Stress not unique to teaching;Briefing;Research focus

26th March 1999 at 00:00
INTERNATIONAL studies show that about one-third of teachers regard their work as "stressful" or "extremely stressful". But a new study suggests that stress levels in teaching are much the same as in other professions.

This contradictory finding has emerged from a joint Scottish-Australian study which measured the stress felt by 332 vocational and further education teachers.

The sample was, however, atypical. Although the mean age of the teachers was 39 they had only three-and-a-half years' teaching experience on average.

The method used to measure stress was also unusual. Previous studies have been based on diary reports, self-report questionnaires and interviews. However, the authors of this report employed a standardised psychological scale, the Occupational Stress Inventory, which is used in other professional sectors.

Excessive workload was found to be a major cause of teacher stress in both countries. It was significantly higher than the average overload in other professions. This supports most other studies.

How teachers coped depended on personal resources. Women engaged more in personal activities that alleviate stress and were also more likely than men to give and take support from colleagues.

The tighter central control over teachers in Britain also appeared to add to Scottish stress. They were less clear than Australians about their role as professionals and their ability to make independent judgments, say the researchers, who are based at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Technology, Sidney.

The report concludes that teachers need environments where they can listen to and support each other. But heads are reminded that reducing workload and clarifying teachers' role are also crucial.

"Scottish and Australian teacher stress and strain: a comparative study", by RT Pithers and R Soden, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 68, pp 269-279

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