Posted on: October 6, 2019 at 12:45 pm

The teaching profession is unquestionably a stressful one. A study found that 83% of teacher’s felt stressed because of their jobs, and 32% declared themselves “very stressed.” Their stressors include changing education policies, inspection regimes, and behavior management, but the majority claimed the marking workload the bane of their existence. On top of that, many teachers face budget cuts and increasing class sizes. [1]

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For those who may think, ‘Teaching can’t be that hard; it’s not neurosurgery,’ teachers have tied with nurses for the most stressful occupations in America today.

Teacher Stress Defined

Stress means different things for different people. For teachers, signs of early stress and burnout include:

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  • Feeling irritated and inadequate when considering school
  • Headaches and insomnia
  • Social withdrawal or conflict
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Absences from school or the desire to miss school

Often teachers facing burnout are blamed for not coping well enough with the job pressures. This demoralizes an already underrated profession. Keep in mind that a mere 7% of educators reported low levels of stress. In fact, 50% of teachers state that they lack the enthusiasm for teaching with which they started.

Enthusiasm is often dampened when a person has to face a row of challenges each day. Teaching is more than explaining various subjects. The students themselves can create an onslaught of stressors like:

  • Hostility toward the teacher and other students
  • Noisiness
  • Lack of effort
  • Unpreparedness for class
  • Inattentiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Disregard for rules
  • Lack of interest in learning

Many teachers face strict school guidelines, leaving them with no say in academic standards, development, and curriculum, despite being present in the classroom and attuned to the students’ needs.

With their challenging duties, teachers have financial stress as a cherry on top. Many teachers are heavy in debt from their college education, since teachers are expected to get a master’s and bachelor’s degree. They are also required to supervise the cafeteria, buses, hallways, student committees, and conduct parent conferences, without any form of compensation for their time. [2] [3]

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How Do Teachers Respond to Stress?

  1. They downshift their responsibilities.
  2. They reframe their identities to roles outside of work.
  3. They quit.

“The reasons that so many leave the profession so quickly are not a mystery to us,” said Dr. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union. “When faced with impossible workloads, endless accountability, a testing culture run riot and flat or underfunded pay deals year after year, it is all too common for good teachers to leave the profession.” [4]

This option is a travesty to the education system and overall society. Teacher leave the education field at a significantly higher rate than in other jobs. The turnover of teachers also costs money that could be going to the curriculum and students.

It’s not healthy for burnt out teachers to stay either. Educators who are mentally and emotionally drained are disengaged from their students and often less effective at teaching. This affects their students and their grades. Apathetic teachers tend to miss more school, which also affects their classes’ development. [2]

There are many ways teachers could have the work environment — and salaries — they deserve. One school district came up with a creative solution, to at the very least address some of the problem.

The De-Stressing Classroom for Teachers

Ward Melville High School has created a wellness room for their teachers and staff to decompress during and after a busy workday. This “WellVille” classroom is a part of a wellness program for all the schools in the Three Village district. A classroom is transformed into the ultimate calming experience with soft lighting, soothing music, and comfortable chairs. It’s decorated with inspiring messages, an essential oil diffuser, a foot massager, salt lamps, and calm water sounds.

“I have always believed that if you have happy, healthy teachers, that trickles down to happy, healthy children — and guess who that trickles down to? Happy, healthy parents,” said Debbi Rakowsky, the district’s wellness social worker who wrote the program’s proposal and designed the space. She describes the room as “Pottery Barn meets spa.”

WellVille is not open to students but any school staff member can use it, including security guards and clerical workers, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

It’s not just a calming space; lunch and learn workshops are scheduled throughout the year on topics like nutrition and meditation. Plus Rakowsy, a certified and licensed social worker for 30 years, offers free appointments to anyone interested.

“Everyone is going through something, and if we can help support them here, that’s great,” said Rakowsky. 

Audra Cerruto, associate dean and director of graduate programs in the Division of Education at Molloy College, loves the idea of WellVille, especially its workshops to promote mental health.

“It is a treat to find an opportunity to de-stress in the moment, but really the core is providing strategies, ongoing training, ongoing education about the many different stressors we have as teachers,” she said.

Katie DeBella is a substitute teaching assistant who enjoyed a lunch workshop about nutrition in the wellness room. “Grounding yourself is so important during the day and we kind of lost that in today’s society, so it is really cool to have a place that brings that back.”

Alyssa Ward, who works in the attendance office, also enjoys the benefits of the new break room. “Honestly, it has been really helpful to me for stresses that come with the job and outside of the job… it is just a good space to go and relax.” [5]

Hopefully, spaces like WellVille will encourage other startup programs to help the plight of educators and help them love teaching as they did when they first began.

  1. John Roberts. Tes. Revealed: The seven biggest causes of teacher stress https://www.tes.com/news/revealed-seven-biggest-causes-teacher-stress November 22, 2018
  2. The Graide Network. The Epidemic of Teacher Stress. https://www.thegraidenetwork.com/blog-all/2018/8/1/crayons-and-cortisol-the-epidemic-of-teacher-stress September 4, 2018
  3. Teacher Stress: Causes, Stages, and Effects https://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi
  4. Jacquelyn P. Robinson CHE, Ed.D. Journal of Health Occupations Education. Mattha Busby. Teachers experience more stress than other workers, study shows https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/feb/25/teachers-experience-more-stress-than-other-workers-study-shows February 25, 2019
  5. Joie Tyrrell. Ward Melville High helps staff de-stress with relaxing music, soft lighting https://www.newsday.com/long-island/education/wellville-room-at-ward-melville-high-1.36899441 September 29, 2019
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Sarah Schafer
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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