The education system is really stressful

Teacher health : What makes teaching so stressful

Second, working conditions play an important role. For example, teachers have a shared workplace. Lessons take place in school, preparation and follow-up work, corrections to work and contact with parents usually take place at home. The shared workplace means that the teaching profession is seen by many as a part-time job, i.e. it is only reduced to the time in school. This false public perception is an additional burden.

And a third factor are the personal requirements: one teacher is more resilient to stress and can distance himself better than the other.

Let's stay with the class. What are the biggest stressors here?
In all studies, dealing with unmotivated and undisciplined students is repeatedly cited as the greatest stress factor, as the necessary cooperation in the classroom then fails. Another stress factor is related to this: the high noise level, which is often the result of restlessness in the class.

In an EU comparison, teachers in Germany are therefore high in terms of the number of teaching hours.

And what specific factors are there in terms of working conditions?
Here it is above all the workload with sometimes high time peaks. These arise, for example, in correction phases, but also through additional tasks and offices that teachers take on in addition to teaching. Schools have more and more administrative tasks and documentation obligations. In addition, conflicts with the teaching staff and the school management can be stress factors. And many find it difficult to separate work and private life when working at home.

Are there differences between the types of school?
Studies have so far not been able to clearly establish this. But there is a difference between the sexes: women seem to feel more stressed.

Why is that?
A key aspect here is that part-time work has less of an impact than in other professions. In the teaching profession, too, more women than men work part-time. In the case of part-time work, only the teaching load is reduced, i.e. the number of hours a teacher gives. The many other tasks are mostly shared by all teachers, regardless of whether they work full-time or part-time. Lesson time can only be reduced for very few tasks and positions. In an EU comparison, teachers in Germany are therefore high in terms of the number of teaching hours. This is also shown by an EU publication on the employment conditions of teachers in the EU. Other EU countries have now switched from the deputate model to more flexible models in order to take greater account of tasks in addition to teaching and to present teachers' working hours more transparently.

Is there enough focus on the subject of teacher health in Germany?
Teacher health has been on the screen in Germany since the 2000s. Since then, many ministries of education have developed prevention programs. The topic of teacher health and stress has also been anchored in teacher training since 2004, both in the course of studies and in the traineeship. However, there is still a lack of practical implementation here. Young professionals in particular need even more support.

What are the teacher health prevention programs that exist so far?
The problem with the programs is that they are primarily focused on personal resources. This means that there are training courses on coping with stress, on class management or on communication. Fewer programs are offered as far as health-promoting change in the workplace is concerned. Workplace-related measures could relate, for example, to making the deputate model more flexible, setting up workplaces at school, creating relaxing breaks or noise pollution.

What else should happen?
The previous measures all relate to individuals rather than to the entire college. However, it is necessary that the entire school as an organization focuses on the subject of teacher health. It is also important that there is more willingness in schools to talk about problems. The school climate plays a major role in teacher health.

Research on teacher health has shown that the highest stress factor, i.e. dealing with students, is also the strongest resource for teachers.

If a school wants to focus on teacher health, what is the best way to start?
Many schools use the Pedagogical Day to address the topic of teacher health in a kick-off event. You can also get external support for this. First they identify where the problems are and think about how they can counteract them with the resources available at the school. The development of a common educational model alone can help. For example, questions can be answered: How do we deal with students who disturb? How do we deal with students who have difficult backgrounds? Where can we support each other?

How can such support look like?
For example, two teachers can form a tandem and accompany each other in class in order to give each other feedback on the teacher-student interaction or stress factors. To this end, the University of Koblenz-Landau has designed a special training program in cooperation with the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Culture and the State Academy for Training and Personnel Development at Schools.

Many teachers find such collegial coaching difficult. They still see themselves as lone fighters. You close the door - lessons are seen as a private matter. However, a feedback culture offers important development opportunities.

Why is a view of the classroom so important for teacher health in the first place?
Research on teacher health has shown that the greatest stress factor, i.e. dealing with students, is also the strongest resource for teachers. If the interaction works well, then this also results in the greatest positive support for the health of the teacher. The same applies to the second stress factor, cooperation among the teaching staff: if the cooperation with colleagues and the school management goes well, this also strengthens the health of the teachers.

The five-minute breaks between the hours do not provide relaxation either. On the contrary: the exertion skyrockets.

How has the corona pandemic affected the situation of teachers' health?
The time when schools were closed was a very stressful time. Teachers were less able to make use of these two important resources - a high level of positive interaction with the students and positive support from the teaching staff and school management - during the school closings.

In addition, there was dissatisfaction with the limited digital possibilities in schools. It has been very difficult for teachers to cope with the distance learning situation. A recently published survey by WDR has shown how overwhelmed and frustrated schools and teachers were and are with the state of digitization. Since nothing will change that quickly, but hybrid or even distance learning will also be necessary this school year, the stresses could increase significantly in this school year. There is a great danger that there will be more burned-out teachers at the end of this school year.

Let's look at a class day: For children, classes are interrupted by breaks. Teachers, on the other hand, often have a lot to do or have supervision during the breaks. What is the stress curve for teachers on a school day?
School researchers at the University of Bremen were able to demonstrate how psychophysical exhaustion increases over the course of a day of class. For many teachers, the school day begins with walking across the schoolyard and having to give the first admonitions. Then they usually have six or seven hours of lessons non-stop. There is seldom a hollow lesson. But for this time there is no place of retreat in most schools. The staff room rarely offers that.

The five-minute breaks between the hours do not provide relaxation either. On the contrary: the effort increases because teachers have to move from one room to the other. Schoolchildren also ask questions, and there is often something left to do in the school hallway. The interactions that are somehow regulated in class are completely unregulated.

In addition, there is the noise level, which is often underestimated and often increases over the course of a day of class. This occurs increasingly in old school buildings, which are usually very noisy.

We found that teachers who had managed to enforce clear rules and who practiced more student-oriented teaching were less stressed. In addition, the noise level in the class was lower.

Where do you see adjustments to make the school day less stressful and the Strengthen teacher health?
It is ideal if there are rooms in the school where teachers can retreat. But that cannot be implemented in many buildings. Noise reduction is also not possible everywhere. It is therefore above all a matter of empowering teachers to make lessons more health-promoting. In a video study, we filmed classroom situations in order to ascertain the health situation of teachers during class and to compare them with each other. We found that teachers who had managed to enforce clear rules and who practiced more student-oriented teaching were less stressed. In addition, the noise level in the class was lower.

On the other hand, traditional frontal teaching was particularly strenuous. When teachers stand in front for 45 minutes and speak, interact constantly with all students, and are always the focus. The way the lessons are organized has a direct impact on teachers' health. It is also nice that the switch to a more student-oriented lesson with clear rules and a good class atmosphere can also usually improve the quality of the lessons. Ultimately, everyone in the classroom can benefit from it.