Teacher Stress and How it Affects the Classroom Environment

Updated September 10, 2022

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Teaching is an occupation that doesn’t come with a rule book. Today, teachers are more stressed in terms of expectations in the classroom and less support from administrators. Safe, welcoming, healthy schools flourish when teachers and school staff are empowered by support and respect on the job. Teaching is a difficult job, and working conditions are a strong predictor of teacher turnover more so than other factors like teaching in high poverty school.

A study released by the UCLA in October 2017 shows that since January’s (2017) presidential inauguration, high school teachers across the United States are reporting more stress, anxiety and bullying among their students than before (Rogers, 2017). Majority of educators felt they had autonomy over their classroom decision making, the level of influence and control has dropped significantly on policy decisions that directly impact their classroom, such as setting discipline policy, setting performance standards and deciding how resources are spent. There are policies that support healthy interactions in schools and are important. Educators have a stressful workload having to always be “on” and continuous “lack of resources.”

Mental Health is vital in each one of our lives. Stress can be a contributing factor to mental health which has an impact on teachers in the classroom. The findings from this study are to determine how teacher stressors effect the classroom environment and some of the contributing factors such as teacher workload, teacher pay and learning environment. How do these factors mentioned above have an impact on the student matriculating from middle to high school when teachers are constantly stressed?

Teacher is a term that is often used by many people from all walks of life to describe someone who is an instructor or educator. Teaching has occurred throughout our world in different forms for many years dating back to the biblical days. Defined as a person or thing that teaches someone, a teacher’s job in the school system primarily focuses on teaching students about different subjects in their curriculum. As witnessed in recent headline news stories, teachers who are currently teaching throughout school systems in many different states have begun employment strikes.

Employment strikes have been demonstrated by teachers, support staff, and administration as an outcry for more emphasis to be put on improving the school system by providing more resources and supporting the staff and students more. Due to the lack of resources for school system and budget cuts many school systems throughout the country have been affected. Because of these effects, school systems have had to endure heavier workload, lack of school supplies, bigger classroom size, and decrease in pay. Matters detailed are very serious issues that affect the classroom environment which has led to a close examination to be done to assist with finding a solution to this matter.

In 2002, North Carolina implemented a program by the North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards Commission. This program is entitled the Teacher Working Conditions (TWC). Through implementation of this program, North Carolina was coined as the first state in the United States to focus on the study of teacher work conditions by surveying the opinions of teachers themselves. The initiative grew a great response throughout the state which led to it being adopted by then Governor Easley as a part of the Governor’s teacher working conditions initiative (2002-2008).

With guidance from the NC teacher work condition advisory committee, the survey continues to be distributed throughout the state. Statistics from the survey are showing growth as teacher participant numbers continue to increase. Numbers from 2016 showed a vast increase in respondents of the survey from 93,178 committee, the survey continues to be distributed throughout the state. Statistics from the survey are showing growth as teacher participant numbers continue to increase. Numbers from 2016 showed a vast increase in respondents of the survey from 93,178 in 2014 to 101,846 in 2016.

The number of respondents in 2018 set a record for largest demographic of teachers to respond came from teachers with 11-20 years of experience. 1,076 schools in North Carolina achieved a 100 percent response rate to 2016 survey. NC TWC 2016 survey included questions on the following topics: Community Engagement and support, teacher leader ship, school leadership, managing student conduct, use of time, professional development, facilities and resources, instructional practices and support, and new teacher support. The lowest scored construct from the 2016 TWC survey was the use of time in the workplace. The highest score construct from the TWC survey School leadership as one of the main factors that most affects educators to stay committed to school.

Factors of Stress in the Learning Environment

According to Greenberg, M.T., Brown J. L., Abenavoli, R.M. (2016) teachers stress comes from four sources which are: School Administration, school demands, work resources, and social emotional competence. In examination of other research studies previously conducted on school-level environment, Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, and Pickeral (2009) research identified four aspects of school-level environment as well. The four aspects of the school level environment are physical, social emotional safety, teaching quality, relations & collaboration, and the structural environment (Cohen et al., 2009).

