Why do teachers feel stressed? Often, it’s simply put down to "the job" – a line that commonly emerges from surveys and anecdote.
But such a broad diagnosis is unhelpful: it leaves you no route within teaching to destress, and it is also inaccurate.
So let’s delve deeper: what does cause teacher stress?
The causes of teacher stress
A 2017 study by Rubenstein, Eberly, Lee and Mitchell shows that personal stress levels are less of a factor in your decision to leave your job than your perceptions of your line manager and the general level of morale in your team.
In schools where high stress levels are the norm, I’m afraid to say that your personal state matters less. Stress levels across your team act to mediate how you feel, and this is especially true when you’re expected to work extra hours, invest a lot emotionally and maintain a high level of performance.
In other words, the feeling that we’re "all in it together" is usually enough to fend off the more pernicious effects of stress – without that feeling, stress will likely be shared among everyone.
Of course, this does not mean that your personal levels of stress aren’t important – they certainly are – but this is more likely to adversely affect your performance, rather than how likely you are to quit.
2. Your role
Fulfilling and well-designed jobs are key to reducing stress.
It is certainly the case that some job characteristics contribute to stress, so if you’re trying to reduce this consider:
- Is there enough freedom to get on with the job?
- Is feedback provided on specific tasks and does it improve performance?
- Is there a wide enough variety of tasks and skills required to do the job?
- Are tasks easily defined and is it clear when they’re complete?
- Are tasks significant and do they matter to other people, not just your staff but your pupils and other stakeholders?
If your answer is "no" to any of these, it could mean that you are not getting enough feedback and autonomy. You need to feel your job is meaningful and see results, and it is the responsibility of leaders to help staff see this.
Perceptions of how valuable a role is are also an important predictor of turnover. "Who doesn’t think that teachers do a brilliant job?" you might wonder, but this misses the point. Jobs that are perceived to be of poor value, are going nowhere, or are meaningless, drive people away.
Senior leaders, including governors, can provide the big-picture narrative that draws out individual contributions to the wider team or long-term strategy.
The old adage that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, is not just a business catchphrase.
A lack of satisfaction and commitment to what a school is trying to achieve will increase the likelihood of staff leaving.
Although it is currently trendy to talk about wellbeing, it is the individual’s responsibility to keep fit, eat healthily and get enough sleep. The key for leaders is to sustain or improve job satisfaction.
Leaders can achieve this by:
- Walking the talk and being a role model.
- Communicating their vision to inspire and motivate others.
- Challenging and stretch their team.
- Caring personally and figuring out what makes their team "tick".
- Set clear expectations about performance and reinforce them consistently.
When this does not happen, teacher stress can rise.
Chris Rossiter is chief executive of Driver Youth Trust