A Synthesis of Research on the Causes, Effects, and Reduction Strategies of Teacher Stress

By Wiley, Carolyn | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2000 | Go to article overview

A Synthesis of Research on the Causes, Effects, and Reduction Strategies of Teacher Stress


Wiley, Carolyn, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Occupational stress has been a topic of significant research for the last two decades, reflecting the detrimental effects of employees. In particular, teacher stress is borne out of the demands on the individual teacher. Strong evidence suggests that many substitute teacher costs are a direct result of teacher stress. The costs associated with this stressful occupation can be high in phsycial, economical, and academic terms. Human Resource Managers can detect the early stages of stress and advocate organizational stress management programs. Research on the causes of, effects of, and reduction strategies for teacher stress are discussed.

Stress is a biological phenomena that is experienced by all persons regardless of their socio-economic status, occupation, or age. While there is a lack of universal agreement on the meaning of stress, a few articles attempt to define stress. McGrath (1976) and Schuler (1980) generally define stress as a dynamic condition, in which an individual is confronted with an opportunity, constraint, or demand on being, having, andor doing what he or she desires. Beehr and Newman (1978) provide a more specific definition: job stress is a condition wherein job-related factors interact with the worker to change her psychological or physiological condition such that she is forced to deviate from normal functioning. Their definition is useful because it describes stress as a type of person-environment fit encompassing both individual and workplace stressors.

Hans Selye (1976) gives a thorough overview of stress from a practical and medical perspective in his book, The Stress of Life. He reports that stress is essentially the rate of wear and tear on the body. Moreover, it is impossible to live without experiencing some amount of stress all the time. Very simple activities and problems as well as the most complex ones can cause stress. They simply vary in degree. For example, crossing a busy intersection, exposure to a draft, or even sheer joy are significant enough to activate the body's stress mechanism. Therefore, stress is not necessarily something bad, nor is it necessarily something good. It is simply something that cannot be avoided.

The same stress that makes one person ill, makes for an invigorating experience for another. A major factor to consider in order to avoid harmful stress is whether you are adjusting correctly to life situations. This, in Selye's (1976) estimation, is the very root of the disease producing conflicts, (i.e., improper reactions to life situations).

During his years and many autopsies, he has never seen a person die of old age. Rather, there is always one part of the body that wears out first and wrecks the whole human machinery, merely because the other parts cannot function without it. With this in mind, Selye (1976) states that an ever increasing proportion of people die from the so-called wear and tear diseases, diseases of civilization, or degenerative diseases, which are primarily stress. The main issue is that the human body wears longest when it wears evenly. As we look at "stress" among teachers we might question how evenly they wear themselves out. Wearing oneself out is as living, and it is inevitable. However, I would guess that few teachers would venture to say that they are wearing themselves out evenly.

The Need For Synthesis

State and local school administrators are increasingly concerned with the issue of stress in teaching (Hudson and Meagher, 1983). Public school teachers spend roughly half their waking lives in work-related activities. It seems likely then, that job related psychological and physical stress factors may have important influences on their health. To better understand the causes and effects of stress in teaching, the existing research needs to be synthesized.

One important reason for studying teacher stress is that their work experiences can have detrimental effects on them, their students, and the learning environment. …

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