Excessive workload and working hours are frequently cited by teachers as major sources of workplace stress. This advice explains how to deal with stress at work on a local level. How stressed out are teachers? According to a recent Gallup poll, teachers are tied with nurses for the most stressful job in America today. Unfortunately, that stress can have a negative impact on their students, resulting in disruptive behavior and student suspensions.
Jennifer Lloyd, a high school English teacher in Maryland and graduate student at the University of Missouri, is one of those overburdened teachers. She’s noticed how sensitive her students are to her mood and how they can feed off of her energy, for better or worse.
“If I come into class after a difficult meeting or a stressful morning and bring those feelings into the classroom environment, the kids notice,” Lloyd explained. “Sometimes they will return that negative energy to me, and we all end up having a bad day.”
Colleen Eddy, a doctoral student in the MU College of Education, and her colleagues with the Missouri Prevention Science Institute conducted teacher surveys and classroom observations in nine Missouri elementary schools to investigate the impact of teacher burnout on student behavior outcomes. They discovered that when teachers are overworked and emotionally exhausted, students in their classrooms are more likely to be suspended or disciplined by school administrators.
If I come into class after a difficult meeting or a stressful morning and bring those feelings into the classroom environment, the kids notice. Sometimes they will return that negative energy to me, and we all end up having a bad day.Jennifer Lloyd, a high school teacher
According to research, when teachers are stressed, the quality of their instruction, classroom management, and student relationships all suffer. And students are more stressed when their teachers are, which can have a negative impact on their academic performance and engagement.
According to a nationally representative survey conducted in July by the EdWeek Research Center, 60% of teachers say they experience job-related stress frequently or always. Only 9% say they never or rarely do. When asked how job-related stress affects them and their work, teachers frequently report that they have trouble sleeping, that they are less able to enjoy their free time with family or friends and that their physical health suffers.
“Removing students from the classroom environment as a form of punishment can be extremely harmful, as research has shown that it not only lowers student achievement but also increases the risk of dropout,” Eddy explained. “If we want to make schools a positive place for student learning, we must first make them a positive place for teachers to work. Teachers will have more time for instruction and building positive relationships with students if they are given strategies to better manage disruptive student behavior.”
Personal coping mechanisms, such as reflecting on things to be grateful for, as well as collaborating with school administrators to identify ways to reduce some of the demands placed on overburdened and under-supported teachers, are among the strategies for managing teacher stress.
“In their classrooms, teachers have the potential to impact the lives of so many students,” Eddy said. “As a result, providing them with the necessary skills in classroom management and stress management is critical because it will have a long-term positive impact on their students.”
As the sister of a teacher, Eddy has witnessed firsthand the impact Lloyd can have on her students’ long-term life paths. “Students have told me that it is so helpful to know they have someone in their corner and supporting them, and when students don’t have that, we have seen higher absenteeism and lower assignment completion,” Lloyd said. “They don’t want to be engaged if they think no one in the building cares about them, so if they feel cared for and supported in the school environment, they are much more likely to stay in school and participate in the learning experience.”
Given that nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, establishing a support system to help manage teacher stress can reduce teacher burnout and improve student outcomes.
“Our research is aimed at determining what we can change in students’ environments to improve their learning and behavioral outcomes,” Eddy explained. “Teachers are extremely important, and their influence on students is enormous. They are superstars who deserve every bit of help we can give them.”