- Seventy-eight percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
- Eighty-seven percent say the demands of their job at least sometimes interfere with their family life.
The staggering statistics listed above could be attributed to many different careers—police officers, social workers, military personnel, or senior executives. The aforementioned positions are some of the most stressful jobs in the United States. However, these statistics do not belong to the jobs mentioned. These numbers come from a survey of 30,000 teachers, conducted by the American Federation of Teachers.
Teachers have the honor and great responsibility of molding the next generation of leaders, scientists, doctors, policymakers, and teachers. A teacher arguably plays one of the most integral roles in a child’s life. This role is increasingly stressful and multi-faceted. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers says the following, “We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
Teacher Stress and Attrition
Teachers are leaving education at alarming rates. According to Mindful Schools, a nonprofit organization, “Roughly half a million U.S. teachers leave the profession each year – a turnover rate of over 20 percent.” The Alliance for Excellent Education reports on the extreme cost of teacher attrition saying, “…..is not only damaging to schools, it is very costly, adding up to $2.2 billion a year.
Teachers are stressed out, and districts must create solutions and supports for teachers to combat teacher stress. Mindful Schools describes the domino effect of stress, saying, “Toxic stress starts as decreased productivity and creativity, escalating to more serious symptoms like frequent anxiety, dissociation, frustration, and, eventually, burnout.” No one can be expected to do their best work with these types of reactions.
The Solution: Mindfulness for Teachers
What is the solution to teacher stress? Many schools and districts try various ways to reduce the stress that teachers experience by increasing teacher pay, improving staff recognition, and providing better curricular resources. While increasing salary and providing improved professional development is key to retaining top talent, districts are missing the mark. Districts must provide teachers with the tools to combat stress. Mindful Schools explains, “Because the roots of toxic stress lie deep in the nervous system, we need tools that go beyond the conceptual mind to directly target that system. To transform our habitual responses, we need to regularly practice our skills when we are not in “fight – flight – freeze” mode.”
The key to transforming stress could lie in the practice of mindfulness meditation. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher who has studied the benefits of mindfulness since the 1970s states the following, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” Mindfulness provides the practitioner with the ability to go back to one’s breath during difficult moments. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk known for his teachings on mindfulness says the following,
Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.
Many might be skeptical that being in the present moment and breathing deeply could prevent teacher burnout and toxic stress. However, several studies have indicated the overall benefits that mindfulness can have on one’s health. The University of Arizona reported on a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The study of 860 Buddhist practitioners concluded that mindfulness training benefits people both physically and mentally. Specifically, mindfulness training, “improved social relationships with family and strangers and reduced stress, depression, and anxiety while increasing well-being and happiness.” Furthermore, The Huffington Post recently reported on a study that linked mindfulness with decreased amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Thich Nhat Hanh leads an organization called Wake Up Schools as he is passionate about spreading mindfulness to teachers. Thich summarizes the powerful impact of mindful teachers, “With mindfulness teachers and students can experience more peace, learn how to take care of difficult emotions and create conditions for a happy school and a happy world.”
Imagine how different our schools could be if teachers were trained to practice mindfulness….
Zarcone, Kelly.Mindfulness Training Has Positive Health Benefits. Retrieved from https://nau.edu/research/feature-stories/mindfulness-training-has-positive-health-benefits/
Mindful Staff. (2016). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. Retrieved from http://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
Why Mindfulness is Needed in Education. Retrieved from http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/mindfulness-in-education
Layton, L. (2015). Is the classroom a stressful place? Thousands of teachers say yes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/is-the-classroom-a-stressful-place-thousands-of-teachers-say-yes/2015/05/12/829f56d8-f81b-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html
Mindfulness Meditation Could Lower Levels Of Cortisol, The Stress Hormone. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/31/mindfulness-meditation-cortisol-stress-levels_n_2965197.htm
Teacher Attrition Costs United States Up to $2.2 Billion Annually, Says New Alliance Report. Retrieved from http://all4ed.org/press/teacher-attrition-costs-united-states-up-to-2-2-billion-annually-says-new-alliance-report/
- Why Mindfulness? Retrieved from wakeupschools.org