get involved in some other activities in your free time. It is highly recommended to pursue other interests during one’s free time. Watch movies, paint, write, sing, dance; have a life outside of teaching. As mentioned before, broadening your horizons also makes you a better teacher as a by-product because you are now richer with experiences and have more to offer.

Do not forget to partner up

One thing that can be very helpful is to partner up with a trusted colleague. Something that can be often overlooked by employers is that everyone has their personal lives as well. Teachers can get hit by surprise emergencies too. Other than that, of course, anxiety attacks. In any case, it can be handy to have a colleague who has got your back and can cover for you if you ever need it for any reason whatsoever. This is a two-way street, so do not forget to return the favour if the time comes.

Do not feel ashamed to get help

While significant strides have already been made in normalising receiving psychological and emotional help from professionals, many people still feel ashamed to go to a psychiatrist. Honestly, nothing comes before mental health, so if you need to take a break or are at a point where you need help from professionals, do not be afraid to get it. There is nothing wrong with it. As I have mentioned before, this will make you a better and happier person. It will also consequentially improve you as a teacher.

My final words

Perhaps I should have put this initially, but I felt that this is the best way to end this article. Most teachers suffering from anxiety that I have noticed is when they begin or hit a rough patch due to their students’ poor results.

For new teachers, my suggestion is not to worry too much. We are all afraid in the beginning because we want to ensure that we teach well to students, and it can be daunting to think of students judging you and your abilities. In the end, though, teaching is a skill which, like any other skill, will improve over time. Just stick with it a little bit longer. You will do well.

To the experienced teachers who have hit a rough patch, do not forget that you have had a positive impact on many students and that sometimes it is not your fault or even the students’ fault, to be honest. Academic grades are not everything, and they can depend on several factors. Remember how you have improved the students’ lives so far and focus on continuing that.

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This article was originally published on January 13, 2021 and was last updated on August 30, 2021.

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