61% Of Teachers Stressed Out, 58% Say Mental Health Is Not Good In New National Survey
61% of Teachers Stressed Out, 58% Say Mental Health Is Not Good in New National Survey
According to a recent survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a majority of teachers in America are experiencing high levels of stress at work. In fact, the number of teachers reporting poor mental health has significantly increased over the past two years. Experts warn that the consequences of this stress, both in terms of human resources and healthcare expenditure, could run into billions of dollars.
The survey, called the 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, gathered responses from nearly 5,000 teachers and school staff across the country. The results showed a significant rise in stress levels among educators since the last survey in 2015. In particular, 58 percent of the respondents reported having "not good" mental health for at least seven out of the previous 30 days. This number was only 34 percent two years ago.
Furthermore, 61 percent of teachers stated that their work was always or often stressful. More than half of the teachers admitted to feeling a decrease in their enthusiasm compared to when they first started teaching. They also reported experiencing poor health and being subjected to bullying at work, whether it be from superiors, colleagues, students, or parents. These rates were much higher compared to other professions. Additionally, the majority of teachers claimed to suffer from sleep deprivation.
AFT President Randi Weingarten expressed that the majority of teachers feel a lack of respect from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which has contributed to their growing demoralization over the past two years due to the harsh climate of national politics. Weingarten strongly believes that this negative environment is disrupting the safe and welcoming learning environment that parents and teachers know is crucial for children.
While some attribute the current administration as a source of teacher stress, one researcher named Mark Greenberg argues that the causes of this stress have been developing over several decades. He believes that there is a long-term issue regarding the investment in social capital. Greenberg states that despite investing significant resources in hiring teachers, the fact that many of them are leaving indicates that the system is flawed and not functioning properly.
Greenberg, who has written extensively on the causes and effects of teacher stress, identifies three main factors contributing to the mounting pressure on teachers: an increasing focus on standardized testing and accountability, unstable leadership within schools, and inadequate resources to address behavioral issues in the classroom. The common thread linking these factors is that teachers often feel excluded from decision-making processes that impact their schools.
Indeed, many respondents from the AFT survey indicated that they had little to no influence on matters such as academic standards, professional development, curriculum, school spending, and disciplinary policies. The issue of school discipline has emerged as a particularly contentious topic in recent years, as districts attempt to reduce student suspension rates by implementing alternative methods such as peer mediation and restorative justice. Teachers in various cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago, have voiced their frustrations, claiming that they no longer have control over their classrooms under the new guidelines.
Experts warn that feelings of helplessness among teachers have far-reaching and damaging effects. The teaching profession already faces significant turnover problems, with approximately 13 percent of educators either changing schools or leaving the profession each year. As teachers become increasingly exhausted, bullied, and disempowered, there is a growing sense of professional dissatisfaction that directly impacts student performance in subjects like math and English.
Not only do these effects harm academic outcomes, they also have severe financial implications for public education. Greenberg emphasizes that the costs associated with teacher stress extend beyond student outcomes. These costs include increased absenteeism, payment of substitute teachers, and higher healthcare expenses. Teachers under stress tend to use more medication, visit doctors more frequently, and take more sick leave.
Moreover, the constant turnover of teachers, which requires recruiting and training replacements at substantial costs, exacts the highest price. Richard Ingersoll, a researcher studying teacher retention at the University of Pennsylvania, estimates that teacher turnover costs states as much as $2.2 billion annually.
These costs have real consequences, as schools operate with fixed budgets. If a significant portion of these budgets is allocated towards teacher turnover expenses, healthcare costs, and substitute teacher payments, there is little room left for investments in curriculum and instruction.
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