Home / Policy  / Teacher Retention Challenges Linked to Stress

Toy Dice

February 11, 2015

Teachers are leaving their jobs in record numbers. To find out why, studies have focused on how structural factors, like the type of school in which a teacher works, contribute to job dissatisfaction. But University of Texas at Austin educational psychologist Christopher McCarthy recently conducted a survey of elementary school teachers’ psychological responses to the resources and demands of their jobs.

“This is something we can measure and isolate. Teacher appraisals offer early warning signs that they’re perceiving job demands as overwhelming. Schools can act to slow the revolving door in a profession where 30 to 40 percent of new employees leave after the first five years. We can’t let it continue that way.”

A 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being poll found that teachers were second only to physicians in reporting they feel stress at work, and over half of them said they felt significant stress several days per week.

To understand the relationship between a teacher’s psychological state, job satisfaction and occupational commitment, McCarthy and his colleagues, University of North Carolina’s Richard Lambert and Paul Fitchett, developed a measure called the Classroom Appraisal of Resources and Demands (CARD). The tool is used to assess teachers’ perceptions of demands, like classroom management challenges, and sufficiency of resources, such as administrator support. By examining teachers’ perceptions of both demands and resources, the CARD can identify which teachers experience high demand levels relative to their classroom resources.

“We found that two teachers who have the same kinds of students, level of administrative support, classroom materials, pay and so forth can view their circumstances very differently,” said McCarthy. “What one defines as stressful and dissatisfactory can be quite manageable for another, so you can’t simply assume that factors such as class size cause teacher stress and dissatisfaction.”

McCarthy also determined that a teacher’s decision to leave the job is usually the result of an accumulation of several factors rather than a single trigger.

“This means there are probably numerous opportunities for schools to gather feedback from teachers, then offer relevant intervention if the instructors seem at risk for burnout,” said McCarthy, the Maxine Foreman Zarrow Endowed Faculty Fellow in Education in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology.

“Everyone’s speculated about reasons for the teacher shortage,” said McCarthy. “My study suggests that it’s – at least in part – due to job stress.

– Kay Randall