How Teachers Can Manage Anxiety and Uncertainty in Education
Stress comes with teaching. In fact, 46% of teachers report experiencing high levels of stress every day. Managing this pressure and the teacher anxiety that accompanies it is critical for educators. Mills College offers an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership designed to give educators the tools to thrive in the field.
The Importance of Managing Teacher Anxiety
Teacher anxiety takes its toll. It can interfere with the work of strengthening teacher-student relationships. According to a recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, students can perceive exhausted, anxious teachers as uncaring. This has harmful implications for students who often reflect their teachers’ energy and attitudes. Unchecked teacher anxiety can cause students to lose motivation and interest as well.
Without effective stress management, teacher stress can become chronic. Chronic stress can compromise the immune system, impair concentration, and cause digestive problems. It can lead to depression, sleep disruption, and even heart disease.
Stress Related to COVID-19
Before COVID-19, study after study warned of teacher stress levels and the need to reduce them. With the advent of the pandemic, educators face even more stress, rushing to transition to the virtual classroom while attending to their own families’ heightened needs during this crisis. Moreover, teachers worry about the risks of returning to in-person teaching during uncertain times.
The current environment not only carries new stressors for teachers but also worsens existing stress. Dealing with teacher anxiety has never been more important.
Factors Contributing to Teacher Anxiety
Teachers have a hand in shaping their students’ lives. They play an instrumental role in supporting children’s social and emotional development. However, teachers often perform these tasks under less than ideal circumstances, which contributes to teacher anxiety.
Long Work Hours
Most teachers put in long hours. Time for planning, grading, and communicating with parents is often insufficient. Teachers can easily find their planning periods and lunch breaks consumed by paperwork, IEP conferences, or tutoring sessions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers have found themselves putting in even more hours, reconfiguring teaching strategies to online platforms, communicating with students and parents, and participating in urgent professional development to adapt to the new learning environment.
Overcrowded classrooms resulting in high student-to-teacher ratios have put pressure on teachers trying to ensure equity for all. Overcrowding limits the individual attention teachers can give to students, meaning students receive less feedback and teachers have less time to build meaningful relationships with them.
Overcrowding also makes it harder for students to focus, increasing the burden on teachers trying to hold students’ attention and keep them motivated. Overcrowding increases stress, in and out of the classroom.
In virtual environments or socially distanced in-person classrooms, high student-to-teacher ratios pose a challenge. Students are easily distracted, and group work and other engaging classroom formats may be curtailed. Striving to hold students’ attention in uncertain times heightens teacher stress.
Overcrowding and a lack of funding often lead to another factor that contributes to teacher anxiety: limited resources. Many teachers must make do with a shortage of textbooks, technology, and other critical materials—or they rely on outdated versions. This often prevents ideal methods of instruction and denies students, especially those with unique learning needs, access to what they need to thrive.
For teachers who transition to remote learning, lack of quick or affordable access to resources such as online teaching software creates additional stress.
Witnessing students struggle through housing or food insecurity, domestic violence, or the stress of living in poverty can leave many educators with compassion fatigue. Teachers may worry over or fear the outcome of their students’ issues.
The tragedies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified this compassion fatigue: Teachers know students who have lost loved ones or whose families have experienced economic hardship.
Tips for Managing Teacher Anxiety
Now more than ever, teachers need tools to manage anxiety and uncertainty in their jobs. Self-care strategies and support from school administrators that prioritize teacher health can play an instrumental role in reducing teacher anxiety.
Participate in Wellness Programs and Self-Care
Teaching demands that educators constantly give of themselves, so teachers need to take time to replenish their own inner resources. Self-care and wellness programs can help. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga can restore a sense of calm in tumultuous times. Teachers may also seek counseling or keep a journal to:
- Evaluate unproductive thinking patterns
- Identify more adaptive responses
- Set healthy boundaries to create an acceptable work-life balance
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with secondary traumatic stress
Additionally, starting an exercise and healthy eating program can also help restore or maintain balance in educators’ lives.
Cultivate Social-Emotional Learning
To manage anxiety, educators need emotional skills. According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, successfully managing stress involves the ability to:
- Accurately identify and label emotions
- Understand the causes behind emotions
- Understand the consequences of emotions
- Comfortably express emotions
- Effectively regulate emotions
Educational leaders can invest in programs that build teachers’ social and emotional competencies so they can better deal with the stress and uncertain circumstances they confront daily. Teachers can also seek out opportunities to develop these skills. Online resources abound, including social-emotional learning toolkits that teach practices and strategies for stress management.
Join Support Groups
Stressed-out educators often need a place where they can express themselves and feel heard. Support groups offer just that. They also offer a platform for teachers to:
- Share strategies and resources that have helped them get through hard times
- Learn classroom management strategies
- Discover new techniques for optimizing limited resources
Support groups allow teachers to exchange ideas, talk out problems, brainstorm solutions, and pool resources. Teachers overwhelmed by anxiety can easily feel isolated. Support groups give teachers a chance to feel connected and validated.
Participate in Mental Health Training
Trauma and other stressors contribute to high levels of mental health issues among students. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 school-age children experiences mental health issues. Lacking tools to address student mental health concerns creates considerable stress for educators.
Mental health training programs equip teachers with best practices for dealing with students struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. This training can significantly alleviate teacher anxiety. Educational leaders can prioritize mental health training for teachers by integrating it into planned professional development.
Plan for the Challenges of Being an Educator
To meet the challenges of teacher anxiety, educators need strong stress management skills. Learn more about how Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program equips graduates with the tools educators need to thrive and stay the course in all types of situations.