An Inside Look at Teacher Stress

An Inside Look at Teacher Stress

We asked readers if they feel teaching is increasingly stressful and did we get answers — almost 250 of them. Here are some of the most common responses we heard:

Why is teaching so stressful?

This won’t be a surprise to educators, but teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., according to numerous studies and surveys. Large class sizes, limited resources, unstable school administration, long hours, escalating job demands, and students with varying and complex needs can all contribute to teacher burnout. A 2017 American Federation of Teachers survey of more than 5,000 educators found that 61 percent describe their jobs as “often” or “always” stressful. Only 1 percent reported never feeling stressed.

High stress can lead teachers to leave the profession, call in sick frequently, be irritable in the classroom, and generally experience low morale, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And all those factors can negatively affect student behavior and learning, according to the report.

Are teachers under more stress now than they were 20 or 30 years ago?

Teaching has always been stressful, but many of the primary causes of stress — such as limited resources — are worsening in many districts. The AFT survey found a 20 percent increase in teachers reporting stress-related symptoms in just three years.

What can teachers do to relieve stress?

Teachers can take steps throughout the day to reduce stress levels and improve their overall mental health. Talking to colleagues, laughing with your students, stretching, beautifying your classroom, eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and frequently reminding yourself why you became a teacher can help you feel less frazzled, according to tips from Wayne State University. Some schools offer yoga and meditation for teachers. If your school has counselors, find time to talk to them. Getting involved in policy decisions at your school, attending school board meetings, talking to your administrators, and participating in your union or parent association may improve some aspects of your school’s working conditions.

How can students, parents, and administrators reduce stress for teachers?

Administrators can play a major role in reducing teacher stress, according to School Leaders Now. Here are a few tips to help build trust and good will:

  • Be transparent. Communicate clearly and often with teachers about expectations, changes in policy or staffing, and happenings within the district.
  • Give positive and useful feedback.
  • Listen to your teachers. Ask what their challenges are, and how you can best support them.
  • Give plenty of notice before observing a class.

For parents, the key is communication and support:

  • Donate classroom supplies.
  • Let the teacher know if your student is experiencing any unique hardships, such as a divorce or death in the family.
  • Volunteer in or out of the classroom.
  • Generally serve as a partner in a student’s education. Make sure students get to school on time, complete assignments, and prepare for tests.

For students, the way to make your teacher happy is pretty obvious. In fact, teachers have probably been saying it since kindergarten:

  • Be engaged.
  • Be on time and do your homework.
  • Listen.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Follow classroom rules.

How can school design play a role in reducing teacher stress?

School design, if done well, can improve stress levels for everyone on campus — even the whole community. Flexible, block schedules can be a big help because teachers can get to know individual students and develop relationships, work closely with other teachers, share resources, and have a little more time to explore the curriculum. Flexible scheduling may also result in smaller classes if resources are spread around accordingly.

Schools that emphasize student choice and voice can also help, because students are likely to be more invested in their learning experiences, and therefore more engaged in school. The results can be more rewarding for teachers, as well.

Schools that offer internships or partnerships with local businesses and community organizations can also help because more adults will be involved in a student’s education. That means more role models, more mentors, more support. And students tend to be more engaged in classwork if the curriculum ties to real-world learning experiences.

How can I learn more?

“Teacher Turnover: Why it matters and what we can do about it,” a report by the Learning Policy Institute, delves deeply into the topic of teacher stress and its impact on students.

“That’s a School Board Thing” explores how school boards — and the public — can promote innovative school designs, support teachers, and create schools that are catalysts for community improvement.

Learn the ins-and-outs of school design with XQ’s Knowledge Modules and other tools.