Stress levels high among New Zealand teachers

Stress levels are high amongst New Zealand teachers with preliminary results of a new survey revealing that seven per cent say that they “always” feel stressed and anxious at work.

The survey, conducted by Dr Ursula Edgington, an independent researcher, attracted more than 500 respondents within 24 hours of being released. Some added lengthy comments providing “fascinating insight into the lived experiences of teachers in New Zealand schools,” says Dr Edgington.

Most of the 100 respondents reported themselves as working in the primary sector (82 per cent) with ten per cent from the intermediate and eight per cent from the secondary sector. “The disproportionate numbers of participants from primary schools may have skewed the results slightly, however this adds interesting context to the outcomes. For instance, we welcome comments from those who have worked in both sectors – what was your experience of stress at each school?

The questionnaire asked: ‘In a typical week, how often do you feel stressed or anxious at work?’ and 72 per cent either that ‘most of the time’ or ‘about half the time’ they felt stressed or anxious (about 35 per cent for each category), 20 per cent commented that ‘once in a while’ they felt these symptoms, whilst only one respondent commented that they ‘never’ felt stressed or anxious.”

Another question focused on some of the possible causes of this stress and anxiety with 73 per cent of respondents citing “own workload”. Half cited “pressures from management”, “student needs” and “student behaviour”, with teachers not feeling they had adequate support from their school for students with complex needs.

“Interestingly, the lowest-ranking answer of all the choices provided was ‘audit and inspection’ which oftgen ranks very highly for teachers in the UK under pressure from accountability measures. In line with research by Prof Martin Thrupp, this potentially indicates a stark contrast between the negative impact of Ofsted on UK teachers’ lives and the more sensitive approach from New Zealand’s Education Review Office (ERO).

This question also had an ‘other’ comments box which revealed a series of other relevant issues: 10 per cent commented that bullying – either from management or parents or both – was a major cause of their stress and anxiety.

Another commonly repeated concern was the inadequacy of the physical space of many of New Zealand’s classrooms:

“We have leaking roofs, wood rot, windows that can’t be opened, management team offices that aren’t private, poorly designed staff kitchen that has snarl-ups every breaktime…”

And this situation creates stress for teachers, especially when trying to deliver the technology-enhanced environment expected of them, as one respondent articulated:

“I teach in a ’50s classroom. I’ve lost floor-space because I now have computers in the back. I want to be a 21st century teacher.”

“For many of these 100 initial participants, various pressures increase workloads to levels viewed as excessive, causing teaching staff unnecessary but inescapable stress and anxiety.”





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