Teachers play a huge role in our children’s lives. While most parents are painfully aware that their own stress affects their child, they rarely consider the effects if teachers’ stress. From the age of 5 to 18 children spend about 1000 hours, each year, in school. A recent report, from the Robert Johnson Foundation (RJF), reveals high levels of stress in the teaching profession and this is having a big impact on our children.
The causes of teachers’ stress
I come from a family of teachers and I have seen first hand that the job is stressful. Non-teaching family members like to joke that teaching is easy and all of those weeks of blissful vacation time cause career-envy. But anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows that teaching stressful. The RJF report describes four sources of stress for teachers:
- The organization of the school: It’s leadership, climate and culture have a big impact on stress levels.
- Job Demands: Constant monitoring and testing, dealing with difficult pupils and parents and relationships with other staff.
- Work Resources: Support and autonomy in decision-making. In many schools teachers have little say in how and what they teach. This was highlighted in the 2010 movie “Road to Nowhere”.
- Teachers’ personal resources and social-emotional competence: Training in stress management is rare.
The consequences of teacher stress
Being stressed has significant effects a teacher’s health and wellbeing, performance, absenteeism, job satisfaction and likelihood of staying in the job. It also affects attention, reactivity to events and emotional connection. Chronic stress is leading to teacher’s becoming disengaged, dissatisfied and burnt out. All of this trickles down to the pupils and has been found affect children academically, socially and emotionally. Stress and it’s effects are more pronounced in lower income areas, causing an increase in education inequality. The estimated cost to the US schools system of stress is $7 billion each year. I think you’ll agree it’s a serious problem.
The Robert Johnson Foundation report goes on to make recommendations for change with interventions at the organizational level, teacher level and at the interface between the two. Interventions showed to be beneficial include mentoring, mindfulness programs, workplace wellness programs and programs “focused on Student Behavior and Social and Emotional Learning” of students.
- Be empathic towards your child’s teachers and try and see things from their perspective. Treat them as you would want to be treated.
- Be a good role model to your child: teach them to respect and communicate with their teacher.
- If your child has a bad experience with a teacher, talk to them about it. Explain that teachers, just like all adults, get stressed. Only get involved when the situation really warrants it. Naturally your child’s health and wellbeing is a priority.
- Be an advocate for your child: give teachers information to help them understand your child. This is particularly important if your child has special needs. When a teacher is well informed they will feel more confident about meeting your child’s needs.
- Encourage your school board to adopt wellness, leadership and mindfulness initiatives for all staff.
Let’s hope the recommendations in this report are implemented. Not only will they make life more pleasant for teachers but they will have far reaching implications on the wellbeing and success of our children.