- Teachers and principals surveyed earlier this year were about twice as likely to report frequent job-related stress compared to other working adults, according to a newly released RAND Corp. report. Educators were also more likely to report burnout and symptoms of depression.
- However, more than two-thirds of educators reporting job-related stress said they’re coping well, and about two-thirds said they were unlikely to leave their jobs prior to the end of this school year. In follow-up interviews with RAND, respondents said tapping into positive school environments and strong relationships with peers helped during stressful moments.
- The report’s authors recommend reducing educators’ job-related stress by hiring additional staff for small group instruction. District leaders should also ensure that staff know about available mental health resources and address any barriers to educators’ accessing this help.
The RAND data confirms that teacher and principal well-being has been poor during the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as 85% of 1,540 surveyed principals and 73% of 2,360 teachers said they experience frequent job-related stress. By comparison, only 35% of other working adults said they felt the same way.
RAND’s findings back up past research illustrating a pattern of the pandemic’s toll on educators. In May 2021, K-12 employees reported higher levels of anxiety, stress and burnout compared with other government employees, according to a MissionSquare Research Institute survey.
As teacher stress mounted during the pandemic, so have ongoing teacher shortages. National Center for Education Statistics data shows 44% of public schools report full- or part-time teacher vacancies, based on a survey of 670 public schools released in March.
One week ago, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona shared how American Rescue Plan funding to support teachers can be sustained in the long term through existing federal allocations.
The Education Department released a fact sheet on June 9 outlining suggested strategies to address the teacher shortage by using Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title IV funds to add more mental health professionals in schools. It also recommends districts use Title I funds to provide financial incentives to recruit educators to work in schools serving a majority of low-income students.
By providing extra staffing to support teachers, there’s potential to find solutions that will improve teacher well-being, said Sy Doan, one of the RAND report authors. The report found a majority of educators who had mental health resources available to them could not take advantage of them, because they didn’t have time to do so during the school day.
“Addressing those staffing concerns first can help unlock the accessibility of these other adjacent resources that we can have out there to support educator well-being,” Doan said.
The report also found teachers and principals were more likely to experience poor well-being and feel less resilient in stressful situations when they experienced racial discrimination, faced exposure to school violence, or dealt with harassment over COVID-19 policies or instruction on race, racism and bias.
Where state laws censor classroom discussions on race, gender and divisive topics, it needs to be considered what kind of environment that creates for teachers and students, said Jacqueline Rodriguez, vice president of research, policy and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
“If we’re legislating against bringing your authentic self to school, if you’re a part of the LGBTQ community, if you are a part of a community of color and you cannot speak the truth and authentically about current events or history or about your community, then students cannot also feel like they can be themselves in school classrooms,” Rodriguez said.