Stressors and Coping Strategies of ESL Teachers

By Markham, Paul L. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Stressors and Coping Strategies of ESL Teachers


Markham, Paul L., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The first objective of this primarily interview-based, qualitative study was to provide an account of the stressors that ESL teachers experience in the workplace. The second objective was to examine the kinds of strategies that ESL teachers use to cope with stressful, job-related situations. As part of the data collection process, the researcher interviewed 12 teacher informants concerning their job-related stressors and coping strategies. I also formally observed the participants' classrooms before and after the interviews. The findings revealed that all 12 teacher informants thought it was stressful to work with LEP students who were not only struggling with English, but were also almost universally behind grade level expectations in the subject matter areas. Similarly, they all considered it to be stressful to teach LEP students with distinctly different levels of English proficiency in the same classrooms. Other frequently mentioned stressors were: attempting to serve too many LEP students; addressing LEP student adjustment problems; perceiving that other non-ESL faculty and non-ESL administrators were not supportive enough of their efforts; and not having adequate opportunity to coordinate with other non-ESL teachers and non-ESL administrators. On the whole, the observation data strongly supported the interview data. However, it should be noted that two of the teachers clearly experienced less stress on the job overall than the other ten participants. Concerning the teachers' coping strategies, most favored sharing their feelings with others and asking for support, or taking some form of direct action. The teachers rarely used mental or behavioral disengagement coping strategies to manage a difficult situation.

Teacher stress has been documented by a number of researchers over the years. For example, researchers have identified teachers stressors existing in the school setting such as relationships with students, colleagues, parents, and administrators; time pressures; workload; excessive societal expectations; and feelings of isolation in the classroom. (Boyle, Borg, Falzon, and Baglioni, 1995). In addition, there are professional issues that impact teacher stress such as low salary concerns, departmental or school policy problems, demands for continuing education or training for recertification, and lack of opportunities for part-time employment (Tuettemann & Punch, 1992).

A reasonable amount of attention has also been devoted to coping strategies. For instance, Carver, Scheier, and Weintraub (1989) identifed a variety of action coping approaches including: planning, suppression of competing activities, positive reinterpretation and growth, restraint, and acceptance. Additionally, these researchers describe other coping strategies such as socio-emotional coping which involves expressing feelings to others and seeking support, and seeking an outlet through increased religious involvement. Another, less productive, coping strategy might also be chosen in the form of denial and disengagement. This strategy includes the use of alcohol or other drugs, mental disengagement, and various forms of behavioral disengagement.

Second language researchers have studied various affective student variables such as anxiety, inhibition, self esteem, and motivation (Brodkey & Shore, 1976; Guiora, Acton, & Strickland, 1980; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1991; Ganschow & Sparks, 1996); however, not much effort has been devoted to examining the role of affective teacher variables in second language classrooms. Unfortunately, we know relatively little about second language teacher affective variables precisely because of the paucity of research that has been devoted to this topic (Tedick & Walker, 1994; Markham, Green, & Ross, 1996).

Survey research conducted by Markham, Green, & Ross (1996) established that ESL/bilingual education teacher's reported stressors that were similar to those experienced by regular education (elementary and secondary) teachers in many ways. …

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