These four aspects form school level environment, and aspects of school-level environment affect the experiences of individuals within that organization (Cohen et al., 2009). Along with those four aspects of the school environment it was found through research it has found that teachers perceptions of their school environment are closely associated with their sense of stress (E. Skaalvik & S. Skaalvik, 2009), teaching efficacy (Hoy & Woolfolk, 1993), job satisfaction (Butt et al., 2005; Taylor & Tashakkori, 1995), teachers’ burnout (Grayson & Alvarez, 2008) and their work commitment (Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2011).

Wage Effect on Stress and Classroom Environment

Place yourself at any job no matter the career field, although you may thoroughly enjoy your employee position, if you’re unable to obtain the quality salary that you need to provide for yourself and or family it will likely cause for major conflict and frustration. As you examine the state of North Carolina teacher salary it gives great context into one of the key reasons why teachers are more stressed and frustrated with the education system.

Currently North Carolina leads the country in number of teachers who have earned certification from the National Board for professional teaching standards. Although North Carolina leads the country in certification from the national board, they are not compensated accordingly. In 2017-2018 NC educators average a salary of $50, 861. These figures are $9,600 less than the national average of $60, 483. The issue of salaries has led to NC teacher pay being placed at 41st in the nation.

The rank of NC teacher pay along with risky job security, no incentive, and per pupil spending at 39th has led to more educator strikes and teaching jobs to be less appealing in the state of North Carolina. Unequal salary wages in the North Carolina education system has led to teacher shortages. Reports in 2016-2017 revealed that 53.6% of teachers left for personal reasons. 9.4 % of teachers left North Carolina to teach in another state with better pay wages while another 10.6% left to pursue a different career. Over half of the participants of this survey were teachers in their first five years.

Through concerns over income it has caused more teachers to focus on ways to pay bills per month which has caused for less time to be focused on the classroom. The increasing rates of teachers leaving states to teach in other states is also costing all U.S. schools. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates the turnover rates of educators have cost more than $7.3 billion per year. The turnover cost per teacher is estimated at $4,000 in rural areas, and $17,000 in urban districts. From the figures discussed you get a chance to examine the salary gap between North Carolina vs other states. These figures also reveal the cost that high teacher turnover is having on the education system.

Lack of Resources

Due to strict budgets in North Carolina’s Education it has not only affected our teachers but also the resources for teachers and student. According the North Carolina Justice Center one in ten employment positions in the school system totaling 16,000 jobs that have been eliminated. Although the loss of these positions has affected employees of the school system, the greater impact is the impact that has been exhibited in the classroom.

According to The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE;2012), one in every three teacher positions remains left unfilled at schools around North Carolina. With the increasing rates of open teacher positions along with classes not having any limits of how many students grades 4-12 can be in a classroom it has caused for rates for student learning and achievement to not increase. The resources in which would help teachers achieve more in the classroom include teachers assistance, and one on one assistance for students. According to NCAE (2012) a third of positions that were lost during budget cuts were teacher assistants.

Teacher assistant’s role within the classroom is much needed because they assist teachers greatly along with student who may need assistance as well as 1on1 assistance to students who may need additional help. In 2011-2012 as the school year began North Carolina had 9,000 fewer classroom teachers. These staggering numbers greatly affected teachers and students as teachers across North Carolina reported class size increases. Many classrooms during this time reported having 40 students per class. Most teachers reporting increased class sizes during this time were middle and high school teachers. Under state law k-3 classrooms were only allotted a certain number students to enroll. According to NC education research council smaller class sizes vastly improve the classroom environment.

NC education research council reports that gains associate with small classrooms occur when the class size is reduced to twenty students are fewer. NC education research council also provided reports that smaller classes would assist classroom environment by allotting more flexibility to assist students who have learning disabilities, more engagement from students because teachers could involve them more, improvement of teachers morale within the classroom environment, and more time to instruct the class about objectives.

Teacher Workload

Workload is commonly referred to the amount of work a person has at their job or the measurement of work in which an employee must achieve throughout their time of being an employee with their employer. Teachers within the education system, workloads continue to increase, due to budget cuts and lack of resources. According to Greenberg, M. T., Brown J. L., Abenavoli, R.M. (2016) 46% of educators report high daily stress from job demands.

Greenberg et al., (2016), reports that these figures of such high percentages of stress in the work environment could lead to compromises of their health, sleep, quality of life and teaching performance. With the lack of resources it has led to teachers having to take on the work load of class preparations, teaching, as well as case workers. The job task of case workers has been added to a teacher’s role because of budget cuts to our education system which has decreased salaries and opportunities for schools to have more social workers, therapist, and teachers assistants to help student achieve more.

