Tips for Reducing Stress in the Classroom by Laurel Pollard

As we practice lowering our stress, and as we get self-talk under control, we also want to make our work in the classroom as effective and efficient as possible. Here are some useful guidelines.

How Can We Work “Easier, not Harder”?

Many of us respond to our students’ needs by working HARDER.   This can lead to burnout.

How can we find ways to WORK EASIER, instead?

It’s terrifically useful to distinguish between Preparation and Planning.

ALTA English Publishers

Laurel’s definitions of Preparation vs. Planning

When we spend too much time on busy-work of PREPARATION, our time for PLANNING goes out the window. So look for activities that need little or no preparation.

How Can We Choose Activities That Will Make Our Teaching More Effective and Our Lives Easier?

These three criteria will help you choose activities to add to your teaching repertoire, replacing some activities that require a lot of prep time.

  1. BEST: Is this activity among the most effective to help students learn – and remember what they’ve learned?
  2. ZERO PREP: Does this ‘best’ activity require little or no teacher preparation time? When we replace some of our usual activities with ones that need no preparation, the time we save adds-up! Soon we realize that we have more time to PLAN, observe, facilitate, think, and breathe.
  3. ADAPTABLE: This ‘best’, zero prep activity, is it also adaptable? That is, can I use it again and again to teach different content at different levels? We can use these repeatable teaching strategies easily, in all our classes. (Jigsaw reading is one good example).

Once students have learned how to do an activity, they are not anxious about instructions, but can dive right into practicing the content.

And the more of these BEST, ZERO PREP, ADAPTABLE activities we have in our repertoire, the easier our teaching lives become!

How Can I Help Students Take Charge of Their Own Learning?

If you have been teaching for a while, you already have ways to do this. Here are a few more activities you can try.

Have students set their goals and choose their strategies. For example, see “I’m In Charge of My Own Learning” in Zero Prep Activities For All Levels (the book with the red zero)

Choose activities that have immediate feedback built right in. Both Zero Prep books have many such activities, including:

  • Dictacomps
  • Revision: I Can Do It Myself! 

Let students mark their own papers when possible. They get quicker feedback, they learn more from self-correction, and you have fewer papers to deal with!

In Zero Prep Activities for Beginners (the book with the gold zeroes) there are three of these types of activities:

  • Correcting Papers I:  Seek and Find
  • Correcting Papers II:  Paper Swap
  • Correcting Papers III:  Paper Pairs 

And from Zero Prep Activities for All Levels (the book with the red zero) see three “Homework Review” activities:

  • Seek and Find
  • Homework Pairs, and
  • Stand and Deliver 

Along with individual work, use cooperative activities. They allow teachers to be ‘onstage’ less because students, not the teacher, are doing the work. And engaged students remember more of what they learn.

In this video, I demonstrate one of these highly engaging activities for students at all levels:


Teaching, along with parenting, is society’s most important work. We cannot afford to lose good teachers to burnout. One beleaguered teacher had this to say:

“I got into teaching because I want to be useful, to make a difference. I soon discovered that there’s no end of need out there, and it’s no longer some hypothetical ‘out there’:  Out There is right here in front of me, class after class of students. The resources I need to help my students aren’t always there, and I don’t always get the administrative support I wish for.  So I work harder and harder.  There’s just not enough of me to go around. I don’t have enough time for my family, and I’m forgetting how to have fun.  Maybe I’m not good at this.”

I can still hear the frustration and discouragement in this teacher’s voice. As she learned that almost every teacher experiences burnout, that it tends to come in cycles, that it passes, and that we have it in our power to reduce and even eliminate burnout from our lives, this teacher decided not to leave the profession. As she put the techniques described above into practice, she found that she was teaching better and finding time to write books, become more active in professional organizations, plant a garden and do yoga regularly. She recovered the joy in teaching – and she even started hosting zero-preparation dinner parties!

That teacher was me. I have not experienced a burnout cycle in many years, and I do not think I ever will again. I hope some of these ideas will help you, too.  Choose the insights and practices that appeal to you most, and above all – please take good care of yourself. The world needs you relaxed, clear-thinking, creative, and happy.

We hope that this series on avoiding teaching burnout has been informative and helpful. Please leave your comments or questions in the box below. 

ALTA English Publishers, Inc.
Laurel Dancing!
Laurel Pollard has been a teacher for 40 years and is enjoying it more all the time. Her books include Creative Questions, Zero Prep Activities for All LevelsZero Prep Activities for Beginners, Now You’re Talking, WOW! Stories From Real Life (a low- beginning multi-skills reader), and Finding Family (a high-beginning textbook for teens and adults). She leads workshops all over the world for ESL/EFL teachers and mainstream content teachers.
Laurel shares perspectives and practical strategies that help teachers relax, reflect, and recover their teaching vision – and provide students with tools for success. Further information about Laurel can be found on her personal website



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  1. Derek Dewitt Reply

    A friend of mine is going to school to become a teacher, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about having replacing some activities with ones that require little prep time. I might recommend she try this at some point so she has more time to facilitate and observe like you said.

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