Anxiety alert: Teachers are more stressed out than frontline workers

'We would have guessed healthcare workers battling COVID-19 on the front lines during a public health crisis would display the most anxiety,' researcher says.

Teacher anxiety over the last few turbulent years was higher than—wait for it—the anxiety reported by healthcare workers, according to research released this week. You read that right: higher than healthcare workers. 

And the anxiety level in classrooms wasn’t just a little bit higher—teachers were 40% more likely to report suffering from anxiety than were healthcare workers. Teachers were also 20% more likely than office workers and 30% more likely than workers in other occupations—such as military, farming, and legal professions—to say they had recently felt anxious, depressed or isolated, according to a new analysis by the American Educational Research Association.

Teachers who taught remotely were 60% more likely to report feeling isolated than their in-person colleagues and female teachers were 70% more likely to experience anxiety than their male co-workers. “Our results demonstrate just how stressful the pandemic has been for teachers, especially those who are female and those who taught remotely,” said one of the authors of the study, Joseph M. Kush, an assistant professor of graduate psychology at James Madison University. “We would have guessed healthcare workers battling COVID-19 on the front lines during a public health crisis would display the most anxiety.”

The reasons behind teachers’ soaring anxiety levels were not examined but the researchers surmised that K-12 stress was heightened by uncertainty around whether their schools would be in person or remote, teachers having to abruptly overhaul lesson plans for remote learning, and the pressure to adopt new technologies quickly.

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The researchers mined their data from the responses of three million workers who participated in a survey developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Group and Facebook. Between Sept. 8, 2020, and March 28, 2021, some 130,000 teachers were asked if they had felt anxious, depressed or isolated during the previous seven days.

Like teachers compared to other workers, women across all occupations reported higher levels of distress. Women were:

  • 90% more likely than men to report anxiety
  • 40% more likely to say they were depressed
  • 20 percent more likely to have feelings of isolation

The findings show that districts need to prioritize the use of tools and programs designed to safeguard the mental health of teachers. Consistent communication among school leaders, teachers, staff, and students is also critical. Still, more data will need to be collected to assess the long-term impacts of COVID-era stress on teachers’ well-being, Kush added.

“Teachers’ well-being ultimately impacts their ability to effectively teach,” Kush concluded. “When teachers feel supported, it boosts retention and student learning outcomes. Their voices must be included in decision-making processes, as their well-being is paramount for effective learning environments.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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