Nearly all middle school teachers are highly stressed, MU study finds
Education experts suggest findings indicate a need to reduce burden of teaching
Credit: University of Missouri
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Hormonal changes, different schools, more teachers and changing expectations are just some of the challenges families face when a child enters middle school. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri have found that 94% of middle school teachers experience high levels of stress, which could contribute to negative outcomes for students. Researchers say that reducing the burden of teaching experienced by so many teachers is critical to improve student success — both academically and behaviorally.
The new study, which expands on work looking at stress among elementary school teachers, provides additional evidence that teacher stress might lead to negative outcomes for students.
“Many studies of teacher stress have used samples from elementary schools,” said Keith Herman, professor in the MU College of Education. “However, middle school is a particularly important time in students’ lives as they transition from elementary school and have many different teachers. It’s critical that we understand how stress impacts middle school teachers so we can find ways to support them.”
Herman, along with fellow MU researchers Wendy Reinke, Sara Prewett, Colleen Eddy and Alyson Savale, studied data collected from nine middle schools in two neighboring urban school districts in the Midwest. Factors that went into the analysis included self-reported levels of teacher stress and coping, student disruptive and prosocial behavior, and parent involvement.
The researchers found that nearly all teachers reported high stress. They also found that teachers varied in how they coped with stress.
The largest group, 66%, reported high stress and high coping.
Nearly one-third of the participants, 28%, reported high stress and low coping.
Only 6% of middle school teachers reported low levels of stress and high coping ability.
“Unfortunately our findings suggest many teachers are not getting the support they need to adequately cope with the stressors of their job,” Herman said. “The evidence is clear that teacher stress is related to student success, so it is critical that we find ways to reduce stressful school environments while also helping teachers cope with the demands of their jobs.”
Herman suggests that school districts provide access to initiatives and programs that promote mental health to improve conditions for middle school teachers. This can include wellness programs, organizational support for teachers and mental health interventions.
“There are research-based tools that can help screen and identify teachers who might be at risk for problems with stress, coping and the risk of burnout,” Herman said. “Knowing what we know about how teacher stress can impact students, it is imperative that district and school leaders examine policies and practices that make the job less burdensome while also supporting teacher well-being.
“Profiles of middle school teacher stress and coping: concurrent and prospective correlates,” was published in the Journal of School Psychology. The research is a product of the Missouri Prevention Science Institute, directed by Herman and Reinke. Funding for this study was provided by the Institute of Education Sciences.
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