Stress is a bit like energy. It cannot be destroyed. Only changed from one state to another.
I had the joy many years ago of working in a call centre for a year. And, it was an interesting year. A year of selling car and home insurance. A year of breaks timed to the second. A year of having my life controlled by a flashing box. I didn’t enjoy the experience.
The whole call centre experience made me see people in a different light. I had people being rude and vile towards me. I had phones slammed down on me. I had people be snide to me. I had people talk down to me. The funny thing is that the people called the telephone line to get a quote for insurance. I didn’t call them. They called me (well, the company), yet they still treated me as if I was the verbal equivalent of being a punch bag.
The telephone conversation was something else. It was an opportunity to take their stress and convert it to something else. Anger at someone on the end of the line. I’d say, in the modern age, we become used to this idea of transferring our anger and stress to the person on the other side of the line.
We all get stressed at some point, but it is how we deal with stress that’s important.
We are now, for me, entering a difficult period for teachers. The time with Year 11s is dwindling and our fear for their results is rising. At this point of the year, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves: am I transferring my stress to my students? It’s a simple question, but one we need to ask occasionally to keep things at bay.
Year 11s are generally stressed and worried about their exams and future. They might not show it in the ways we expect them to show stress, because they are teenagers and they are still working out how things work in their minds. They mess about. They are rude. They don’t listen to instructions. All because they don’t know what is going on in their minds.
At a time when they need order, calmness and reassurance, we often create more stress, because we are stressed. Stress cannot be destroyed. Only changed. We transform our stress to the students’ stress. And they absorb some of it. They listen to their friends and possibly absorb some of their stress. Then, go home and listen to more stress from their parents.
In the call centre, I had to take a lot of this stress from people. I knew it wasn’t me that was the problem and I also knew that I didn’t have the time to explore their deeply rooted psychological problems. I let them get it out of their system verbally and then spoke to them quietly and calmly. Often, by the end of the conversation they were calm and pleasant.
We’ve all been in a difficult situation and it is the voice of authority, calm and reason that helps us in a situation. A doctor in medical emergency. A paramedic in an accident. Not the people panicking.
We need to be the rudder for students at the moment. Our fears must be our fears. We can convey our concerns and highlight issues, but our fears are our emotional baggage to deal with and not something we should share with students. They need a rudder. Something solid, reliable and reassuring to guide them. Our job at the moment is to point them in the right direction. Add our emotions and we can guarantee that the line isn’t so straight.
So, whether it is SATs, GCSEs or A-levels, we need to be mindful of our fears and worries. We need to be careful about what we convey to the students.
Thanks for reading,