How to Manage Stress for Teachers and School Staff (Now)

There is a dark reality that teachers and school staff face that is coming to light and cannot be ignored.

The stress levels teachers and school staff experience on a daily basis have never been higher. A recent poll shows that 46 percent of teachers report high stress every day, tying teaching with nursing as the most stressful occupation in the United States. 

Education Support’s chief executive, Sinéad McBrearty stated: 

  • “We are beyond ‘crisis’. We are in a state of distress.” If the situation continued, she warned, it would result in “burnt-out leaders on an industrial scale” and schools would face huge problems recruiting and retaining staff.

COVID-19 Has Spiked Stress, But It Was Always There

While COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated stress and overwhelm, mental health issues have been on the rise for teachers for quite some time. 

COVID-19 has brought a new awareness to these issues and it is clear that changes need to be made in schools in order to prevent detrimental damage to the wellness of teachers and their students.

A survey conducted in March 2020 by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with their colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning (CASEL), asked more than 5,000 teachers in the US about their emotional responses regarding COVID-19.

The survey found that the five most frequent emotions teachers were feeling every day since the eruption of COVID-19 were anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most common emotional response for teachers. 

A rise in anxiety since COVID-19 is understandable considering teachers are now learning how to balance managing their own families and their needs while also working full-time and learning how to use new technology from home. 

“My vision of finally having someone else take care of my own kids’ education, even virtually, was smashed to smithereens. This requires 100% parent involvement, actually 200% because my kids are in two different grades!” a teacher commented.

The Mental Health Issue Prior to COVID-19

Teacher-stress-during-COVID-19-and-before-at-record-levelsDespite the rise in stress and anxiety due to the global pandemic, these have been challenges for those in education for far too long.

In 2017, a similar survey was conducted in order to get a feel for teacher’s emotions regarding their work environment. More than 5,000 teachers responded and the top five emotions were frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and happy. 

The teachers who were surveyed also reported that they felt the frustration and stress were mainly due to feeling unsupported by their administration when it came to having the resources they needed to meet the learning needs of their students, high stakes testing, a turbulent curriculum, and lack of work/life balance. 

It has also been found that 30 percent of teachers end up abandoning their teaching professions altogether within their first five years.

If that isn’t enough evidence, almost 75 percent of teachers and 84 percent of school leaders consider themselves to be “stressed”. 49 percent of professionals in education report that their workplace has a negative influence on their mental health. 

“Overwork has become normalized. Education professionals don’t feel trusted,” said Sinead McBrearty, the chief executive of Education Support, a charity that provides mental health support to education professionals. “They are almost twice as anxious as the general population. That’s a measure of how harsh our accountability systems are and the way in which accountability in education is so reductive. This report has to be a very loud wake-up call for all concerned.”

Stress Impacts Teachers & Students

With the high levels of stress and anxiety that teachers are feeling, it is inevitable that this will end up impacting students poorly. This creates a vicious cycle of stressed-out teachers, which can negatively influence the students in classrooms, causing the students to act out and suffer from poor mental health, resulting in even more stress for the teachers. 

  • “We know that `{`the`}` performance of anyone in any job is compromised by stress and poor wellbeing.“ Said McBrearty. “We are going to see that in our classrooms. As it is, 10 million children are spending a significant amount of time every year in high-stress environments – and that is going to affect them.”

Factors Leading to Stress

Important factors that cause stress in teachers, from most stressful to least stressful, when considering student behavior include: 

  • Hostility towards the teacher
  • Inattention during class
  • Noisiness
  • Lack of effort in class
  • Unpreparedness for class

  • Hyperactivity
  • Disregard for school rules
  • Damage to school property
  • Hostility toward other students
  • Lack of interest in learning

While these behaviors can be very anxiety-inducing for teachers, it is common for students suffering with mental health issues to act out or find themselves disengaged in the classroom.

One in five children have, or will have, a serious mental health illness during their lifetime. When teachers don’t have the knowledge or resources they need to work with these students, it not only increases teacher’s stress levels, but hurts student performance and allows their condition to go ignored. 

Why Emotion Management Matters

Stress-impacting-teachers-and-students-at-all-levelsWhen emotions run high in the classroom, the impact can be destructive. If the teacher is not equipped with the knowledge and resources to manage their emotions properly, this could hurt their own well-being, along with that of their students. The better teachers are in control of their own emotions, the more it allows them to be mindful of the students and to manage their classrooms effectively. 

Emotions, essentially, impact all aspects of learning, including attention and memory, which can influence the rate of learning. Emotions such as joy and curiosity encourage engagement and catch the student’s attention, while emotions like anxiety and fear disrupt concentration and problem-solving. 

Teachers who are not aware of how to effectively manage stress decrease their ability to educate their students properly. 

Emotions also play an important role in decision-making. Overwhelm, anxiety, and frustration can block our ability to make wise, rational decisions. As teachers, this can hurt the learning progress of students and even create an unsafe classroom environment. 

It is vital that teachers know how to manage their emotions in the classroom because they can also impact relationships, health and well-being, and performance. 

