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How to support teacher mental health

How to support teacher mental health

By all accounts, teachers have one of the most difficult and draining jobs imaginable. The pressure is unlike any other profession — after all, being charged with shaping the minds of our future generation is no small feat. The stakes are high, and it’s not lost on those who go into this noble vocation what they’re up against. 

Current research suggests that nearly half (44%) of teachers in K-12 grades are “very often or always” burnt out. Professors at the university level aren’t far behind — 35% of them reported feelings of burnout impacting their ability to do their jobs well. Studies show that between 38% - 41.2% of teachers experience anxiety, and 27% have symptoms of depression. 

The findings are clear — teachers’ mental health is an issue. Where do we go from here? First and foremost, we must take the time to understand why teacher mental health and well-being issues are so prevalent. What challenges are teachers facing, and how can we prioritize and emphasize mental wellness as a solution?

Read on to learn more about our critical need to implement mental health support for teachers at all levels.  

Understanding the challenges teachers face

Teachers face significant pressure in their day-to-day jobs. From juggling classroom management to administrative tasks, dealing with parents, and creating lesson plans and grading, a teacher’s to-do list seems never-ending. 

Add the struggle to find some semblance of work-life balance, and the job can seem all but impossible. The following are some of the most common causes of workplace stress for teachers.

Classroom management

Daily classroom management can be a struggle for even the most experienced and well-prepared teachers, whether it’s dealing with discipline or accommodating various learning styles.

Administrative tasks

Most teachers spend hours on the back end of teaching doing all the things people outside the profession never see — like ensuring lesson plans meet educational standards, making enough copies for students to have assignments they need, entering grades, and restocking classroom supplies (often at their own expense). Since these things can’t cut into actual teaching time and teachers can’t afford to neglect them, administrative tasks can become time-sucks that prevent teachers from tending to personal needs. 

Parental interactions

Navigating relationships with parents is always tricky. Teachers must be on point and ready to communicate professionally and effectively with parents at any given moment. Figuring out how to balance parent expectations while meeting students’ needs is a delicate and exhausting exercise.

Lesson planning

Even for teachers who’ve been in the classroom for decades, lesson plans can be — and generally are — constantly tweaked and updated. The best teachers know how to modify their plans as students’ needs and instructional challenges change. This means most educators spend abundant time refocusing their lesson plans each year.

Grading

In a world where we can automate so many things, grading papers is still a time-consuming non-negotiable. While no teacher is surprised that they must stay on top of grading responsibilities, it’s still something that often cuts into R&R time outside of classroom hours.

Maintaining work-life balance

Many adults — including teachers — struggle to maintain a work-life balance. The emotional toll teaching takes can make leaving the job at the classroom door difficult for many teachers. Learning to “shut down” can be challenging for these inherently caring people, especially when they’re struggling with a student with unusual or extenuating circumstances, either in or out of the classroom. Research tells us that learning to set boundaries is crucial to teachers’ success.

The importance of prioritizing mental health in teachers

When most people think about it, supporting teachers’ mental health isn’t usually at the top of the list in regard to what teachers need most. Like physical health though, mental health plays a significant role in our lives. The impact poor mental health can have on performance, mental well-being, and job satisfaction is immense. Encouraging mental health days in schools will benefit teachers and students alike, leading to a higher quality learning environment.

High stress levels can result in professional burnout and drastically affect learning outcomes. Stress-related burnout impacts retention rates in the profession, too. Teachers who are overwhelmingly stressed or emotionally exhausted are more likely to leave teaching early than stay until the traditional retirement age.

5 Effective ways to support teacher mental health

Incorporating the following might seem like small steps, but providing the right mental health resources can offer meaningful strides in creating an environment where the importance of mental health for teachers is prioritized.

1. Create a supportive work environment

Fostering a mentally healthy environment for teachers starts with creating a supportive workplace. 

