High Stress in Today’s Schools
What Can Pastors and Parents Do to Help?
David R Smith
There they are, erratically fluttering through the halls of local middle schools with furrowed eyebrows. They’re surrounded by hormones, worried about the future, and riddled with stress.
No, I’m talking about the teachers!
Yes, we’ve all read how much young people are stressed, anxious, and depressed; well, now new research coming out of the University of Missouri claims that 94% of middle school teachers experience high levels of stress. Go back and look at that line again. Almost every middle school teacher in the educational system at one point or another has experienced “high” levels of stress. The report, which is actually an expansion of earlier studies conducted on elementary school teachers, broke down the findings by comparing teachers’ levels of stress with their ability to cope.
- 66%, the largest group of teachers, reported high levels of stress and high coping mechanisms.
- 28% of teachers experienced high stress and low coping abilities, a dangerous combination.
- 6% of them reported low levels of stress and high coping skills, the best combination.
The reasons for such high stress in teachers’ lives are abundant: overcrowded classrooms, slashed budgets, decreased parental involvement, the threat of school shootings, and of course, the dreaded PTA meetings. All of that is on top of being surrounded by a few hundred students each day.
The burning question many want answered is, What sort of impact is the teachers’ high stress having on their students? After all, the tweens and teens are facing stressors of their own: academic pressures, busy schedules, the intersection of social media and real life, puberty, bullying, temptations, and of course, the stuff called cafeteria food. No one knows the answer just yet, but it’s an important question to tackle…especially since those middle school kids have a tendency of becoming stressed college students in the future.
In the meantime, let’s focus on a question we can answer: What can be done to help?
The consequences of stress are as numerous as they are convoluted. Fortunately, reducing stress doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Solutions usually begin with rightly understanding the problem so let’s start there. Many believe stress and anxiety are interchangeable terms; however, they do have clear distinctions even though they go together like peanut butter and jelly…or maybe more accurately, Mentos and Diet Coke. In simple terms, stress is a response to an external pressure while anxiety is our internal reaction to that stress.
Pastors and parents can easily engage those “external pressures” in simple ways that will benefit teachers as well teens. Here are a few ideas:
- Pastors can lead their churches to provide practical support for local schools. There are almost too many ideas to list! Perhaps the most obvious is to provide teachers with school supplies since many of them routinely dip into their own pockets to resource students’ classroom needs. But don’t limit this assistance to August; restock their classrooms in January, too! Imagine how much financial stress your church can alleviate in a teacher’s life! Also, make sure your church is volunteering on a very, very regular basis. Consider pitching in at sporting events, fundraising carnivals, and other programs. That work is almost always piled onto the teachers along with their usual duties in the classroom. Many churches have specialized teams of volunteers that focus on schools. Those volunteers might do anything from assist in the front office, read/tutor in the classroom, or sit with kids during lunch. Your church can adopt a student, a classroom, or even a whole school! The burden you lift off a teacher will likely be felt even in the students’ lives because the teacher will be less stressed. Speaking of the students….
- Parents can spend quality time with their kids to offer support, counsel, and encouragement. Our kids need all three (and more), but if we don’t spend enough face-to-face time with them, we won’t know which one is most pressing in their lives. Again, the ideas are almost limitless. Maybe you spend one evening per week getting ice cream and talking about life and/or faith. Maybe you encourage them to be involved with one less extracurricular activity so they can get more rest, focus on their studies, or just feel less hurried. Maybe you just listen to what’s going on in their lives so you know how to pray for them. Whatever you do, make sure it’s practical and can easily be applied in their lives right away. That makes the biggest and most immediate impact.
Stress seems to be an inescapable by-product of our lifestyles these days. However, we as Christian leaders and parents are uniquely poised to help make dramatically positive changes in the lives of those closest to us so let’s do all we can.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.