Previous research has found teaching ranks poorly in job satisfaction, psychological well-being and physical health compared to other professions.
To further understand the impact of stress on teachers and their students, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) released a brief titled, “Teacher Stress and Burnout: The High Cost of Low Social and Emotional Development.”
“We know from research that the most important factor for students is the teacher in the classroom,” said Titilayo Tinubu Ali, co-author of the brief and senior advisor for research and policy at SEF. “Their well-being, their experience, their preparation and the tools that they can bring to the classroom.”
Between 1992 and 2005, the turnover rate among teachers increased from 5% to 8%. Since then, it has been stagnant—though teacher turnover rates are 70% higher at schools that largely serve students of color and 50% higher in Title I schools, according to the brief.
The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice are expected to heighten the turnovers. RAND Corporation discovered that 23% of teachers were likely to leave the profession by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. While nearly half of Black teachers reported the same.
Why are teachers choosing to leave?
In an American Federation of Teachers survey, 61% of 5,000 teacher and staff respondents described their jobs as “often” or “always” stressful.
In many cases, stress leads to teacher absences. According to U.S. Civil Rights Data, 29% of teachers missed 10 school days or more. Aiming to reduce the number of absences, some districts established monetary incentives.
Sabrina Jones, SEF’s 2021 Leadership for Educational Equity fellow and co-author of the brief, said these incentives do not address the “root cause” of absenteeism.
“What happens with those types of incentives is teachers start to not take off any days at all,” she added. “The days they would need to take off to recoup, they are being encouraged not to take off and being encouraged to not take time for themselves. It becomes just this atmosphere of stress inducing where you don't have time to rejuvenate from the stress.”
Other contributing factors include low pay, limited professional development opportunities, heavy workloads and school culture.
High turnover rates are costly to schools and districts. Replacements fees associated with training, recruitment and hiring range from $9,000 to over $20,000 depending on rural, suburban or urban district areas, according to the brief.
To improve work environments and reduce turnover rates, districts should provide opportunities for teachers to build on their social and emotional skills, the report said.
Components of social and emotional learning (SEL) are defined by Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learnings. The non-profit’s CASEL 5 model consists of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills.
“There has been a lot of necessary and important conversations about equipping students with the social and emotional skills to thrive as leaders and students,” said Ali. “But there has not been as much conversation around teachers and their needs.”
Students are more likely to exhibit disruptive behavior and go off task if their teacher lacks SEL. “Chaotic” classrooms are attributed to low-performance rates and student stress—which in turn leads to stress and burnout among teachers. Therefore, teachers equipped with SEL have the ability to better manage students’ behaviors, according to the brief.
Only one-third of teacher preparation programs use the CASEL 5 model. Currently, 13% offer at least one class on relationship skills and 6% include one on self-management. Only 1% provided a self-awareness course, the brief said.
Districts like Palm Beach County, Tulsa Public Schools and Atlanta Public Schools have started to implement SEL development. For example, Palm Beach County in Florida, created an online platform for teachers and staff to complete SEL asynchronous training modules.
The report suggested districts provide targeted SEL support to new teachers and reevaluate monetary attendance policies to ensure teachers are not discouraged from taking time off to address stress levels.
Hearing from teachers first-hand through surveys and discussions allows schools and districts to understand job-related stressors and target intervention methods. Teacher preparation programs can also cross list courses with psychology departments to include more SEL training, according to the brief.
Additionally, districts can utilize American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid to develop “evidence-based interventions” in order to meet the social, academic and emotional needs of students and provide professional development opportunities for teachers to manage their stress.
To create a more diverse teacher workforce, the funding can also go towards establishing partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“Research shows all students benefit from having diverse teachers in the classroom,” said Ali. “Not just students who identify with the identity of those teachers.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].