How to Cope in Caretaking

May 17, 2016 | Health and Safety

Very useful and practical advice on how to avoid job related stress – by a School Caretaker of 12 years 

1) Have respect for your Headteacher or Business Manager. You may not agree with their policies and way of working. Show them respect for their position in the school and be friendly. This approach should gain you a good working relationship. Make it clear that you care for the school, the children and your colleagues and that you will do your best and work hard in your role. Going in to school everyday and being at war with the Headteacher is a battle you will almost certainly lose.

2) As the caretaker, you will often be bombarded on a daily basis with requests from all members of staff to do this and that. It can often feel overwhelming, especially if you are one of life’s pleasers and don’t like saying no. But sometimes you simply have to for your own sake. Politely inform the individual that you are currently busy with other tasks and cannot attend to their request at this moment in time. And this leads to the next point…….

3) Prioritise your work. Sometimes, emergencies arise and you have to attend immediately. Sometimes, jobs are so trivial they can wait until a school shuts down period. And then there’s everything in between. Keep track of what you have to do during a day, or a week, and keep to your schedule as much as possible. Don’t let the job swamp you and end up with so many jobs on the go at once you become overwhelmed.

4) Have a reporting method for staff maintenance requests. Don’t allow staff to stop you in corridors with the phrase “can you just…” or similar. Unless it is an emergency which cannot wait, all job requests should be made in an orderly manner and viewed at a time convenient to you. This will allow you to structure your workload. Again, verbal requests in passing can become overwhelming. Insist staff email, or record in a book, all job requests. Inform then, again politely, all requests made casually in passing will not be actioned.

5) Ensure you have boundaries between your work life and home life. This is VERY important, especially for caretakers who live within the school grounds. It is very, very easy over time to blur the boundaries between home and work. You may start popping in during your off duty time to carry out a little job or two. You may work beyond your finish time. You may go in on a weekend, just to do a bit of painting etc etc. Don’t allow that to happen. Yes, sometimes an emergency will arise and you may need to work late from time to time. But don’t allow it to become a habit. Most other workers drive home from work each day, but those of us who live onsite can’t do that. So when you are off duty, turn off your school phone. You may even choose to not answer your front door during the school day.

6) Try and have a back up plan in place. In all schools, the caretaker has essential jobs they must do each day. The most basic of these is to open the premises and lock the premises; basic but essential. And then there are a whole host of other things that you do each day that MUST happen to ensure the smooth running of the school. You may usually do these things day in, day out without batting an eyelid. But when you start to feel overly stressed, the burden of this responsibility falling on your shoulders can increase the stress. You may have a trustworthy teacher and a local maintenance man acting as keyholders. Document all the essential daily tasks and give it to the maintenance man. So if you ever start to feel overwhelmed at school, or too ill to come in, you have a back up in place. The peace of mind knowing you have options and that it doesn’t all rest on your shoulders reduces stress.

7) Have at least one main hobby outside school. Make you sure you have at least one hobby or interest away from school that you can absorb yourself in. Dog walking, running, going to football, model making, music, cars, reading…anything that helps you to switch off and forget school. If you live on site  you see your place of work ever time you leave the house. Subconsciously, over a period of time, this can also wear you down. Being able to ‘switch school off’ so to speak is again essential.

8) Care for yourself first. Most caretakers are caring by nature, otherwise you wouldn’t be in the job. But, you have to ensure that you are cared for first before you can look after other people or other things. If you have a crash and your life ends up on hold, you can’t care for others. So make sure you get enough rest, make sure you aren’t skipping meals, make sure you can relax and unwind…and then worry about the everything else once you are sorted.