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More than 9 in 10 elementary school teachers feel highly stressed, MU study finds

Research shows high stress classroom environments yield poor student performance and behavior

April 24, 2018

Story Contact(s):
Cailin Riley, rileyci@umsystem.edu, 573-882-4870

COLUMBIA, Mo. – One of the most important factors in ensuring student success is quality instruction by teachers. However, quality instruction can be a difficult goal if teachers do not have the resources to improve their skills and if rising levels of teacher stress go unchecked. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that high levels of job-related stress affect 93 percent of teachers, a greater percentage than previously thought. Classrooms with highly stressed teachers tend to have the poorest student outcomes, such as lower grades and frequent behavior problems.

“It’s no secret that teaching is a stressful profession,” said Keith Herman, professor in the MU College of Education. “However, when stress interferes with personal and emotional well-being at such a severe level, the relationships teachers have with students are likely to suffer, much like any relationship would in a high stress environment.”

Aside from training and general competence, one factor that can influence successful behavior interventions and classroom management is teacher stress and coping. Herman analyzed teacher profiles by level of stress, level of coping ability and the level of burnout the teacher felt. He found that teachers with low levels of stress and high coping ability are few and far between.

“It’s troubling that only 7 percent of teachers experience low stress and feel they are getting the support they need to adequately cope with the stressors of their job,” Herman said. “Even more concerning is that these patterns of teacher stress are related to students’ success in school, both academically and behaviorally. For example, classrooms with highly stressed teachers have more instances of disruptive behaviors and lower levels of prosocial behaviors.”

The researchers outline a few methods that might better support highly stressed teachers. Herman suggests that teachers have access to screening processes that can identify a need for more support to avoid further stress and burnout. Building initiatives and programs that promote mental health practices and overall health can be extremely beneficial for teachers. However, Herman says that focusing on individual coping strategies is just a start to fighting the broader social contexts that influence teacher stress.

“We as a society need to consider methods that create nurturing school environments not just for students, but for the adults who work there,” Herman said. “This could mean finding ways for administrators, peers and parents to have positive interactions with teachers, giving teachers the time and training to perform their jobs, and creating social networks of support so that teachers do not feel isolated.”

“Empirically derived profiles of teacher stress, burnout, self-efficacy, and coping and associated student outcomes,” was published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. Co-authors include Wendy M. Reinke, professor in the MU College of Education, and Jal’et Hickmon-Rosa, a doctoral student in the MU school psychology program. Funding for this study was provided by the Institute of Education Sciences.  

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