Increased stress is worsening teacher shortages in the US

teacher looking stressed in classroom with pupils behaving badly
Image © SashaFoxWalters | iStock

Teacher shortages are worsening in the United States, largely due to stress and burnout. How can schools change this stressful culture?

While these findings are not particularly surprising, a new study in Psychology in the Schools demonstrates how teachers are becoming less able to cope with stress and are leaving the profession – contributing to large teacher shortages across the US.

Teachers’ increasing inability to cope with work stress has become a significant factor contributing to burnout, meaning they are more frequently reporting lower job satisfaction compared to teachers who find ways to manage the pressure.

Examining the role of coping as a moderator, researchers surveyed 2,300 teachers from Missouri and Oklahoma who were asked to rate how stressed they were at work, if they found ways to cope with work stress and how satisfied they were with their jobs.

Work stress can be a significant factor contributing to teacher burnout

The data demonstrated a serious negative correlation between stress and job satisfaction, and coping had a significant moderating effect. Increasing levels of stress had less of a negative impact on job satisfaction for teachers with high coping ratings compared to those with average or low coping ratings.

Systematic issues, such as low teacher pay, and overburdened teacher workloads, and even teacher shortages, are critical factors in teacher stress. The researchers highlight those authoritative figures such as school principals, district superintendents and school administrators need to all play a role in supporting stressed teachers who may be struggling to cope.

The development of coping skills could be beneficial to job satisfaction

Overall, the results note that the development of coping skills could be beneficial for mitigating the effects of stress on job satisfaction and reducing teacher shortages.

Seth Woods, a former doctoral student at MU, said: “In my 20 years as an educator, I’ve seen many great people leave the profession, unfortunately, and this research confirms that we need to start devoting more time and resources into helping teachers identify and adopt healthy coping mechanisms.

“Finding ways to mitigate teacher stress and investing in ways to help them cope with stress in positive manners will pay us back in not having to constantly hire and train new teachers all the time. In addition, retaining experienced teachers will likely benefit student achievement as well.”

What can be done help teachers cope better with stress?

The study highlights some positive, healthy coping mechanisms that can be quick and free for teachers to adopt to better their mental attitude and reduce teacher shortages.

One healthy coping mechanism includes stressed teachers writing and delivering a short letter of gratitude to a colleague they enjoy working with.

Keith Herman, who collaborated on this study and authored a book titled, “Stress Management for Teachers: A Proactive Guide,” said simple things like increasing positive interactions with students and peers, improving classroom management skills, and avoiding gossip at work can also help.

Herman noted: “Communicating with teachers about their concerns, demonstrating empathy and checking in on their health and well-being shows that you care. Our overall goal is to create school environments that allow teachers to thrive and give them the tools they need to be successful.”

Other recommendations1 for teacher stress includes:

  1. Assess your stress level
  2. Schedule time to respond to your stress
  3. Establish realistic goals
  4. Focus on what you can control
  5. Contact your colleagues for advice
  6. Participate in stress-relieving activities
  7. Prioritize your health, family time, and quality sleep
  8. Set yourself time every day to relax
  9. Determine your response to stressful situations


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