Feeling the Strain an Overview of the Literature on Teachers’ Stress

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Feeling the Strain
An overview of the literature on teachers’ stress

Valerie Wilson

July 2002

Feeling the Strain
An overview of the literature on teachers’ stress Valerie Wilson

SCRE Research Report No 109 ISBN 1 86003 068 8 Copyright © 2002 The Scottish Council for Research in Education First published July 2002

The views expressed are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Scottish Council for Research in Education or the funders, the Scottish Executive Education Department.

Contents
Acknowledgements Executive Summary 1. Introduction 1.1 Background to the review 1.2 Aims and scope 1.3 Definitions 1.4 Search methods 1.5 Organisation of the review What is stress? 2.1 Introduction 2.2 Definition of stress 2.3 Ways of measuring stress 2.4 Summary What are the causes and effects of stress in teaching? 3.1 Introduction 3.2 What causes stress? 3.3 What causes teachers to be stressed? 3.4 What are the effects? 3.5 Summary How does teaching compare with other professions? 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Proxy measures 4.3 Available evidence 4.4 Summary What does the Scottish evidence tell us? 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Evidence of need in Scotland 5.3 Recent developments 5.4 Summary How do teachers cope? 6.1 Introduction 6.2 Direct action 6.3 Palliative approaches 6.4 Summary Conclusions 7.1 Introduction 7.2 Conclusions 7.3 Suggestions iv v 1 1 2 2 2 3 4 4 4 6 7 8 8 8 9 11 13 14 14 14 15 17 18 18 18 20 20 22 22 22 24 26 27 27 27 29

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References30 Appendix 1: Search Strategy 33

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Acknowledgements
The reviewer would like to acknowledge the work undertaken by Margaret Johnstone, whose reviews of stress in teaching were published by SCRE in 1989 and 1993. The current review builds upon these. In addition, thanks are also owed to Jon Lewin, Information Officer at SCRE, who searched several databases for relevant published literature. The views expressed in this review are those of the author and not those of SCRE.

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Executive Summary
The Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) commissioned the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) to review the literature of research on teacher stress. The review was conducted very quickly during February 2002. Two previous studies of teacher stress had been published by SCRE: one in 1989 and a second in 1993. This current review updates these by inputting findings mainly from British studies published during the past ten years.

Aims and findings
The main aim is to review the published literature on stress in teaching, its impact and comparison with other professions. A summary of the questions addressed during the review and the main findings are presented below. What is stress? • • • •

Stress was originally defined as a neutral general adaptive syndrome of the human body to demands. Increasingly it has acquired a negative connotation, implying excessive demand or pressure. It is difficult to distinguish stress from its causes and effects. Three explanatory models of stress have been developed to help us understand the concept of stress, based on engineering, medical and interactive principles. The first two models assume that teachers are subjects rather than actors in their own destiny; in contrast the third is predicated on shared responsibility for situations which may give rise to occupational stress. Ways of measuring teachers’ stress levels have relied heavily on information gained from self-report scales and inventories; more recently log books, diaries and observations have been used to supplement them. However, research based upon tests of physiological changes have rarely been conducted outside laboratories.



What are the causes and effects of stress in teaching? It is now generally accepted that stress is a multidimensional and multi-level phenomenon which is influenced by personal, situational or structural factors. Specifically: • •

Studies of occupational stress...
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