Stressed-out teachers can lead to disruptive students, more suspensions

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Teaching is a stressful job. Just in case you weren’t convinced about that, a recent poll finds teaching is tied with nursing as the most stressful job in the United States. While it isn’t exactly breaking news that teaching can be stressful, a new study is adding an entirely new dimension to the problem of the country’s perpetually exhausted and stressed out educators.

Researchers from the University of Missouri say that stress felt by teachers can have a “trickle down effect” on their students. This unfortunately can lead to more disruptive behavior and more disciplinary measures, like suspensions.

The original idea for this study comes from Jennifer Lloyd, a high school English teacher by day and graduate student at UM by night. Lloyd noticed that her students often picked up on how she was feeling on a particularly stressful day and changed their own actions and attitudes accordingly.

“If I come into class from a rough meeting or a stressful morning and I bring those feelings into the classroom environment, the kids notice,” Lloyd explains in a university release. “Sometimes they will give that negative energy right back to me, and we all end up having a bad day.”

Family findings

The teacher’s experiences inspired her sister Colleen Eddy, a doctoral student at the MU College of Education, to investigate the relationship between teacher stress and student behavior. Together with a group of colleagues, Eddy passed out teacher surveys and held classroom observation sessions in nine local Missouri elementary schools.

That research reveals a compelling trend. When a teacher is feeling extra stressed out and emotionally exhausted, their students are more likely to be suspended or disciplined.

“Removing students from the classroom environment as a form of punishment can be really harmful, as research has shown it not only reduces student achievement but also increases the risk of dropout,” Eddy comments. “If we want to make schools a positive place for student learning, we first need to ensure it is a positive workplace for teachers. By giving teachers strategies to better manage disruptive student behavior, they will have more time for instruction and building those positive relationships with students.”

Helping adults cope will help children learn

Researchers believe teachers should have more stress support services available to them, as well as more educational resources in general. They also recommend that teachers try out some personal coping strategies, like taking time each day to reflect on what they’re grateful for.

“Teachers have the potential to impact the lives of so many students in their classrooms,” Eddy adds. “Therefore, supporting them with the skills they need in classroom management and stress management is really important because it will have a positive impact on their students in the long run.”

These findings serve as a sobering reminder that when teachers are juggling excessive work and minimal resources, it’s their students that end up suffering in the long run.

“The students have told me that it is so helpful to know they have someone who is in their corner and supporting them, and when students don’t have that, we have seen higher absence rates and lower assignment completion,” Lloyd says. “They don’t want to be engaged if they feel like no one in the building cares about them, so if they do feel cared for and supported in the school environment, they are much more likely to remain in school and be a part of the learning experience.”

Keeping educators in the classroom

Close to half of all new teachers end up switching careers within five years. So, it’s very clear that there is a big problem in the U.S. education system. This study’s authors believe providing teachers with a better support system will be a big part of fixing those issues.

“Our research is focused on identifying what we can shift in students’ environments to improve their learning and behavioral outcomes,” Eddy concludes. “Teachers are so important and their influence on students is immense. They are superstars and deserve all the support we can give them.”

The study appears in School Psychology Review.

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