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Educators Respond to Growing Stress on the Job

Over 800 union members responded to the “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey” in a random sample, along with 4,000 teachers and support staff in an online public version. The survey also oversampled members of two New York-based AFT PreK-12 affiliates that report strong, collaborative labor-management environments in their schools. National stress data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was cited for comparison.
 
Compared to previous polling conducted in 2015, the latest results demonstrate a significant rise in stress levels among educators. Our national union and the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) in 2015 partnered on a similar survey that generated 30,000 responses from teachers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel across the country. Thirty-four percent reported that their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the preceding 30 days. Two years later, that percentage had risen more than 20 points to 58 percent. 
 
Click here for our report on the 2015 national survey of educators.
 
While stress levels are on the rise, the latest survey found that many of the root causes  remain the same. Respondents cited as the primary workplace stressors the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
 
Still, new factors identified in this latest survey included the election last fall of President Donald Trump and the appointment of a new federal education secretary. A staggering 86 percent of educators indicated that they do not feel respected by Betsy DeVos, who was in February narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
 
Click here for press coverage of the national survey’s results.
 
State federation leaders in June conducted a brief, four-question poll among teachers and support staff in affiliated PreK-12 unions that found results consistent with the national survey. Input was solicited from nearly 9,000 members in order to inform efforts to protect workplace rights, win strong contracts and make improvements in an increasingly difficult economic and political climate.
 
“Our members know better than most that public education — and our wider labor movement — are at a crossroads,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “Their voices need to be heard if we are to effectively prepare to fight for their students’ and our families’ futures. The members who took time to respond with their feedback will make a real difference in those efforts,” added Hochadel, who previously taught physics and science in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS).
 
Click here for our member educators’ engagement survey from June (now closed to submissions). 
 
A consistent finding among respondents to both our state and national union’s polls was the role of building collaborative labor-management relationships to reducing stress for educators and students alike.
 
“Top-down, mandated ‘quick fixes’ do not work,” said national AFT President Randi Weingarten. She pointed to survey results showing “that a supportive work environment is vital to creating schools that are places where teachers want to teach and kids want to learn.” She added, “these kinds of environments do not come about by chance—they must be intentional.”
 
A member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated West Haven Federation of Teachers in the state survey identified a “lack of collaboration between admin and staff” as among top workplace issues. In contrast, a Newtown Federation of Teachers member pointed to “collaboration with the administration” as a strength, demonstrating the uneven application of best practices in schools across the state.
 
“It’s always better to work together with management to solve problems,” said AFT Connecticut Vice-President for Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRPs) Shellye Davis. “To do that, first you need mutual respect and buy-in on a shared mission. Both surveys show one or both lacking in too many schools across the state and country,” added Davis, a veteran paraeducator at the Moylan School Expeditionary Learning Academy in Hartford.
 
Educators are not alone in their belief that schools free of stress, anxiety and bullying are ultimately good for students, too. An earlier public poll by our national union’s found similar concerns and strong support for well-funded neighborhood schools that are safe, welcoming and ensure equal opportunity for all.
 
“Teaching is a tough job that carries with it high levels of stress, which obviously affects both students and educators,” said Weingarten. “Stressful work environments can affect student achievement and educator effectiveness,” she added.
 
Click here for media reporting on our national union’s poll of parents in September.
 
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