Stress & Strain in the Classroom

Stress is a bitter part of any job. Even a job that is not stressful can cause stress from boredom. Teaching can be a stressful occupation as teachers have to deal with many unique individuals with distinct personalities. This post will look at stress, how people deal with it, and the types of negative stress.

Stress & Strain

Stress is the physical and emotional responses people have to various aspects and experiences within their environment. Stress can be harmful, which we call distress, or it can be positive, called eustress. Examples of distress in the classroom can include disruptive students, marking assignments, or dealing with parents. Examples of eustress can include working with engaged students, developing new teaching methods, and learning something new to share with students.

When teachers experience stress, it can lead to something called strain. Strain is the damage inflicted on a person because of stress. In other words, strain is the cumulative effect of stress. It is not one or two stressful moments that wear a teacher down but rather the stress over time.

Stress is pervasive in a classroom as dealing with young people generally is. However, no two people handle stress the same way. Some strive in a stressful environment while others struggle tremendously. One person’s classroom of chaos is another person’s classroom of collaboration. However, there is a model of how people respond to stress.

General Adaptation Syndrome

General adaptation syndrome is the name for the steps people take to deal with stress. The three steps are…

  1. Alarm
  2. Resistance
  3. Exhausation 

Alarm is the initial response to stress and is often known as the “fight or flight” experience. In the classroom, this can be a teacher reacting to students arguing over something. Step two is resistance and is how a person tries to return to a state of equilibrium. For example, when the teacher notices the arguing, the intervening to break up the fighting and get everyone back on task. Lastly, exhaustion results from experiencing the first two steps and represents the long-term effects of stress such as illness or high blood pressure.

Types of Negative Stress

There is positive and negative stress. Under negative stress, there are also two types, which are frustration and anxiety. Frustration is a person’s reaction to not being able to achieve a goal. For example, a teacher is excited about teaching a new concept or idea to the students, only for the students to be completely disruptive. Since the teacher cannot teach, it is probably that frustration will set in that can lead to exhaustion or, worst.

Anxiety is a sense of helpless to rise to the challenge of a stressful situation. For example, if a class gets out of control, a teacher may experience anxiety as they have no idea how to handle that current situation. Anxiety can also happen in a novel situation. For example, an experienced teacher may suffer anxiety when dealing with their first special needs child or a challenging child.


Even though stress is a reality for a teacher, it does not have to take and lead to discouragement. Understanding what stress is and how it manifests itself is one practical way to deal with this enemy of teaching.

Leave a Reply