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Feeling Mentally Balanced When There is a Teaching Shortage

Even in the best of times, teaching is a stressful profession. In 2014, a report called “State of American Schools” said that 46% of teachers reported that they suffered high levels of stress every school day—the same percentage as nurses. If that statistic does not bother you, it should; undue stress on teachers is equal to medical professionals!

Many teachers are leaving education because of stress and burnout. Others go because their salaries are not keeping pace with the cost of living. Meanwhile, new graduates are not entering the profession in sufficient numbers. The lack of incoming teachers creates a shortage of teachers, increasing pressure on remaining teachers, administrators, and other school employees. 

Some schools deal with staff shortages by increasing online learning or increasing class sizes, creating added work and stress on teachers. Let’s explore the primary sources of stress and ways to reduce them. 

Main Sources of Stress

We can identify five primary sources of stress in the school environment. These five factors affect all who are involved in education.

1. The Demands of the Job

School staff naturally worry about the quality of the education they provide their students. Prep times are being cut short or taken away so that teachers can cover their colleagues during absences since substitute teachers are becoming more difficult to find.

2. Lack of Quality Leadership

A school must be led by people who have a clear vision of education for their school, communicate these ideas to all staff, and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal. If there is a lack of support or resources, teachers will be frustrated and look for a school with better leadership. 

3. Poor Culture

If staff feel that they are working in isolation, stress levels will rise. It is important to build team ethos for each grade level, subject, etc. If all staff members feel united as a team, there will be less stress and a more balanced mentality. 

4. Lack of School/District Standards

Closely related to “Culture,” each school should have clearly-defined standards and aims. These standards will help everyone in the school community, including students.

5. Disorganization

All staff members and students should understand how the school functions. Everyone should know who is responsible for what, and when overlapping occurs, it should be on a short-term basis. 

Maintaining Mental Balance

We have to accept that the teaching profession will never be stress-free. A certain level of pressure is a good thing as it keeps everyone on their toes. However, teachers, administrators, and educators need to find a position where they are working their best but not suffering from too much stress.

Stress affects performance, and poor performance increases stress. This is a vicious circle that we must avoid. Stress levels will be lower in a time of staff shortages if the school controls the five causes mentioned above. Even so, hard-worked staff might benefit from:

  • Mindfulness/Stress Management Programs. Generally, mindfulness courses help staff identify the source of their stress and teach them how to reduce the effects. These courses can be beneficial for some, but they are not everyone’s cup of tea.
  • Teacher/Substitute Meetings. Your school might like to organize an informal get-together where staff members can talk over their problems. Substitute teachers often feel isolated from the rest of the staff. The organizer should encourage them to participate, almost like a networking night for meeting teachers and substitutes.
  • Encourage Hobbies. Any activity that switches staff focus after hours allows them to concentrate on something other than their profession, helping to reduce daily stress. 
  • Mentoring. A school might implement a mentor system that lets staff members talk over their problems with another staff member. These can be particularly helpful for new teachers but will benefit even veteran teachers. These programs are a way of institutionalizing the tried and trusted “letting off steam” chats with a friend. 

Wrapping Up

Stress is part of the teaching profession, and certain stress levels are not necessarily bad. However, getting overly stressed will reduce your effectiveness and cause considerable distress in and out of the classroom. Stressors maybe even more common during teaching shortages. The school district and administrators need to recognize this and do all they can to reduce the stress educators face. Being mentally balanced will make you a better teacher and help you “last” as a teacher for years to come.

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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