Polychroni, F.University of WalesAthens Campus
Walters, B.University of Manchester
According to recent international research, Special Educational Needs (SEN) teachers serve one of the most stressful occupations. Special working conditions such as the high ratio of teachers and pupils, the limited progress due to the various problems of the pupils with special needs and the high workload exert an additional psychological pressure on the personality and the work performance of SEN teachers. The aim of this study was to investigate the specific sources of stress which make the work of Greek SEN teachers especially demanding and the specific mechanisms that they use to cope with this stress. Since there was no relevant previous research in Greece, the specific sources of stress were constructed after in-depth interviews and a review of the pertinent international literature. Questionnaires were administered to a representative sample of SEN teachers of special classes and special schools across Greece. The findings will be discussed in reference to current educational practice and suggestions for intervention will be given. It is envisaged that the identification of the specific sources of stress will shed some light into the problems of SEN teachers that make their job particularly difficult. LITERATURE
According to the international literature, it has been established that teachers serve one of the most stressful professions. Cooper (1988), in his classification of several occupations in terms of the degree of stress that they cause on the employees, he indicated that, as far as the occupations of social welfare are concerned, teachers experience the highest levels of stress (in second place came the job of the social worker). The international concern with teacher stress and burnout stems from the mounting evidence that prolonged occupational stress can lead to both mental and physical ill-health and also a concern that this problem will impair the quality of teaching. Although much teacher stress research has been carried out since the late 70s, studies of stress in teachers of children with special educational needs occupy no prominent status in the general teacher stress literature. According to the definition by Kyriacou (1978), stress is conceptualised as a response syndrome of negative affect that is developed when there are prolonged and increased pressures that cannot be controlled by the coping strategies that the individuals have. A classic model of stress and burnout of teachers that has been proposed by Kyriacou & Suttcliffe in 1978, describes that stress results from the teachers' perception that a) demands were being forced upon them b) they are unable to or have difficulty in meeting these demands and c) failure to do so threatens their mental and or physical well being. The key element is the teachers' perception of threat (either this is self-imposed or imposed by others). Teacher burnout may be defined as a syndrome resulting from prolonged teacher stress, characterised by physical, emotional and attitudinal exhaustion (Kyriacou, 1987). High levels of occupational stress often lead to job dissatisfaction, absenteeism and work turnover. Response correlates of teacher stress may be psychological (anxiety, depression), physiological (headaches, tachycardia, hypertension, increased blood pressure) and/or behavioural (alcohol consumption, smoking, lifestyle, sleeping problems). The sources of stress most likely to be linked with those responses are poor career structure and low wages. In other words, the conditions of work rather than the experience of teaching seem to provide the stress factors which most strongly contribute to job dissatisfaction and intention to leave teaching (Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1979). A vast number of studies exist in the relevant...