Surveyed in January and February, public school teachers said they are almost twice as likely to experience frequent job-related stress as the general employed adult population and almost three times as likely to experience depressive symptoms as the general adult population.
“Teacher stress was a concern prior to the pandemic and may have only become worse. The experiences of teachers who were considering leaving at the time of our survey were similar in many ways to those of teachers who left the profession because of the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Steiner, lead author of the report and a RAND policy researcher. “This raises the concern that more teachers may decide to quit this year than in past years if nothing is done to address challenging working conditions and support teacher well-being.”
Among the stressors in teachers’ workday:
A mismatch between actual and preferred mode of instruction
A lack of administrator and technical support
Frequent technical issues with remote teaching
A lack of implementation of COVID-19 safety measures. Stressors relating to mode of instruction and health were ranked most highly by teachers surveyed.
Adding to the challenges: Nearly a third of teachers had to take care of their own children while teaching. “Given that some pandemic-era stressors, such as remote teaching, might be here to stay, we think district and school leaders can support teachers’ well-being by understanding current working conditions and their need for a more supportive and flexible work environment,” said Ashley Woo, co-author and an assistant policy researcher at RAND.
Among the report’s recommendations to schools to alleviate teacher stress:
Implement COVID-19 mitigation measures in a way that allows teachers to focus on instruction and offset worries about their health
Collect data about the mental health and well-being needs of teachers to understand the sources of teacher distress in their school communities while also working together to design and implement mental health and wellness supports
Help teachers access child care
Develop clear policies for remote teaching and adopting technology standards for remote teaching equipment
In its analysis of turnover in K-12 education, the National Center for Education Statistics found 8% of teachers move schools each year, while another 8% flee the profession altogether. On average, a school will lose 3 out of every 20 teachers.
Turnover is higher among young teachers and those assigned to high-poverty schools. According to the Learning Policy Institute, attrition is highest in the South and Southwest, and lowest in the Northeast.
Despite bleak survey findings during the pandemic, researchers in teacher retention and recruitment say it will take a year or two to discern whether COVID fueled an exodus from classrooms.
“Everything I have seen on this is anecdotal, or conjecture, or for specific school districts,” said noted researcher Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania. “I know of no national data on this. Typically, such large data surveys take a year or two to get released.”
In its 2019 series, “The Teacher Shortage Is Real, Large and Growing, and Worse Than We Thought,” the Economic Policy Institute noted the United States is seeing falling enrollments in teacher prep programs. From the 2008-2009 to 2015-2016 school years, there was a 15.4% drop in the number of education degrees awarded and a 27.4% drop in the number of people who completed a teacher preparation program.
We are seeing that locally. For example, Gwinnett County Schools said this week that its struggles to fill vacancies reflect fewer people coming out of teacher ed programs rather than a surge in staff resignations.