Coping With the Stress of Teaching
The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 50% of teachers leave their profession within five years. One-third of teachers do not expect to continue teaching in public schools for more than three years, and teachers who work in an urban setting experience burnout 50% faster than teachers who teach in outlying areas.
Those are some startling statistics which are, unfortunately, only rising. The question is not why teachers leave the profession—high stress, average pay, demanding standards over which they have little to no control—but what can be done to help.
Causes of Stress in Teaching
- Larger classroom sizes: Bigger classes are harder to control, limiting the type of activities teachers can do during the day. Losing control means less teaching and less teaching means less student progress.
- Constant curriculum changes: Curriculum changes mean new lesson plans and new resources and different supplies, all of which take time. While it is a wonderful concept to change up the curriculum, it requires a huge amount of work and planning for teachers.
- Lack of administrative support: Many teachers feel like they have little to no support from the administration when dealing with disruptive students, demanding parents, and high standards for student performance.
- Lack of funding: Many teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, books, and resources necessary for out-of-the-box activities to reinforce lessons.
- Constant planning: Most teachers arrive early in the morning, teach all day and then stay until late afternoon grading and planning. Once they arrive home, the work continues as they strive to present engaging lessons the next day and to stay on top of grading.
Help for Depression and Anxiety
Learning to identify the signs of depression and anxiety in teachers can go a long way toward encouraging them to seek help. Most administrators do not know the signs and have no resources ready to assist a struggling teacher.
- Educate the administration, staff, and teachers on what to look for in depression:
Change in performance
Withdrawal from co-workers
Tardiness and absenteeism
Decreased interest in work
Overly emotional reactions
- Have open discussions and express genuine concern for those who are struggling can often bring great relief.
- Providing and encouraging regular exercise.
- Bring in someone who is trained in relaxation exercises to lead the teachers in strategies to deal with burn-out.
- Listen to calming music.
- Slow the curriculum changes and policy changes.
- Help teachers find ways to decrease the grading load.
- Enlist teacher feedback on changes that would create a more positive culture within the school for them.
Mental health is largely undiscussed and hidden among teachers as they feel the pressure to be “on” all the time. Teachers should not feel stigmatized when they take their sick days, mental health days, or a leave of absence. Self-care has become a hot topic right now, but it is essential for teachers who deal with stresses all day, many of which they cannot control, to practice ongoing self-care.
When your job is to take care of students and by extension their families, it is critical to set boundaries on how long you will work in a day. Find the ways that you can reduce the stress that you feel through activities that refresh you and unapologetically seek help when you need it.