College of Education study shows 94% of middle school teachers highly stressed

The effects of high stress can be seen in teacher-student relations in the classroom.

A recent study from the College of Education shows that 94% of middle school teachers face high levels of stress, which can have negative effects on students. The study, “Profiles of middle school teacher stress and coping: Concurrent and prospective correlates”, followed both the stress and coping levels of middle school teachers.

Conducted in two neighboring school districts in the midwest, the study asked middle school teachers to rate both their stress and coping levels at various times of the school year. The teachers were then sorted into three different classifications based on their stress and coping combination.

The largest group was high stress/high coping with 66% of teachers falling into that category. Next largest was the high stress/low coping with 28% of teachers in that category, which the study showed had the largest adverse effects on students. The third and smallest group was low stress/high coping, with the final 6% of teachers in that category.

In addition to self-evaluation of stress and coping, the teachers rated the participating students on parent involvement, disruptive behavior and social skills. Evaluations were done in October and May of the school year. The teachers in the low stress/high coping classification had significantly higher parent involvement and student social skills when compared to the other classifications. There was no significant difference between the classes in terms of disruptive behaviors.

The schools involved in the studies had positive behavior support programs, according to MU professor Keith Herman, College of Education professor, who worked on the study.

“Districts implementing such an approach tend to take an inclusive approach to behavior management and keep students in the classroom,” Herman said. “Exclusionary discipline practices (discipline referrals, suspensions) are very clearly linked to negative student outcomes and thus nearly all districts are encouraged to find alternative approaches,” Herman said in an email.

Independent evaluators observed the classrooms four times throughout the year to take note of classroom behavior. What the observers focused on were reprimands and harsh reprimands. The study defined “reprimand” as a disapproving comment or gesture made in a normal speaking voice. A “harsh reprimand” is defined as the same as a reprimand but using “a voice louder than typical for setting or harsh, critical or sarcastic tone.”

Observers found that reprimands were given at a rate of .38/minute, meaning 22-23 per hour. Harsh reprimands were observed less frequently, at a rate of .003/minute, meaning .18/hour, or around 1 for a 6 to 7 hour school day. The classification of low stress/high coping was found to have used a significantly lower amount of harsh reprimands than the high stress/high coping group.

The study chose to observe reprimands and harsh reprimands due to those being more likely to happen under stress. In addition, the higher the frequency of the reprimands correlated to lower self-efficacy in teachers for classroom management, and led to higher burnout rates.

The final main data collection from the study was a depression screening at the beginning and end of the school year for students. The results showed a higher rate of depression among students with teachers that were classified as high stress/low coping versus the rate of depression among students with teachers that were classified as low stress/high coping.

Some of the teachers had a training program called CHAMPS to help with classroom management.

“Unfortunately, it is hit or miss whether teachers are exposed to these best practices during the academic preparation,” Herman said. “CHAMPS focuses on improving teacher classroom behavior management. It does not have a mindset component.”

Herman worked on a study in 2018 that focused on the stress of elementary school teachers in the same district and had similar findings. The 2018 study found that the elementary school students with teachers classified as high stress, high burnout, low coping had the poorest outcomes.

“Earlier is always better, but research shows that teachers can use these practices at any level and improve classroom climate and student outcomes,” Herman said.

Edited by Alex Fulton | afulton@themaneater.com

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