Teachers, principals in U.S. twice as likely to be stressed out as other workers

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Thank goodness for summer vacation. It’s much needed for teachers and principals across the U.S., who are twice as likely to suffer from stress as other workers, according to a new study.

Researchers with the RAND Corporation say that such is the scale of the problem among educators that it is hindering the pandemic recovery. They report that teachers in the United States are experiencing “frequent” job-related stress at a rate about twice that of the general population of working adults.

Well-being was reported as especially poor among female teachers and principals, mid-career teachers, and Hispanic teachers.

Researchers from the think tank conducted surveys in January of school teachers, principals and working adults. They asked about five aspects of well-being: frequent job-related stress, ability to cope with job-related stress, burnout, symptoms of depression, and resilience to stressful events.

Nearly half of the teachers agree that supporting students’ academic learning was one of their main sources of job-related stress. Staffing was a top source of stress for principals. Teachers of color and principals of color were also more likely to experience racial discrimination, according to the findings.

“Two-thirds of the teachers we interviewed reported taking on extra responsibilities during the pandemic like covering classes or taking additional students in their own classrooms as the result of staff shortages,” says study lead author Elizabeth Steiner, a policy researcher at RAND, in a statement. “Teachers told us that their dedication to working with students kept them in their jobs, even though pandemic conditions have made teaching more challenging. Teaching conditions – not the work of teaching itself – are what they find to be stressful.”

The findings suggest that access to employer-provided mental health support is linked to lower levels of job-related stress and higher levels of resilience for both principals and teachers. About one in five principals (20 percent) and just over a third of teachers (35 per cent) report that they did not have access to employer-provided mental health support or did not know whether they had such access.

“For many principals and teachers, available mental health supports were not helpful or convenient or were too limited to address their needs,” adds co-author Sy Doan, an associate policy researcher at RAND. “District leaders should avoid the appearance of treating wellness as a superficial or short-term problem and offer mental health and well-being supports tailored to educators’ needs.”

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.