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Middle school teachers face very high levels of stress

Researchers say strategies need to be implemented to help these professionals

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With many teachers looking to leave their profession after less than a decade, and many citing high stress levels, the results from a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia shouldn’t be all that surprising for consumers. 

The study revealed that middle school teachers have higher than normal stress levels, which experts attribute to the myriad of changes students experience at this period of adolescence. However, many teachers are left to deal with the repercussions of such stress levels by themselves. 

“Many studies of teacher stress have used samples from elementary schools,” said researcher Keith Herman. “However, middle school is a particularly important time in students’ lives as they transition from elementary school and have many different teachers. It’s critical that we understand how stress impacts middle school teachers so we can find ways to support them.” 

Assessing stress levels

To determine middle school teachers’ stress levels, the researchers assessed three primary measures using a combination of classroom observation and teacher questionnaires. 

The first step was having the teachers complete surveys that allowed them to rank their stress and how successful they felt they were coping with it. Student behavior was the second part of the study; the researchers observed students during the course of a school day and then had the teachers reflect on their experiences. The last component was interactions with parents, which the teachers self-reported on in a questionnaire. 

Overall, nearly 95 percent of the middle school teachers reported feeling high levels of stress. 

While this is concerning because of how quickly teachers seem to be leaving their jobs, the researchers are also concerned because many of the teachers involved in this study reported not feeling confident in their coping skills. Just six percent of the 102 teachers involved in the study achieved the optimal balance, which is low stress levels with successful coping skills. 

“The evidence is clear that teacher stress is related to student stress, so it is critical that we find ways to reduce stressful school environments while also helping teachers cope with the demands of their jobs,” said Herman. 

Improving conditions

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings prompt school districts to follow the lead of other workplaces that offer their employees health and wellness services. 

Having that outlet could be a valuable tool that promotes better overall mental and physical health and helps teachers ease their stress levels . 

“There are research-based tools that can help screen and identify teachers who might be at risk for problems with stress, coping, and the risk of burnout,” said Herman. “...It is imperative that district and school leaders emaine policies and practices that make the job less burdensome while also supporting teacher well-being.” 

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