Gmelch & Parkay Teachers and Stress

Gmelch, W. H., & Parkay, F. W. (1995). Changing roles and occupational stress in the teaching profession. In M. J. O’Hair & S. J. Odell (Eds.), Educating teachers for leadership and change: Teacher education yearbook III, 46-65.

Summary: In this chapter, these authors describe some reasons for the stress that teachers experience in the workplace. They also dispel myths at stress and offer coping recommendations. They suggest that teacher educators and administrators should be aware of the factors that cause stress, the stress cycle and how to identify teachers under stress, and multiple mechanisms for helping teachers to cope with stress.

New Challenges for Today’s Teachers

  • They face new leadership roles.

    • “What these policies have in common is providing those who know students best – their teachers – greater opportunities to exercise their leadership at the school site (p. 48).”
  • The student body is increasingly more diverse.
  • Schools have experienced an increase in disruptive behavior and violence.
  • Teachers have become more accountable to address the social ills of society.
  • Teachers lack resources to teach.
  • Teachers lack parental support.
  • Teachers are charged with building relationships and partnerships with institutions of higher education, businesses, and the private sector.

    • “Until levels of trust are developed amount these new partners, some teachers will no doubt experience higher levels of stress. They will need to learn new skills as they begin to work collaboratively on common concerns with agencies and individuals in the public and private sectors (p. 51).”

The Incidence of Occupational Stress Among Teachers

  • Stress and burnout are defined differently in the literature.

Common Myths About Stress

  • “Typically, one associates stress with change, anxiety, frustration, strain, conflict, and tension. Although children, teachers, administrators, and researchers all can recognize the feeling of stress, the exact understanding of the concept remains vague (p. 51).”
  • Myth #1: Stress is harmful.

    • Stress can be both harmful and it can be beneficial.
    • “Like the Chinese representation, stress today actually encompasses both distress (bad or unpleasant events) and eustress (good or pleasant events). Through slurring, the old French and Middle English word distress came into common English usage as stress, with only a negative connotation in the Western world. Teacher failure is stressful but so is success (p. 52).”
    • Eustress is spelled correctly.
  • Myth #2: Stress should be avoided.

    • Too much stress should be avoided, but stress can be helpful and make life better and more interesting.
  • Myth #3: Administrators experience greater stress than teachers.

    • Not true. Results are inconclusive in education.
  • Myth #4: The more control teachers have the more stress they will experience.

    • “The search for the most stressful position in education may not lead to meaningful conclusions – a more productive line of inquiry might focus on the fit between the person and the job (pp. 52-53).”
    • Those who are responsible for people rather than tasks have higher stress.
  • Myth #5: Stress is largely a male phenomenon.

    • Both men and women experience stress.
  • Myth #6: There is one right way to cope with stress.

    • There are multiple mechanisms and strategies for coping. One is never the only solution.

The Stress Cycle

  • Four Stages
  • Stage 1: Stressors

    • Changing roles and facing new challenges are all contributors of stress.
    • Others include problems with administration, low salaries, overcrowding in schools, drug use, and a lack of public support, parental support, financial support, discipline, and student interest
    • Blasé (1986) also cites lack of promotional opportunities (MY THOUGHTS – There would be two conflicts here with the stressor of partnerships because PDS creates professional development opportunities, which should alleviate stress but the nature of the partnership makes it stressful.)
  • Stage 2: Perceptions

    • How does the teacher perceive the stress – as a threat? As harmful? As a challenge?
    • Type A personalities vs Type B personalities
  • Stage 3: Responses

    • What responses does the teacher have? Are they social, physical, intellectual, entertaining, personal, managerial, or attitudinal?
    • Each teacher is unique and copes with stress differently. No one way is universal. Coping techniques must account for cultural, social, psychological, and environmental differences in teachers.
    • Stressors can’t always be changed, but teachers can control how they perceive and respond to the stressors.
    • Using a variety of techniques and having a repertoire is recommended.
  • Stage 4: Consequences

    • Emotional Exhaustion
    • Depersonalization
    • Accomplishment

Teacher Burnout

  • Work of Maslach & Jackson (1981): dimensions of burnout to include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishments.
  • Relating that to teachers:

    • Emotional Exhaustion: “Emotional exhaustion occurs when teachers’ emotional resources are depleted and they feel they are no longer able to give of themselves at a psychological level. At this stage, they feel fatigued, frustrated with their job, and emotionally drained from working at school (p. 60).”
  • Depersonalization:

    • “...depersonalization occurs when teachers feel negative and cynical attitudes about students, staff, and administration. A depersonalized teacher treats students like objects and may label them with distancing adjectives or pronouns rather than using their names. Teachers at the depersonalization stage may not care what happens to students. They may exhibit signs of detachment and feel callous and cynical toward their colleagues (p. 60).”
  • Personal Accomplishment:

    • “Teachers with lowe personal accomplishment evaluate themselves negatively and become dissatisfied with their accomplishments in the classroom (p. 60).” This can occur through repeated negative experiences.

How Teachers Cope With Stress

  • “It is not the teacher who masters one technique that copes most effectively and creatively, but the one who possesses the flexibility to call upon any number of techniques from various sources – physical activity, managerial skills, social support, and so on (p. 61).”