Teachers Are Stressed, And That Should Stress Us All | KUOW News and Information

Teachers Are Stressed, And That Should Stress Us All

Dec 30, 2016
Originally published on December 31, 2016 9:01 am

We all experience stress at work, no matter the job. But for teachers, the work seems to be getting harder and the stress harder to shake.

A new report out this month pulls together some stark numbers on this:

Forty-six percent of teachers say they feel high daily stress. That's on par with nurses and physicians. And roughly half of teachers agree with this statement: "The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren't really worth it."

It's a problem for all of us — not just these unhappy teachers.

Here's why: "Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years," says Mark Greenberg, a professor of human development and psychology at Penn State.

And that turnover, he says, costs schools — and taxpayers — billions of dollars a year, while research (like this and this) suggests teacher burnout hurts student achievement, too.

Greenberg has studied America's schools for more than 40 years, and, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (also an NPR funder), he helped author the new brief exploring teacher stress.

He says teachers feel frazzled for many reasons, including high-stakes testing and the fact that many students are themselves coming to school stressed. As for the fixes, Greenberg recommends a few.

New teachers who receive steady mentoring are less likely to quit. Workplace wellness programs can also help. But both require schoolwide, even districtwide buy-in. If that's not realistic, Greenberg suggests a fix that is well within every teacher's control, one that just might surprise you ...

Mindfulness

That's right, mindfulness. For teachers. Patricia Jennings wrote the book on it (literally). It's called Mindfulness For Teachers.

Jennings was a teacher herself for two decades and now studies stress in the classroom as a professor and researcher at the University of Virginia. The Journal of Educational Psychology will soon publish a study of her work in New York City, teaching mindfulness to more than 200 educators in high-poverty schools.

Jennings says the teachers who received mindfulness training "showed reduced psychological distress and time urgency — which is this feeling like you don't have enough time. And then improvements in mindfulness and emotion regulation."

Translation: These teachers were better able to cope with classroom challenges and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students' big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.

What is mindfulness? Definitions vary, but Jennings likes to think of it this way: attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance.

If this all sounds a bit ... squishy, rest assured, there's even research on how mindfulness can help reduce stress in U.S. Marines preparing for deployment.

Meria Carstarphen is not a teacher but knows a thing or two about classroom stress. She has run a couple of big city school systems and is now superintendent in Atlanta. Carstarphen says she advises new teachers: You can't take care of your students if you don't take care of yourself.

"Put your oxygen mask on first," she tells her rookies. "Then we'll talk about everybody else."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to hear now about a problem a lot of us face, especially teachers. We're talking about workplace stress. Earlier this year in one national survey, roughly half of the nation's teachers agreed with the following statement, quote, "the stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren't really worth it." And that's a problem not just for them - teachers stress can hurt student learning and cost schools money. Cory Turner with the NPR Ed team reports on a new effort to help teachers keep calm and carry on.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: A recent Washington, D.C., symposium on teacher stress began with a joke.

MARK GREENBERG: A daughter said to her mother one day, I don't want to go to school.

TURNER: Mark Greenberg is at the podium, surrounded by caffeinating researchers, wonks and teachers.

GREENBERG: The kids don't like me very much. A lot of kids tease me, and they're not very nice to me. And I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything. And the mother said - well, honey, you have to go. You're the teacher.

TURNER: Greenberg is a professor of human development and psychology at Penn State. And he's studied America's schools for more than 40 years. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - also an NPR founder - Greenberg helped author a new brief exploring teacher stress.

GREENBERG: Teachers report the same level of high daily stress, 46 percent, as nurses and physicians in America.

TURNER: He says that stress is on the rise for lots of reasons, including high-stakes testing and students coming to school stressed. As a result...

GREENBERG: Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

TURNER: Greenberg says that should bother all of us. Turnover costs schools billions of dollars a year. And he points to research that's found teacher stress and burnout also hurt student achievement. As for potential fixes, one big one might surprise you.

PATRICIA JENNINGS: How people here have experience with mindfulness?

TURNER: Mindfulness - for teachers. Patricia Jennings wrote the book on it. Really - it's called "Mindfulness For Teachers." She was a classroom teacher for two decades and now studies stress in the classroom as a professor and researcher at the University of Virginia. The Journal of Educational Psychology will soon publish a study of her work in New York City teaching mindfulness to more than 200 teachers in high-poverty schools. In a nutshell...

JENNINGS: The teachers showed reduced psychological distress and time urgency, which is this feeling like you don't have enough time, and then improvements in mindfulness and emotion regulation.

TURNER: Translation - these teachers were better able to cope and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students' big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.

But what is mindfulness? Well, simply put, it's about attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance. I'm sure, to many of you out there listening right now, this all sounds a bit squishy. But there's even been research on how mindfulness can help reduce stress in Marines. Meria Carstarphen was also at that teacher stress symposium with Mark Greenberg. She's run a couple of big-city school systems and is now superintendent in Atlanta. Carstarphen tells all of her new teachers, you can't take care of your students if you don't take care of yourself.

MERIA CARSTARPHEN: The first thing I say is - put your oxygen mask on first, and then we'll talk about everybody else.

TURNER: Research shows that mentoring for new teachers also makes them less likely to quit. And workplace wellness programs can help, too. But those require school-wide, even district-wide buy-in. The one thing teachers can control is their own state of mind.

Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SBTRKT'S "RESOLUTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.