This can be accomplished by doing things such as:

  • Facilitating open communication channels
  • Organizing regular team-building activities or employee wellness ideas
  • Implementing opportunities for teachers to give feedback about concerns or suggestions they have

“There is so much pressure on teachers post-COVID while it can be so easy to operate in a silo. Teachers have endless educational requirements and frequently deal with parents’ expectations. Check-ins with cohorts during team meetings and by administrators can help teachers feel less isolated and more encouraged to reach out for help before stress overloads.” - Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

2. Ensure a healthy work-life balance for teachers

Educators must have a balanced work-life dynamic to ensure their mental health is prioritized. 

Supporting teachers’ mental health can look something like:

  • Putting limits on after-hour working expectations
  • Reducing or consolidating meetings
  • Offering flexible scheduling options, when possible, for those who need it
  • Ensuring fair compensation for overtime

3. Provide access to counseling and mental health services

Partnering with a professional therapy platform like Talkspace can give educators access to expert help as they learn practical coping tools to manage their stress. 

You can also host regular mental health workshops and trainings that focus on identifying and addressing signs of burnout, anxiety, and depression. Providing regular check-ins with faculty can remind them that their mental well-being is your priority and that they have support and mental health resources if needed. 

So teachers get the most out of this opportunity, reinforce the fact that:

  • Sessions are confidential
  • Teachers can speak freely about their stressors without fear of judgment
  • Therapy for teachers will be affordable and convenient 

4. Create dedicated “quiet” spaces

Teaching can be noisy — from bustling classrooms to loud break rooms — and finding respite during the day can be tricky. Creating quiet zones throughout your school can provide relaxation and much-needed peace during the busy teacher’s day. 

For the quiet space to be as effective as possible, you should:

  • Make the room or zone away from high-traffic areas
  • Fill the space with comfy seating 
  • Reinforce the idea that it’s a recharge point
  • Make sure teachers and other staff know they can go to the quiet zone during breaks to escape the chaos

“We preach and teach self care abundantly to students, but sometimes forget that teachers need a refuge too, especially post-COVID. Time and space, curated for even the briefest restoration and mindfulness, can be hugely impactful for teachers to realign with focus, agenda, and perspective after being “on” for most of the school day.” - Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

5. Establish mentorship programs

Mentorship programs are simple yet powerful ways for seasoned educators to offer guidance and support to those new to the profession. 

Mentors don’t only help with lesson planning or classroom management — they can also be an emotional lifeline within the school community for new or struggling teachers. Experienced mentors will likely be more in tune with the warning signs of stress and burnout, since they’ve likely been there at some point during their careers.

Mentors can:

  • Guide mentees through difficult classroom situations
  • Offer practical solutions based on their years of experience
  • Promote effective teaching practices that improve student outcomes
  • Offer a feeling of having someone “in their corner,” which can significantly contribute to improved mental wellness, especially for young teachers.

Invest in educator mental health with Talkspace

Teacher burnout today is a serious issue, and it’s essential to understand that the fallout doesn’t just impact educators. It directly affects the students they teach too, who can be discouraged from attending classes. Reducing the cause of absenteeism of students as well as improving the overall learning environment is why learning how to support teachers’ mental health is an important task for schools to take on to further support mental health in schools

Teachers are often tired and overwhelmed, which can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. A proactive approach to teacher mental health and well-being can involve investing in quality mental health support. 

Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes it easy for teachers to connect with licensed, qualified, experienced therapists from the comfort of their own homes or during the day when they’re on a break. 

Reach out to Talkspace today to learn more about how you can promote mental well-being for your favorite teachers.

Sources:

  1. Bouchrika, Imed. “Teacher Burnout Statistics: Challenges in K-12 and Higher Education.” Research.com, July 27, 2023. https://research.com/education/teacher-burnout-challenges-in-k-12-and-higher-education
  2. Agyapong, Belinda, Gloria Obuobi-Donkor, Lisa Burback, and Yifeng Wei. “Stress, Burnout, Anxiety and Depression among Teachers: A Scoping Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 17 (2022): 10706. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191710706
  3. Boudreau, Emily. “Safeguarding the Mental Health of Teachers.” Safeguarding the Mental Health of Teachers, December 3, 2019. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/ideas/usable-knowledge/19/12/safeguarding-mental-health-teachers

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