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Most Teachers Report High Levels of Stress, Study Finds

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Most teachers experience high levels of burnout and stress—and that may be affecting their students' achievement, a recent study found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri and published in Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, measured the levels of stress, burnout, and coping abilities of 121 teachers at elementary schools in a Midwestern school district, as well as the effects of teacher stress and coping on student outcomes.

The results are particularly interesting given that teachers in several states have recently walked out of their classes to fight for higher pay and better working conditions—issues that undoubtedly impact stress levels.

For this study, each teacher completed self-report measures on their levels of burnout, stress, efficacy, and coping, answering questions like, "How stressful is your job?" and "How well are you coping with the stress of your job right now?" on a scale of zero to 10. Teachers reported their students' behavior by filling out checklists for each of their students, while students themselves completed a standardized test to gauge academic achievement.

Almost all of the teachers—93 percent—reported high stress levels, while only 7 percent were categorized as "well-adjusted." The teachers who reported the highest levels of stress and lowest levels of coping were also associated with the worst student outcomes, which included lower math scores and higher disruptive behaviors.

This corroborates several other recent studies that found that when teachers are stressed, their students' well-being and achievement tend to decline. 

While the study didn't explore the factors affecting high teacher stress, a similar survey released by the American Federation of Teachers and the advocacy group the Badass Teachers Association offers a few explanations. The 2017 AFT/BAT survey found that teachers find their work stressful 61 percent of the time, as compared to the general public, which found work stressful 30 percent of the time. The survey pointed to several factors that could have influenced these high levels of teacher stress, including high rates of workplace bullying, limited influence in administrative decisions, and a lack of respect from the media and elected officials.

How can schools address teacher stress? The University of Missouri study suggested screening teachers to find those most in need of support, equipping educators with stress-management and coping skills, and fostering positive environments in schools.

A recent Education Week Teacher special report explored the benefits of instilling social-emotional competencies in classroom teachers. In one piece from the series, my colleague Madeline Will noted, "As schools across the country put more of a focus on social-emotional learning for their students, experts have come to realize that teachers' social-emotional competencies, especially their stress-management skills and their ability to regulate their emotions, are a vital piece of that puzzle."

Photo by caio_triana.

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