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Understanding and reducing teacher stress

Posted by Hlengiwe Zwane on 23 July 2021 12:00 PM SAST
Hlengiwe Zwane photo

Article by Rachael Thompson 

Teaching is one of the most valuable and important jobs out there, but it can also be one of the most stressful jobs. Striking a balance between teaching, lesson planning, marking homework and counseling students can be challenging for many teachers. Stress is inevitable, but it’s essential to learn how to improve teachers’ mental health to help them cope with stressors. 

Why is it important to support your teachers? Studies have found that stress is linked to physical ailments such as asthma, heart disease and migraines. Mentally healthy teachers mean better attendance. 

Studies show that 28% of teachers are ‘chronically absent’ meaning they miss more than 10 school days a year due to stress-related illness. Only 2% of teachers report they are not suffering from on-the-job stress. It is clear something needs to change. Let's take a closer look at alleviating teacher stress and fostering an environment where mental health is prioritised and supported every day. 

Let’s start by unpacking the following topics and questions in more detail: 

  • What does teacher mental health mean for your school? 
  • How can stress present itself in different stages of a career? 
  • What more can be done to improve teachers’ mental health?

So what does teacher mental health mean for your school?
Prioritising teacher wellness is vital to your school, your students, and the community as a whole. Research has shown that high-stress environments harm many aspects of everyday life, compromising overall health, sleep, quality of life, and teachers’ performance. The bottom line is that when teachers are highly stressed, they show lower social adjustment levels and academic performance. 

Student-teacher and student-parent relationships can be compromised and staff turnover is high.To provide students with a learning environment where they feel supported and able to reach their full potential, we must first support the teachers who educate them.

How can stress present itself in different stages of a career
While it is difficult to generalise stress, it is typically caused by some of the following primary factors throughout a teachers career:

  • Classroom environment
  • Lack of funding and resources
  • Student behavior
  • Meeting needs of diverse populations
  • Inconsistent and changing teacher evaluation systems

While external factors are specific to an individual, there are some defining moments in a teacher’s career where causes of stress can also change:

  • Beginning: Worries of re-employment and survival on the job
  • Mid-career: Experiencing difficulty with work-life balance
  • Veteran: Changing curriculums, pedagogy and uncertainty of innovations

But just how can schools begin to support teachers and alleviate the amount of stress they are put under? 
As with any job, there will always be factors both inside and outside of our control. However, there are some solutions for both teachers and school leadership to mitigate the impact of on-the-job stressors.

Solutions for teachers:

  • Build a network of confidantes, mentors and supportive friends
  • Be part of a team or professional learning community
  • Be a life-long learner: read, attend workshops, take classes
  • Make a list of stressors and try to identify solutions

Solutions for leadership and administrators:

  • Build trusting relationships
  • Set a positive tone and model positive interactions and communications
  • Provide support for classroom management and discipline
  • Advocate for improved funding, professional development, supervision, and evaluation systems.

What more can be done to support and improve teachers’ mental health?
One of the most impactful ways to support your school community is to align both leadership and teachers with the knowledge, training, and tools they need to support themselves, each other, students and the school community. 

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