Measuring elementary school teacher’s Stress and burnout in Montgomery

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Measuring elementary school teacher’s Stress and burnout in Montgomery

I. Introduction

Teachers are required to play many roles, it is a fact that teachers are not only teachers but are surrogate parents, discipline officers, counselors, friends and mentors of their students. With the heavy workload of teachers, it is not surprising that teacher stress and burnout have been increasing over the past decade and at present. Teachers need to prepare their lessons, to come to class everyday and maybe teach 4 to 6 classes a day, deal with almost a hundred students per day, work on their reports, and make sure that they are meeting the required standards of competency set by the state’s education board. When students fail to reach the desired scores on a given test, teachers are blamed of inefficiency, when students go on a killing spree like in Virginia Tech, the teachers are scrutinized for not being able to help the student before he reached that point.

As always, teachers are pressured to meet the expectations of society as the epitome of knowledge, wisdom and nurturance. These are already tough orders and yet teachers in the elementary level are more stressed since they deal with young children who still needs to be trained and taught the basic skills in reading, writing, math and at the same time, they have to deal with the physical activeness of their students. Teachers in the elementary level need to effectively control classroom behavior and to be able to give students a positive learning atmosphere and experience (Davis, 2001). Moreover, teachers in the elementary level also deal with the increasing cultural diversity of their students and they need to create teaching materials and develop instructional methods that would lead to higher student competency and mastery of the required knowledge and skills.

Teachers however are still persons who experiences stress and burnout when they fail to live up to all their roles and the expectations of their students, parents and the school administration. Stress is a fact of life, it is said that the right amount of stress propels men into action and increases mental alertness, however too much stress may lead to emotional psychological and physical conditions which adversely affects the well-being of the individual and may eventually lead to poor performance, psychosomatic symptoms, anxiety and even absences and voluntarily leaving their jobs.

Some people cope with stress better than others thus how an individual is affected by stress differs from each person, on the other hand extreme stress eventually results to burnout. Burnout refers to the feeling of being exhausted, tired and unmotivated to work or perform one’s duties. The term burnout is likely to have been coined from a candle burning out, and at the end, it flickers and then dies. This is how burnout occurs, the stress wears the individual to saturation point, and finally it ends there.

With teachers, burnout have more serious consequences as it meant ineffective teaching, attrition, lost time and resources and more importantly, students who do not have the proper training and education (Weisberg & Sagie, 1997). Thus, burnout of teachers must be avoided at all costs, the key of which is to be able to determine the source of the stress and how it can be lessened or controlled so that it would not lead to burnout. In light of this, the present study would measure the level and source of stress and burnout of elementary teachers in Montgomery, AL. In doing so, better intervention strategies and suggested solutions to lessen stress and control burnout can be designed and implemented.

II. Problem Statement

This study attempts to determine the level and sources of stress and burnout in elementary school teachers of Montgomery, Al. Stress and burnout are relatively common occurrences in any occupation but what makes it more important to be studied for elementary teachers is the fact that teacher attrition in the elementary level is higher than most teachers. Elementary teachers are the most important resource in the education of young children and they are the ones who prepare children for higher learning.

Moreover, the effects of stress and burnout have been well documented as it affects job performance and satisfaction. Workers who are stressed may under perform at their jobs and then lead to poorer teaching which also leads to poorer learning experiences. It is important to study how stress and burnout affect teachers because they are responsible for the education of our children, if we do not take care of their needs and well-being, how can we expect them to give their best to our children.

Although stress and burnout studies abound in literature, most of which have focused on employees in corporate organizations or those in the medical field, there are still fewer studies on teacher burnout and stress. On the other hand, among the studies done about teacher stress and burnout, most have focused on college and secondary teachers and relatively few were conducted with elementary school teachers as the subjects of the study. This would mean that there presently exists a gap between what we know and what has been studied about teacher stress and burnout in the elementary level.

Moreover, the issue of context and the kind of learning environment that a particular school has and the kind of training that their teachers have also affects stress and burnout, thus the organizational culture of the school and the personal characteristics of the teachers also influence the kind of stress and level of burnout that they experience. Even if studies about teacher stress and burnout have been done in a number of states, there will always be the question of whether it is applicable to a school in a different state, city and population. Thus, a study of stress and burnout in a specific school would yield more useful information of which the present study wishes to accomplish. In doing so, this study specifically seeks to answer the following questions:

– What are the sources of stress among the elementary teachers of Montgomery?
– What is the extent of the stress that teachers experience?
– What causes burnout among the elementary teachers on Montgomery?
– What is the extent of the burnout that teachers experience?
– Is there any relationship between the sources of stress and burnout among the teachers?

