Teaching has become one of the most stressful occupations. With pressures like high-stakes testing, school security concerns, and teacher shortages, nearly half of teachers surveyed recently by Gallup noted experiencing “high stress” daily. This ties teaching with nursing as the highest stress jobs. By some estimates, nearly 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
Job stress is unfortunately associated with physical and mental manifestations. For this reason, teacher stress is a key cause of teacher absences. And since teacher absences may impact student achievement, the domino effect is disruptive and has lasting effects. For this reason, schools must have an effective plan for dealing with teacher absences.
Understanding the Causes of Teacher Stress
Workplace stress is ubiquitous. In some cases, it may be intermittent, fluctuating with projects and deadlines. In other jobs, it is constant and debilitating. And though each of us perceives and manages stress in our own way, there is widespread agreement, backed by substantial research, that stress has far-reaching negative effects in our lives.
Teacher stress is rooted in a variety of causes. Some are similar to average workplace stressors, while others are unique to the K-12 sector. Wages that are lower than for comparable careers and a lack of support are often-cited reasons for workplace dissatisfaction. With changing family dynamics, additional demands are placed on teachers, who are often expected to shoulder added responsibilities.
One factor that has recently contributed to teacher stress is the impact of widespread teacher shortages. With record numbers of classroom vacancies and a shortage of substitute teachers, the burden often falls on teachers to pick up the slack and provide coverage for their colleagues. When teachers are in school, they may be expected to give up preparation periods and/or welcome additional students.
If that unpredictability isn’t enough, teachers are aware that low fill-rates mean there may not be a substitute available to cover their own absences. This forces some to choose between coming to work when ill or staying home without the confidence that their students and classroom will be well cared for in their absence. These added stressors can contribute to even more absences as teachers fall prey to the negative effects on their health and well-being.
What To Do When Teacher Stress Results in Classroom Absences
When school districts adequately support and nurture their teachers, they may mitigate the effects of stress. And though some measures require an investment in these key personnel, there are potential benefits for their students, as well. Here are a few considerations when dealing with teacher stress:
- Have an open line of communication between teachers and administrators. Encourage staff to share concerns before they become problematic or insurmountable.
- Cultivate a positive and proactive school culture. Empower stakeholders to work together and support each other for the common good.
- Provide an employee assistance program. This valuable employee benefit provides free and confidential assistance with personal and job-related stresses and problems.
- Encourage stress-relieving activities for staff. Allocate space for after-school yoga or exercise classes; start staff meetings with a mindfulness activity.
- Improve absence fill-rates. When teacher absences occur, minimize their negative impact on students and other staff by having quality substitute teachers available.
Addressing Teacher Absences Head-on
One way to ensure that teachers get the time they need to maintain their physical and mental health – and to make certain that taking that time does not negatively impact their students – is to have an adequate supply of qualified substitute teachers ready to step in. A sure-fire way to establish a substantial database of professional substitutes is by partnering with a substitute teacher staffing agency.
Since education staffing agencies specialize in K-12 personnel, they are well acquainted with the demands and stresses classroom teachers face. For this reason, they pay particular attention to training substitute staff to expertly meet the instructional and classroom management needs. Through ongoing recruitment and integrated systems, they can ensure not only adequate numbers, but also analyze data to improve substitute teacher scheduling.
Partnering with a full-service educational staffing agency also relieves school districts of the administrative burdens of hiring, scheduling, and managing substitute teachers for the long term. Turning this important function over to an expert in K-12 staffing gives you the certainty that you have exercised the most effective options to ensure that a lack of available substitutes does not exacerbate the already stressful job of school personnel.
When a lack of qualified substitutes and substandard fill-rates exacerbate classroom stress, contact ESS. With 40,000 employees nationwide, we have learned a thing or two about recruitment and retention. Let us help you to ensure that students are in good hands when a teacher absence necessitates the placement of a qualified substitute.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.