Stress Reduction Tactics Could Ease Teaching’s Burdens

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A professional development program on mindfulness administered by the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education has found that educators who used stress-reducing practices increased their skills to contend with the requirements of teaching.

In New York City, public school teachers who engaged in "Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education" (CARE) increased their sense of well-being and improved their classroom's environment.

"Today, many teachers are not well-prepared for the social and emotional demands of the classroom," Patricia "Tish" Jennings, associate professor and lead researcher on the study, said. "While spending a great amount of cognitive energy on the content of their lessons, teachers are also constantly managing a classroom of students, some of whom have difficulty attending to learning activities, sitting still or getting along with their peers."

Every teacher knows that these issues increase stress, anxiety and cause sleep problems, depression, and emotional exhaustion. But a difference can be made by knowing and using the tools necessary to deal with such an emotionally demanding workplace, writes Phys.Org's Audrey Breen.

Over this school year, 224 teachers from 36 city elementary schools took part in five six-hour classes. Between the classroom sessions, each teacher was given individualized phone-coaching by way of two 30-minute calls in the course of two weeks.

The content of the instruction included training in non-judgmental awareness, emotion skills instruction, caring and listening practices for the promotion of compassion and empathy. Other skills taught aremindfulness/stress reduction and self-regulation of attention,

Stefani Cox, writing for Big Think, says that everyone acknowledges that teaching is demanding work. But teaching students has many components including time management, preparing lesson plans, behavior management, and emotionally supporting learners.

Recently in Beaumont, Texas, a 63-year-old teacher slapped one of her pupils several times. When students reported the incident, they said that this was an irregular action for the teacher. The youngsters declared that she was a "really nice person." Could this have been an example of a stress-related reaction?

Many teachers in a national study of thousands of educators said they felt as if they were not trusted to do their job properly, but were expected to do more and more. It is not surprising that teachers' stress levels can affect students in negative ways.

In today's educational curricula, social and emotional training for students is being discussed more often in learning reform circles. The CARE study shows that such training is just as valuable for teachers, according to Nicole Gorman of Education World.

And from Chris McCarthy, a professor and associate chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, and Paul Fitchett, an associate professor of education at the University of North Carolina, writing for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, is another take on relieving stress.

The writers say that at a recent conference in Canada, they visited the Montreal Biosphere. The site contains different habitats under the same roof. First, they were in a tropical region with alligators, and next they were traipsing through the Artic watching penguins. The interesting part of the experience, they noted, was how important it is for each animal to have the habitat that keeps them healthy and happy.

They thought of the recent headlines announcing teacher shortages across the country and wondered if school buildings have that same sort of impact.

"Teachers and students all share the same building, but each classroom is a unique environment."

When viewing school buildings as biospheres with different classroom ecologies, the analogy begins to make sense. And the differences in class environments, say the scientists, can cause teachers to be stressed.

Research based on information from the National Center for Education Statistics showed strong links between teacher perceptions of their classroom demands and their health within their occupation. In simple terms, the way teachers perceive their workplace affects their job mobility.

Teacher pay is crucial, but is still only a portion of the story. Administrators, the general public, parents, and lawmakers need to understand that every teacher's workplace reality can cause them to be successful or make them suffer from burnout.

The writers suggest that teachers be assessed on their psychological and emotional status. If principals are forewarned, they could identify at-risk teachers and develop policies to eliminate stressful conditions and make the school environment better. For teachers, it could mean improved dispositions, better retention, and esprit de corps.

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