How Teacher Stress Affects Students

Sarah Sparks, writing for Education Week, reviews the research on teacher stress and how it can impact students. Excerpts of her piece appear below:

In one 2016 study, University of British Columbia researchers tracked the levels of stress hormones of more than 400 elementary students in different classes. They found teachers who reported higher levels of burnout had students with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol each morning, suggesting classroom tensions could be “contagious.”

So what makes a classroom normal for one teacher and stressful to another? University of Texas at Austin researchers, led by psychology professor Chris McCarthy, found that the answer depends on whether teachers feel they have the cognitive and other resources to meet their students’ needs.

The researchers used federal Schools and Staffing Survey data to create profiles of the “demands” on teachers, based on: their and their students’ background characteristics; whether their classes had high proportions of English-learners, students with disabilities, or students in poverty; and whether their racial group made up a minority of those in the school. They then compared those demands to teachers’ reported resources and whether the teachers felt they had autonomy in their classrooms. Teachers whose demands were greater than their perceived resources were only half as likely to say they would choose to become teachers again as were teachers who saw their demands and resources as balanced. Teachers who reported more resources than demands (a smaller group), were more than twice as likely as teachers with “balanced demands and resources” to say they would become teachers again and would return to their district next year.

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