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Examining Elementary Teachers’ Risk for Occupational Stress: Associations With Teacher, School, and State Policy Variables

by Richard Lambert, Christopher J. McCarthy, Paul G. Fitchett & Maytal Eyal - 2018

Background/Context: It is widely understood that teachers are plagued by a myriad of challenges that ultimately affect their stress levels, job satisfaction, and effectiveness at work. Teacher stress can lead to burnout, lowered occupational commitment, and an eventual decision to leave the field. An important question for the field is how best to understand which teachers are most vulnerable to stress. This study used Lazarus and Folkman’s transactional theory, which is the dominant model within the stress literature, to examine teachers’ stress vulnerability.

Objective: This study examined how elementary teacher appraisals of their classroom environment contribute to their risk for stress in the context of individual, classroom, and school characteristics, as well as state-level policy factors. Further, this study looked at how these factors are associated with teachers’ occupational stress, burnout, and commitment to teaching.

Participants: Participants were 11,850 full-time public school elementary teachers (Grades 1–5) who responded to the National Center for Education Statistics 2007/2008 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).

Research Design: Secondary data from the SASS were employed. The Rasch rating scale model was used to form scores on the Appraisal Index (teachers’ ratio of experiencing resources versus demands), as well as the Classroom Control and Burnout scales.

Data Collection and Analysis: Multilevel modeling was used. Each model had two levels with teachers nested within the state where they work. Two types of models were estimated using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) software and restricted maximum likelihood procedures. The SASS teacher final sampling weight was then normalized and applied to all analyses within the HLM software. All results were reported with robust standard errors.

Findings: Teachers classified as at risk for stress based on SASS items about classroom demand and resources were found to be more likely to report lower job satisfaction and burnout symptoms, as well as reduced occupational commitment. Professional characteristics, school context, and the policy climate in which teachers work were also associated with teachers being at risk for stress.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Given these connections between occupational stressors, teacher appraisals of the classroom environment, and occupational outcomes, these results suggest that education stakeholders should be mindful of the climate and context in which public policies are enacted.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 12, 2018, p. 1-42
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22503, Date Accessed: 9/26/2020 9:04:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Richard Lambert
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD LAMBERT is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, director of the Center for Educational Measurement and Evaluation, and Editor of NHSA Dialog: A Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Intervention Field. He earned his Ph.D. in research, measurement, and statistics and Ed.S. in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. His research interests include formative assessment for young children, applied statistics, and teacher stress and coping. Recent publications: Lambert, R. G., Kim, D., Durham, S., & Burts, D. (2017). Differentiated rates of growth across preschool dual language learners. Bilingual Research Journal, 40(1), 81–101, doi:10.1080/15235882.2016.1275884; and Martin, C., Lambert, R. G., Polly, D., Wang, C., & Pugalee, D. K. (2016). The measurement properties of the Assessing Math Concepts’ assessments of primary students’ number sense skills. Journal of Applied Measurement, 17(3).
  • Christopher McCarthy
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER J. MCCARTHY is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include stress and coping in educational contexts, group counseling, and career development. Dr. McCarthy’s primary scholarly focus is on researching factors that cause stress for K–12 teachers and developing interventions to promote teacher wellness. He is currently Editor of the Journal for Specialists in Group Work. Recent publications: McCarthy, C. J., Whittaker, T., Boyle, L., & Eyal, M. (2017). Quantitative approaches to group work: Suggestions for best practices. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 42(1), 3–16; and McCarthy, C. J., Lambert, R. G., Lineback, S., Fitchett, P., & Baddouh, P. (2016). Assessing teacher appraisals and stress in the classroom: Review of the Classroom Appraisal of Resources and Demands. Educational Psychology Review, 28(3), 577–603, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9322-6
  • Paul Fitchett
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    PAUL G. FITCHETT is an associate professor in the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He studies the intersections between teacher working conditions, student learning outcomes, and educational policy. His previous research has been published in Education Policy Analysis Archives, Education Policy, and Teachers and Teaching Education.
  • Maytal Eyal
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    MAYTAL EYAL is a doctoral student in counseling psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. She examines stress and trauma within a variety of populations, particularly among educators and members of marginalized groups. A recent publication is: Whittaker, T., Boyle, L. & Eyal, M., & McCarthy, C. J. (in press). What really happens in group research? Results of a content analysis of recent quantitative research in JSGW. Journal for Specialists in Group Work.
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