With the right tools, teachers could be prepared and understand how to address their emotions and manage them safely while maintaining a healthy relationship with their students. 

Administrators Need to Take Responsibility for Teachers and Students

To create real change within the school system and address the mental health issues that teachers and students are facing, school administrators must step up. 

Keith Herman, a professor in the MU College of Education, said, “Administrators set the tone in their building for how teachers are perceived and supported. Prioritizing teacher well-being and giving higher rates of recognition and positive feedback to teachers versus criticism and judgment helps set a positive tone.” 

Making the well-being of teachers a priority and providing them with the proper programs and resources they need to be successful is a start to creating healthier classroom environments for both the teachers and students. 

Solutions to Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Research has shown that there are effective ways to combat stress and anxiety for teachers. In order to tackle this issue, it is important to understand how to identify what stress looks like so that it can be caught early on and managed.

Symptoms of Stress

According to Teri Wood and Chris McCarthy, both researchers, symptoms of stress include the following:

  • Feelings of irritation and inadequacy when thinking about school
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and insomnia
  • Withdrawal from colleagues or conflicts with colleagues
  • Difficulty concentrating at work
  • Absences or the desire to miss school

Road to Recovery

Research has also shown that in order to effectively manage stress and anxiety, both teachers and administrators must possess developed emotional skills including the “ability to recognize emotions accurately, understand their causes and consequences, label them precisely, express them comfortably and regulate them effectively”.

It is also imperative that administrators understand how teachers want to feel in order to design effective support programs and provide the necessary resources. A survey shows that teachers reported wanting to feel happy, inspired, valued, supported, effective, and respected. 

The current situation presents an opportunity for administrators to work with teachers to improve the emotional environment of schools and the learning outcomes of students. 

While The Graide Network offers many ways in which school or district leaders can provide support to their teachers and staff, here are four solutions to consider.

Student Mental Health Certifications

20 percent of students are diagnosed with a mental health condition and suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 34. Despite these facts, 70 percent of students with a mental health disorder do not receive proper treatment. Part of this is likely due to teachers who are not equipped with the proper training and resources they need to be effective.

Part of the reason for the stress teachers feel is they do not feel properly prepared to be able to help students with mental health issues – or identify them early on – and almost no teachers have sufficient training in mental health disorders. Knowledge in this area can truly empower teachers to help their students.

Teachers, staff, and administrators should consider completing additional training to become a Student Mental Health Specialist (SMHS) or getting a Student Mental Health Certificate (SMHC). 

Mental health issues plague students, and these certifications are essential in that they equip teachers and staff with the tools they need to provide support and resources to families and students in order to enhance their school experience, safety, and learning outcomes. 

In a survey involving 10,000 school administrators and special education directors in school districts nationwide, it was discovered that 81 percent of teenagers with anxiety responded positively to teacher intervention. 71 percent of teens experienced improved test scores after experiencing teacher engagement and 85 percent of teenagers with ADHD improved academically after treatment. 

The number of students who suffer from mental health issues takes a toll on teachers, leaving them feeling helpless and frustrated. However, a training program offers teachers access to best practices and current research so they can gain the confidence and credibility they need to identify students who might be struggling with mental health and improve their learning environment.

Learn about mental health certifications for your school today

Support Programs

Support programs, including workshops, are an effective way to address mental health issues in schools while creating a space where teachers and staff feel seen and heard. 

Unfortunately, only three states require schools to provide support to new teachers following their first year, but giving teachers orientation, guidance, and mentoring has been a proven solution to “lower attrition rates, increase teacher satisfaction, and boost student test scores.” 

These support programs can include teacher mentorship, constructive communication with administrators, time management, and team building opportunities. 

Wellness Programs

Implementing a wellness program into your school can be a useful way to create a healthier environment and sense of well-being for teachers. These programs also have the opportunity to save schools money by cutting down on medical costs and teacher absences. 

In one school district, a wellness program led 46 percent of the employees to lower their body mass index, 34 percent to lower their blood pressure, and 38 percent to lower cholesterol.”

This led to the employees having lower medical claims payments, which resulted in a savings of three times the cost of the wellness program making the investment well worth it.

Emotional Learning Programs

Social and emotional learning programs (SEL) are beneficial in that they help teachers understand how to manage students more effectively in the classroom. This can result in higher confidence levels and lower stress rates.

Implementation of Solutions is Essential

To combat the stress and anxiety teachers experience, it will take effort and due diligence, but solutions do exist. 

It is time for school leaders and administrators to step forward and realize the weight that their future actions will have on both the well-being of teachers and students. What administrators decide to do will significantly impact the future of our school system along with the lives of everyone involved. 

It is important to recognize that for teachers to be able to best help their students they need to be able to first take care of themselves. 

They also need to be empowered to both recognize and address the mental health issues in their students. This helps them to feel more in control of their own situation and helps their students, helping to both reduce teacher turnover and make classrooms a better place for students.

Learn more about student mental health certifications

Or fill out the form below to get in touch for certification for your school.

Learn More About Student Mental Health Certification Options

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