The purpose of this study is to identify and determine the source and level of stress and burnout that teachers experience, whether teachers are stressed or not, and whether they are affected  by stress and to determine the cause of burnout among the teachers and how the two variables might be related. Based on the findings of this study, possible intervention or suggestions to reduce the amount of stress will be drawn up as well as suggestions for positively coping with the stressors. The significance of this study includes the possibility of providing better services to their teachers and to take care of their well-being as well as contribute to the knowledge base on teacher stress and burnout.

III. Literature Review

Burnout and stress among teachers

Studies on teacher stress and burnout have come recently to attention based on the fact that teacher turnover had been very high for the last decade or so. At present, the public school system has been recruiting foreign teachers to staff their schools. Factors that contribute to the steady increase in teacher turnover had been stress and burnout among teachers. Research have found that teachers are more likely to be stressed and burnout compared to other occupations and that on an average teachers only stay in the  profession for around 7 years (Jenkins &Calhoun, 1991).

Burnout has been associated as the end result of too much stress, when an individual’s performance in his/her job suffers because of extreme stress, the individual may lose the ability to function in his/her job and is referred to as burnout (Friedman, 1991). Popular media uses stress and burnout to mean the same thing; however, researchers have found that stress is difficult from burnout, although stress may result to burnout. Burnout is defined as the psychological state of being debilitated due to extreme levels of stress while stress is defined as feeling emotionally disturbed or anxious in relation to a certain stimuli (Byrne, 1991).  Smith and Bourke (1992) conceptualizes teacher stress as multidimensional, they said that teacher stress may come from conflict, students and physical conditions, rewards and recognition and teacher workload. Teacher stress can arise from any of this factors or a combination of two or more factors.

The multidimensional aspect of stress and burnout has been widely accepted in the research circles and most studies have come to measure stress and burnout using several factors. Maslach and Jackson (1981) have found that burnout is caused by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and decreased personal accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion results from the extreme emotions experienced by the individual and is usually characterized as fatigue and loss of interest for life.

Depersonalization occurs when the individual engages in behaviors or ideas that is contrary to one’s sense of self, the individual may become negative, uncaring and frustrated while decreasing personal accomplishments refer to the reduction of work outcomes or the poor quality of one’s work as compared to previous job performance. A number of researchers have found that the mentioned factors are present in both stress and burnout (Gold, Roth, Wright, Michael & Chen, 1992).

The level of stress and burnout that an individual may feel is affected by several factors, this include personal, environmental and organizational. Personal characteristics such as age, gender, years of experience, status and educational level have been associated with the degree of stress and burnout that a person may feel (Fennick, 1992). The environmental factors include kind of students, grade level taught, type of school and region (Dinham, 1992). Lastly, the organizational factors refer to the culture, social support network, role ambiguity, role overload, and lack of recognition and rewards (Dinham, 1992).

Personal factors that affect teacher stress and burnout

Research has found that male teachers report higher stress and burnout than female teachers (Friedman, 1991). The studies that used the Maslach Burnout Inventory have found that males are more likely to have higher scores on depersonalization while females scored higher on emotional exhaustion (Fennick, 1992). The age of the teacher have also yielded varied results, a survey of teacher stress and burnout said that the younger teachers were more likely to be burnout (Sarros & Sarros, 1990) while other’s claim that at 41-45 years of age, teachers experience burnout (Friedman, 1991). A study on the effects of educational attainment and teacher stress and burnout have reported that teachers who had higher educational attainments experience burnout more than those who did not, also that highly educated and trained teachers experience more depersonalization and emotional exhaustion due to the inability to feel that they are doing something worthwhile (Dinham, 1992).

Environmental factors that affect teacher stress and burnout

The kind of environment that a teacher is situated in also influences the occurrence of stress and      burnout. A study that compared the level of stress between teachers in different levels found that secondary teachers were more likely to experience stress and burnout compared to elementary level teachers, also it was found that teachers were more likely to report being stressed by their students in the secondary level owing to the fact that older students are more difficult to deal with (Byrne, 1991). Secondary teachers also say that they experience depersonalization more than other teachers. On the other hand, a similar study reported that teachers from public schools and those who teach in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods experience higher stress and burnout (Heller, Clay & Perkins, 1992).

Organizational factors affecting teacher stress and burnout

A number of organizational factors have been found to determine the level of stress and burnout among school teachers; however, researches have strongly found evidence that role ambiguity, role conflict and overload have caused teacher stress and burnout (Dinham, 1992; Jenkins &Calhoun, 1991).

