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How to Reduce Teacher Stress

Teacher stress
(Image credit: Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash)

Nearly one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs this summer according to a recent survey from the Rand Corporation.

“We found that teachers are experiencing frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression at far higher rates than the general adult population,” says Ashley Woo, an assistant policy researcher at RAND, and co-author of the report based on the survey.

The survey of more than 1,000 K-12 teachers on RAND’s American Teacher Panel, conducted earlier this year, found:

- Black educators were particularly likely to plan to leave the profession

- One in three teachers were responsible for the care of their children while teaching

- Mode of instruction and health were the highest-ranked stressors.

Teacher discontentment was far above what it had been previous to the pandemic when, on average, only one in six teachers said they planned on leaving the profession. However, Woo cautions that the survey only measured what teachers were thinking at a moment in time when coronavirus case numbers were higher and vaccination rates were much lower. 

Justina Schlund, senior director of content and field learning at CASEL, was not associated with the report but says it was a significant snapshot of teacher stress. 

“These findings highlight just how important it is for education leaders at all levels to pay close attention to ensuring working conditions and school climates fully support adults’ social, emotional, and mental wellness,” she says. “There’s lots of discussion right now about how to support students with the impact of the pandemic, and to most effectively support students, teachers need to feel supported, connected, and valued.” 

What School Leaders Can Do  

The report provided several recommendations for reducing teacher stress. These include:  

  • Implementing recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures
  • Using American Rescue Plan funds to provide mental health supports for staff
  • Providing access to childcare for educators by having state leaders include teachers in their essential worker designations
  • Developing clear policies for remote teaching and necessary training support if remote teaching is implemented on a long term basis 
  • Collecting data on teaching and well-being.

Some recommendations may be less pressing if the pandemic wanes this coming school year, but many are evergreen, including data collection. “We really encourage education leaders and policymakers to think about collecting data on the specific needs and challenges that their specific teacher populations are facing,” Woo says. She adds that school leaders should collaborate with teachers and learn from them. “We know that teachers might have different needs and desired supports based on who they are. Perhaps teachers of color have different needs for support than other teachers.” 

Schlund says school leaders should prioritize SEL for teachers. “We know from research that teachers are less likely to report burnout and have greater job satisfaction when they feel supported by their administrators, perceive a positive school climate, feel like they have voice and choice over instructional decisions, have resources and professional learning to support students’ SEL, and when they themselves strengthen their own social and emotional competencies,” she says. 

What Teachers Can Do  

For teachers, Schlund recommends three steps:  

  • “Set aside regular time to take stock of your needs. For example, by reflecting on your own social and emotional competencies, using a self-care inventory and plan, or recording feelings and reflections in a journal,” she says. “Build on these reflections by creating a plan for how to strengthen areas of growth or ensure self-care needs are met, then find a trusted colleague to check in regularly on each other’s plans.”
  • "Reconnect with why you teach and identify a group of supportive colleagues who want to collaborate and work together on shared goals. Even if your school doesn’t have formal structures set up for meaningful collaboration, you can use planning times to consult with each other on challenges, connect with mentors, or discuss helpful articles."
  • “Talk with your school administrator about the importance of schoolwide SEL for both students and adults, and ask what you can do to help bring SEL to your school,” Schlund says. “Many SEL initiatives have been started by one passionate teacher who sparked a schoolwide focus on SEL.” (This SEL informational slideshow can provide talking points for that conversation.)

 Woo’s research did not examine individual steps teachers can take, but she reiterates that teachers should voice their concerns and challenges to school leaders, and work with them to develop solutions. “That collaboration between education leaders and teachers themselves is something that we think is important for making sure that teacher needs are actually being met and being heard,” she says.  

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a journalist, author and educator. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.