Through factors of pay wages, lack of resources, and work load has led to more teacher burnout. The burnout phase for teachers occurs when stressors of teachers become unmanageable. The factors of burnout by teachers can have an effect of loss of professional efficacy, successful achievement, and student’s success rates according to Hakanen et al., (2006). No matter what career one may be interested in, an education is needed to advance in any career. It is imperative that examine the factors of educators in the education system to assist with developing a solution for teachers and students to achieve more within the classroom that could lead to higher success rates in society.

Theoretical Framework

The term burnout first appeared in the literature when psychologist Herbert Freudenberger (1974) coined the term as a state of failure and fatigue brought as a result of having a job in the helping profession. Many researchers have defined the term since then to cover a multitude of issues like physical exhaustion, desperateness and hopelessness, frustration, lower self-concept, and negative attitudes. (Pines & Aronson, 1988). Still there is a lack of articulation in the views from researchers about the meaning of burnout, its causes, and how this occurrence should be researched. Some researchers view burnout from a psychological point of view, whereas others see burnout from a sociological and organizational point of view. These conflicting viewpoints lead to confusion which also leaves room for skewed interpretation of the findings (Seferoglu, Yildiz, & Yücel, 2014).

In recent years, burnout has been discussed as a mental health problem, people are experiencing an increasing amount of pressure in their daily lives, particularly at the workplace. Therefore, managers, employees, and workers in various industries and sectors around the world suffer from work-related stress, fatigue, and exhaustion, – some of the most recognized signs of burnout (Heinemann & Heinemann, 2017). Burnout is a major problem impacting school districts across our country; particularly the financial effects are a disturbance to children’s education. Major findings suggest that teacher burnout may result from several factors such as educational mandates, classroom discipline issues; it affects classroom instruction and impacts interaction with the students involved (Jacobson, 2016).

More recent researchers such as Gravely (2010) studied a teacher orientated solution to burnout. His study was a qualitative study which relied heavily on tools such as journaling, focus group interviews, and live observations to examine how factors like support, discipline, workload, students and governance contribute to teacher burnout. Findings from the journals, interviews, and observations were evaluated through a coding process to maintain confidentiality. Results from this study suggested that attending to the stress levels of teachers creates a more positive atmosphere and mindset and that the affected teachers need to have practical means to do so.

Another current researcher is Lawrence (2016), who had taken a quantitative approach to his research, the primary focus of his work was to fill the gap in findings surrounding comprehensive worksite wellness programs and whether they could effectively reduce teacher burnout. Findings from his study suggest that those who used the wellness program reported lower levels of emotional exhaustion. Ironically, emotional exhaustion might explain the low levels of engagement with the wellness plan.

Like those mentioned above, the present study’s main objective is to reduce teacher burnout, improve retention rates and contribute to positive social change. We hope to add to a body of literature that inspires enhancements in the quality of education and student matriculation. The idea of burnout as a construct is rooted in the fact that one simply cannot grasp a clear understanding of the causes and effects of teacher stress without the lens of burnout. The theory of burnout goes beyond stress alone by encompassing the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that is caused by the effects of unresolved stress (Smith, Segal, Robinson, & Segal, 2018).


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How does teacher stress and burnout impact student achievement?
Reduced motivation and achievement : Teacher burnout and depersonalization (i.e. feelings of disinterest towards one's job) negatively impacts teaching quality and student motivation (e.g. disruptive behaviour, low sense of belonging, weak belief in ability to succeed, lower grades).
How does the classroom environment affect them?
Good classroom arrangement inspires, and encourages children to easily interact with each other and develop various skills including language, and social behavior . Poor classroom physical arrangement may affect children's free movement and can result into social behavior problems.
What causes the most stress for teachers?
A number of stress causes for teachers, including high job demands, pupil misbehaviour, poor working conditions, poor relationships at work, role conflict, role ambiguity, lack of autonomy, poor school ethos and lack of developmental opportunities, were revealed in many studies (see Hanif, 2004.
What is teacher stress?
Teacher stress is defined in terms of unpleasant negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, depression and nervousness that teacher experience due to some facets of their job (Kyriacou, 2001).
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