Role ambiguity have also been found to be associated with burnout (Farber, 2000), when teachers do not have a clear concept of what their roles are as teachers and as members of an educational community, then they might feel exhausted at trying to  play roles that they cannot seem to claim as theirs. In a survey of teachers in the secondary level, teachers reported that they were burnout because they have too much work to do and have little time for their personal life. Some also cited that despite what they do to prepare for lessons, students don’t seem to progress much in their studies and have low performance in their quizzes and exams (Friedman, 2000).

Teachers indirectly feel responsible for how their students perform in state sanctioned tests, and if the students do poorly, then the teacher is held accountable for it. This also is a source of stress and burnout as teachers come under intense scrutiny to perform and to meet the expectations of the administrators, parents and students. When a person is overwhelmed by the expectations and pressures of other people, the natural reaction is to give up since very high expectations often cannot be realistically met.

Giving up on a task because one feels inadequate to accomplish it is also burnout (Guglielmi & Tatrow, 1997), a study found that teachers often transfer to schools that have better student population in terms of ability and intelligence as they are more easily taught than average or low performing students. Retired teachers have been reported to engage in different jobs but teaching, this would indicate that teachers who are not satisfied with their jobs choose jobs that are not related to teaching due to the fear of having to face the same difficulties that they did when they were teachers (Van Horn, Schaufeli, & Enzmann, 1999).

IV. Conceptual Framework

Stress and burnout have been studied as concepts that are directly related to the psychological and emotional well-being of an individual. No major theory have been found to date to explain the presence of stress and burnout but rather the two concepts are the product of the reaction of the human mind and body to external stimuli. As such, this study will make use of a conceptual framework that will guide the conduct of this study as well as serve as the framework in which the results of this study will be analyzed.

This study will use the conceptual framework that stress and burnout are multidimensional, thus, several factors cause and influence the level of stress and burnout that an individual may experience. Sources of stress may include conflict, students and physical conditions, rewards and recognition and teacher workload (Smith & Bourke, 1992), while burnout may be exhibited by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal achievement (Maslach, Jackson, & Schwab, 1996).

V. Hypothesis

This study hypothesize that stress and burnout is not prevalent in the elementary school teachers of Montgomery, that they source of stress may come from organizational factors and that burnout is expressed as emotional exhaustion.

VI. Methods

This study will use the quantitative approach. Measures of job related stress and burnout will be used to determine the sources and levels of stress and burnout. Elementary teachers in a school in Montgomery will be surveyed using the Teacher Stress Questionnaire (Smith and Bourke, 1992) and the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Educators (Maslach, Jackson, & Schwab, 1996). The Teacher Stress Questionnaire is a self-report questionnaire that contains 26 items which assesses teacher stress in four dimensions: conflict, students and physical conditions, rewards and recognition and teacher workload.

The questionnaire uses a 4 point Likert scale and mean scores would determine the source of stress and its level. The Maslach Burnout Inventory for Educators was specially designed to measure burnout among teachers. The questionnaire contains 22 items which measures burnout in three aspects: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal achievement using a 6 point Likert scale. The MBI has been one of the most widely used survey instrument for teacher burnout and whose reliability and validity have been well documented (Maslach, Jackson, & Schwab, 1996).

The sampling of respondents will be captive and convenience sampling as the teachers are readily accessible in the school. Age, years of experience, subjects taught and gender and ethnicity will all be controlled for and will be part of the survey as it has been found that personal factors also influence teacher stress and burnout.
The data gathered in this study will then be analyzed using descriptive statistics using the mean scores derived from the questionnaire and analysis will be based on whether personal, environmental and organizational factors affect the presence and level of stress and burnout among the participants. Moreover, a factor analysis of the items for each survey questionnaire would help identify which item predicts stress and burnout among teachers.

VII. Limitations, Delimitations and Significance.

The limitations of this study are inherently based on the design of the study, since the proposed research will use a quantitative method, the inherent threat to internal validity include the instruments used to measure stress and burnout as it may contain bias and the use of the Likert scale which limits the statistical power of the surveys, while external threats to validity include the sample size of the respondents and the organizational culture of the target population. Moreover, since this study is limited to schools in the Montgomery district, the issue of whether the findings of this study can be generalized into other groups and other schools is also a limitation.

This study seeks to determine only the sources of stress and burnout from the dimensions measured in the survey instruments, in no way that this study tries to diagnose burnout or to assess the level of chronic stress or burnout as the researchers and the survey instrument are not equipped to measure it. The significance of this study include the possibility of designing and implementing a better stress  management program for the teachers, this study would also determine the well-being of the general teacher population in the school of which better compensation and benefits can be drawn up. Lastly, this study would be contributing to the need of researches on teacher well being as well as in theory building in terms of stress and burnout.

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