Teachers’ mental health declining due to job stress, political discourse, survey finds

The growing stresses of teaching, coupled with the coarseness of the nation’s political debate, is taking a heavy toll on the mental health of teachers, according to a survey released Monday by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots organization focused on social justice.

Well over half of the educators surveyed – 58% – said their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the previous 30 days. That is up from 34% just two years ago.

The summary of the survey – titled “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey” – says safe, welcoming, healthy schools flourish when teachers and school staff are empowered by support and respect on the job.

“Educator working conditions have a direct effect on the learning environment of our students. Teaching is a difficult job, and working conditions are a strong predictor of teacher turnover — more so than other factors like teaching in a high-poverty school,” its says.

“Studies have shown that teachers in high-poverty schools with good, supportive working conditions are likely to stay. The people who know teachers best — those who are part of their school and local communities — respect them the most. There’s a large and growing body of research that shows that community engagement and collaborative practices in schools and districts improve student outcomes. We can ensure safe, welcoming, supportive learning environments for kids when communities, parents, educators and administrators work together to build supportive working environments for teachers and school staff.

“Fostering safe, welcoming environments in schools is even more critical in our current political climate. A study released by UCLA in October 2017 shows that since January’s presidential inauguration, high school teachers across the United States are reporting more stress, anxiety and bullying among their students than before.”

Randi Weingarten, AFT president, is quoted in USA Today as saying that over the past few years, teachers have swapped one kind of stress — an intense national focus on standardized skills tests — for another, the nastiness of our political debate.

“This notion that being coarse and tough and enabling hate is OK is highly, highly, highly disruptive and problematic in schools and goes completely against what parents and teachers know is absolutely important for kids, which is a safe and welcoming environment,” Weingarten said.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • The people who know teachers the best — parents, co-workers and students — showed much more respect for teachers than elected officials and media members, many of whom rarely set foot in a classroom.
  • While educators felt most respected by their colleagues, they also indicated that their direct supervisors showed them much more respect than their school boards, the media, elected officials and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (86 percent of respondents did not feel respected by DeVos).
  • While the majority of educators felt they had moderate to high control over basic decisions within their classroom, their level of influence and control dropped significantly on policy decisions that directly impact their classroom, such as setting discipline policy, setting performance standards and deciding how resources are spent. This lack of voice over important instructional decisions is a tangible example of the limited respect policymakers have for educators.
  • Policies that support healthy interactions in schools are tremendously important. The survey found that educators experience workplace bullying at a much higher rate — more that three times as high — than other workers. While most educators reported that their schools have workplace harassment policies prohibiting bullying, a smaller proportion of respondents said that their schools or districts offered regular training on bullying.
  • These and other factors contribute to an unhealthy work environment. Teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-recommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night.
  • The stressful workload, the feeling of having to be “always on,” the lack of resources, and the burden of ever-changing expectations take a toll on educators, and the health problems educators face are compounded by deficient building conditions, equipment and staff shortages, and insufficient time to prepare and collaborate with colleagues.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that strong educator unions are vital.

Read the USA Today summary:

Survey: Teachers’ mental health declining amid job stress

A long list of anxieties – around school budget cuts, bullying, coarse political discourse and the shaky status of immigrant students – is taking a toll on teachers, a new survey shows, with more educators now saying their mental health is suffering than just two years earlier.

Read the entire survey report:

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