A new survey revealed that U.S. teachers and principals report having twice the stress of adults in other professions. Teachers said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated their stress levels as they dealt with staffing shortages and remote learning. Also, low educator salaries and unruly student behavior increased their job-related stress.
The RAND Corporation conducted surveys of public school teachers, principals, and other working adults in January 2022. 2,360 teachers and 1,540 principals who work in kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools participated in the research.
The nonprofit research organization asked questions about five aspects of well-being in the survey. These included frequency of job-related stress, ability to cope with stress, burnout, depression symptoms, and resilience to distressing situations.
Why Teachers Have More Stress Than Other Workers
About half of the teachers surveyed said their primary source of stress included addressing students’ interrupted learning during the pandemic. Other significant contributors to job-related stress included managing student behavior and assuming additional workloads amid staffing shortages.
“Two-thirds of the teachers we interviewed reported taking on extra responsibilities during the pandemic like covering classes or taking additional students in their own classrooms as the result of staff shortages,” said Elizabeth D. Steiner, the report’s lead author, and a RAND policy researcher, in a press release.
“Teachers told us that their dedication to working with students kept them in their jobs, even though pandemic conditions have made teaching more challenging. ‘Teaching conditions, not the work of teaching itself’ are what they find to be stressful.”
In addition, teachers had concerns about meager salaries and their student’s mental health. Steiner said teachers reported struggling with depression more than other professionals. They also had more difficulty coping with job-related stress compared to other workers.
Principals reported staffing shortages and the well-being of educators as their most significant sources of stress. They worried about teachers being out sick and whether they could hire enough teachers. The survey revealed that teachers and principals of color, mid-career teachers, and female educators had exceptionally elevated stress levels.
The researchers suggested that mid-career and female teachers reported higher stress levels due to balancing work responsibilities with raising families. For teachers and principals of color, racial discrimination contributed significantly to job-related stress levels.
For instance, the report revealed that 40% of Black principals felt people had different standards for them compared to their peers. 30% of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander educators said some people thought they weren’t United States natives because of their race.
The Impact of Teacher Stress on Students
Teachers and principals who experience poor well-being due to adverse working conditions are likelier to leave their jobs. However, those in supportive school environments have improved mental health and less desire to seek other employment.
Poor mental health among teachers can negatively impact students and school districts alike. First, teachers under immense stress may take more sick days or lack engagement with students. Inconsistent teaching makes the school environment less conducive to learning, and students may fall behind.
Also, students who have physically and mentally absent teachers may receive inadequate feedback on assignments. They may also have less challenging tasks, impacting their desire to learn. If teachers aren’t engaged in the classroom, students may feel bored and tune out during lectures.
Finally, teachers may decide to leave their jobs if they cannot cope with mounting pressures. Another American Psychological Association (APA) study found that about 50% of educators surveyed planned to quit or transfer schools. They cited physical and verbal violence as their main reason for wanting to resign.
The RAND report reported similar findings – teachers who felt incapable of coping with job-related stress expressed a greater desire to resign. Steiner added that not all teachers who say they want to leave their jobs quit, though.
However, for those who do leave, it creates a ripple effect in the school environment. Teacher termination impacts the morale of students and staff, making learning more difficult for students.
Teachers Need More Support
The survey findings suggest that employer-provided mental health support could reduce teachers’ stress levels. Also, better emotional support might increase resiliency and morale among staff members.
Unfortunately, about 20% of principals and 35% of educators said their employers did not provide access to mental health services. Others didn’t know whether these supports were available to them.
“For many principals and teachers, available mental health supports were not helpful or convenient or were too limited to address their needs,” said Sy Doan, coauthor and an associate policy researcher at RAND. “District leaders should avoid the appearance of treating wellness as a superficial or short-term problem and offer mental health and well-being supports tailored to educators’ needs.”
Even though teachers reported frequent job-related tension and mental health concerns, many still enjoyed their jobs. Most educators also reported having adequate coping skills to handle the pressures of teaching.
To reduce stress levels, some staff members reported wanting to focus more on their core job responsibilities of instructing students. They also expressed interest in fostering positive adult relationships with other educators.
The survey authors recommended district leaders expand tutoring programs, invest in summer school, and hire additional staff to alleviate job-related stress among educators. In addition, they suggested making mental health a priority and ensuring staff members have access to treatment options.
Final Thoughts on Study Showing Teachers’ Stress Levels Twice That of Other Workers
It’s no secret that American educators have highly demanding jobs that don’t pay nearly enough. However, most educators don’t get into the field for money. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they want to ensure students have a bright future. Unfortunately, even the most dedicated educators can crack under the insane pressure of teaching in the modern world.
A survey by the RAND Corporation found that some teachers want to leave the profession due to safety concerns and inadequate pay. The pandemic also caused an upheaval in the education system, and some teachers had trouble adjusting to virtual learning. Staffing shortages also burdened remaining teachers with more work, negatively affecting their mental health.
Despite these complaints, many teachers still reported finding fulfillment in their work. Hopefully, having better access to mental health services and more significant support from fellow teachers will help ease educators’ concerns.