The Disproportionate Stress Plaguing American Teachers
Unrealistic standards put educators on an anxiety-ridden trajectory.
“High levels of stress,” said a 2016 research brief by Pennsylvania State University, “are affecting teacher health and well-being, causing teacher burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and some of the highest turnover rates ever.” Does teacher stress affect students? "When teachers are highly stressed,” the authors noted, “children show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.” They identified, amidst other findings, that high turnover rates have been to linked to lower student-achievement and increased financials costs for schools.
Teacher burnout might be associated with student stress, suggested a Canadianstudy published in April. Researchers at the University of British Columbia retrieved saliva samples from several hundred students in grades four to seven and analyzed their cortisol levels, and they discovered that in classrooms where educators reported greater burnout, or emotional fatigue, the cortisol levels of the children were higher, according to a press release. “This suggests that stress contagion might be taking place in the classroom among students and their teachers,” said Eva Oberle, the lead author of the study.
American teachers, I recently discovered, report the most weekly hours of classroom instruction compared to their international counterparts—and given the lack of time during the school day for other essential things such as planning, assessing and collaboration, I assumed that the primary reason behind the high level of teacher stress was almost entirely time-related. But the more I looked into this question of why so many American teachers report high levels of stress, the clearer it seemed that an exceptionally full teaching schedule worked in tandem with another factor: an abundance of professional demands.
Last year, more than 30,000 teachers completed an online 80-question survey created by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association. The results showed, as covered by The Washington Post, that the majority of teachers reported high levels of stress and were “particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives—such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards—without being given adequate training.”
“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and, I’m dating myself here, Tony Soprano,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Washington Post, which emphasized that the survey’s findings weren’t scientific. “We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
Recently, a 25-year veteran U.S. teacher told Colorado Public Radio (CPR) he left Testing, Common Core Place Additional Stress on Teachers - The Atlantic: