Teacher wellness counts in the classroom: Are you the best you can be?

  • There’s a long list of things that contribute to the effectiveness of classroom learning: strong teachers, relevant curriculum, technology, resources, the school environment, the mix of students, parental involvement, administrative support, and learning styles. But teacher wellness isn’t something that’s often mentioned.

    And it should be:

    • A University of Missouri study of 121 elementary school teachers and more than 1,800 students published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions studied teachers’ adaptability to stress, level of burnout, effectiveness in the classroom, and coping skills. They were placed in four groups, then cross-referenced with student performance. The teachers with the highest stress levels and lowest coping skills were associated with the lowest student outcomes.
    • A Gallup study in 2014 noted that 46 percent of K-12 teachers said they have high levels of daily stress, a number equaled in the report only with that felt by nurses (also 46 percent) and physicians (45 percent).
    • A National Center for Education Statistics report on teacher longevity found that 10 percent of teachers leave after their first year, and 17 percent leave within five years.

    “Teachers and other school staff who experience exhaustion and burnout related to their work are likely to have a number of negative physical and psychological symptoms and consequences,” states a 2019 University of Maryland report titled “School Mental Health Is Not Just for Students: Why Teacher and School Staff Wellness Matters.” Those symptoms can include increased illness or fatigue, aches and pains, increased absenteeism, feeling “shut down,” a sense of cynicism or pessimism, and difficulty making decisions. Despite the high percentage of teacher stress, however, only about 25 percent of schools offer stress-management training to their staffs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health.

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    As a kindergarten teacher in Baltimore City, Danna Thomas felt overwhelmed by the challenges faced by her students, including mental illness, abuse, and trauma – and knew that her stress affected her teaching in negative ways. “I felt so unsupported, especially emotionally unsupported, and I felt like I had to do something,” she told Johns Hopkins Magazine. So in 2015, she founded the Happy Teacher Revolution, a global network meant to provide the self-care, support and training that teachers need.

    In a perfect world, no teacher would go without proper self-care, staff support, and stress-management training. But school districts typically are strapped for resources and put their budgetary priorities on, understandably, the classroom itself, and student outcomes. So teachers become responsible for their own training and professional development, even when it comes to wellness and stress.

    Dominican University online offers 20 Self-Care and Wellness courses, including four specifically targeted to educators themselves:

    • Teacher Self-Care: Building Social Connections and Support Systems Social support and relationships with peers contribute to your well-being; in this course you will study the science as to why, learn to evaluate and use different kinds of support. (EDUO 9051, two semester credits).
    • Teacher Self-Care, The Science of Gratitude We hear a lot about gratitude, but how do you implement the practice in your own life in a meaningful way? This course focuses on the psychology of gratitude, including research-based strategies you can implement for yourself or your school. (EDUO 9052, two semester credits).
    • Teacher Self-Care, Managing Work and Life When it comes to teaching, can you really achieve a real work-life balance? Yes, this course answers, but it takes strategy. In addition to studying the issue, this course teaches you to analyze your current routines and strategies and implement new ones where needed (EDUO 9053, two semester credits).
    • Implementing Self-Care for Educators Increasing self-care and wellness for teachers increases retention and job satisfaction and reduces burnout. In addition to researching and learning about the issues, this course has you create and implement a self-care routine and practice it for at least 20 hours. (EDUO 9054, one or two semester credits).

    Interested? To get more information or browse more course curriculum for Dominican University Online, visit the website here.

    Photo credit: M-imagephotography via iStock