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Teachers stressed, 1 in 4 consider leaving job: 2021 report

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Educators in colleges and universities experience stress on a different level—most especially during the pandemic.

Globally, there is a need to support teachers. According to a recent report titled “Job-Related Stress Threatens the Teacher Supply,” teachers are in danger of leaving their jobs, thus leaving a void in teaching. “Perhaps as a result, one in four teachers were considering leaving their job by the end of the school year—more than in a typical pre-pandemic year and at a higher rate than employed adults (in the US),” the report stated.

Key Points at a Glance

  • One in four teachers are thinking of leaving their jobs, a report recommends institutions and policymakers to act immediately in creating a healthy working environment for educators.
  • Teacher turnover in the United States cost the country over
    $7 billion a year.
  • More than half (54 percent) of teachers are in strong agreement that teaching has become more difficult during the pandemic.
  • Teachers are experiencing low morale at 63 percent.

Way before the coronavirus pandemic, stress among teachers was already a hot topic. “Teaching is perceived as being a stressful occupation by a large number of its practitioners,” stated a study which looked into research source material published as early as in the 1930s.

Regardless of education level, teachers attend to their day-to-day functions with purpose. While they are, to a degree, prepared for what will happen during the day, there are factors outside of their control which might add to their stress. At the end of the day, teachers are usually mentally, physically, and sometimes, emotionally exhausted. After a few hours of sleep, they report back to school the following day. This practice, repeated over a long period of time, may result in the high rate of teacher turnover. In a 2016 brief by Pennsylvania State University, it stated that teacher turnover in the United States is costing the country over $7 billion per year        

faculty wellness research during pandemic survey

The document also highlighted four main sources of what causes the most stress for teachers.

First and foremost is the effectiveness and efficiency of the school’s organizational structure. Those in the position of leadership must help create a “collegial, supportive school environment.” In turn, teachers can accomplish their tasks better. A school’s position of influence on the scale of how it works with or relates to local government is also important. This helps create a “healthy school climate.”

Second, there is the need to prepare teachers for the very high level of work required of them. “Most teacher education and professional development programs currently do not prepare teachers for these kinds of job demands,” stated the brief. These demands range from students who need more attention to difficult parents.

Third, teachers need to be empowered with a sense of autonomy and given decision-making responsibilities. “Greater job control has been found to reduce the impact of stress on health in teachers,” stated the brief. In some cases, teachers are subjected to unrealistic work demands, and do not have a voice in drafting or influencing institutional policies.

Last, there is the issue of social and emotional competence. Educators are not exempted from the levels of stress that comes with dealing with students daily. Some institutions have not given thought to providing their educators with programs to help them cope with the stresses of teaching daily. Without programs that help educators manage their stress properly, the impact of stress on teachers’ work performance is evident in the quality of work students turn in. This is just one way of how teacher stress affects students. Among stressed teachers, undergoing cognitive behavior therapy is one recommendation. 

The COVID effect

In a profession that was already considered as highly stressful—46 percent of teachers in America reported high daily stress in 2013, tied with nurses for the highest rate among all occupational groups—the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has driven teachers’ stress to extraordinary levels.

teacher morale survey

Among other health and safety challenges brought about by the pandemic, issues of job security and, particularly, coping with new technology for education delivery are resulting in lower morale at work. Some teachers feel unappreciated for their work as well.

Faculty members also feel the struggle to cope with maintaining good mental health and being satisfied with their jobs. According to a Course Hero survey, 54 percent of educators are in “strong agreement” and 33 percent in “agreement” that teaching students has become more difficult during the pandemic. More than half of faculty members also share their frustration at institutional decisions (53 percent). Personal matters, like child care or finances, are also a concern for 57 percent of teachers. 

In terms of emotional health, 53 percent report experiencing “emotional drain,” and 52 percent report experiencing work-related stress or frustration.

Recommended solutions

According to the same survey, teachers are calling out for help from their respective institutions. Some suggestions include a salary increase (53 percent), modifications to teaching schedules (46 percent), better technology support (34 percent), and additional teaching assistant support (26 percent).

“The unknown of staying in remote teaching or going back to in-person [teaching is difficult]. [The expectations are] changing sometimes daily… I feel I cannot get a grip and plan for things one way or another,” a teacher was cited in the RAND report.

The study offered the following recommendations: 

  • Implement recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures in a way that allows teachers to focus on instruction
  • Collect data on teacher working conditions and links to well-being
  • Work with teachers and school leaders to design and implement a variety of mental health and wellness supports
  • Help teachers access care for their own children
  • Collaboratively develop clear policies for remote teaching and adopt technology standards for remote teaching equipment

Outside of focusing on students’ welfare in the context of remote learning or other campus matters, higher education institutions and local governments need to work hand-in-hand as well to provide teachers with a better working environment.

Data sources:

Steiner, E. (2021) Job-Related Stress Threatens the Teacher Supply. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-1.html

McIntyre, T. (1983) Teacher Stress and Burnout: A Review of Research Literature. Eastern Illinois University. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED236868.pdf

Donker, M. (2020, May 29) Teachers’ Emotional Exhaustion: Associations With Their Typical Use of and Implicit Attitudes Toward Emotion Regulation Strategies. Frontiers in psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7273523/

Sutcher, L. (2016, September 15) A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/coming-crisis-teaching

Teacher Stress and Health (2016, September). Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from https://www.prevention.psu.edu/uploads/files/rwjf430428-TeacherStress.pdf

Faculty Wellness and Careers (2020, November 18). Course Hero. Retrieved from https://www.coursehero.com/blog/faculty-wellness-research/ 

McNaughton-Cassill, M. (2017, June 2) Stress in the College Classroom: Not Just a Student Problem Anymore. The University of Texas at San Antonio. Retrieved from https://www.kpu.ca/sites/default/files/Transformative%20Dialogues/TD.10.2.9_McNaughton-Cassill_Stress_in_the_College_Classroom.pdf

Will, M. (2021, February 22) Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It’s Causing Some to Quit. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-stressed-out-and-its-causing-some-to-quit/2021/02

Will, M. (2021, January 6) As Teacher Morale Hits a New Low, Schools Look for Ways to Give Breaks, Restoration. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/as-teacher-morale-hits-a-new-low-schools-look-for-ways-to-give-breaks-restoration/2021/01



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