UT psychologist’s research suggests K-12 teachers leave jobs due to stress

Sherry Tucci

K-12 teachers across the country are leaving their jobs because of high amounts of stress, according to UT educational psychologist Christopher McCarthy, whose research is being used to develop new stress prevention strategies.

Many teachers in the U.S. leave their jobs after only a couple of years, McCarthy said. According to his research, this is because of the accessibility and effectiveness of stress management resources and the demands of the classroom.

Students determine the amount of demand put on teachers, and stress management resources are provided by school administrations, according to University of North Carolina-Charlotte professor Richard Lambert, who worked with McCarthy on the research for more than 20 years.

“One of the things that seem to come up a lot is the concentration level of children in the classroom,” Lambert said. “It seems to be that the teachers that are at the biggest risk of leaving are having a high percentage of challenging children in their classroom.”

An outcome of McCarthy and Lambert’s research was the Comparative Appraisal of Resources and Demands, or CARD, a development to help reduce the effect of stress on teachers. Teachers can use this assessment to reflect their individual strengths and abilities for coping with stress, Lambert said. Furthermore, it allows administration to evaluate the working environment of teachers.

“They can figure out how to decrease demand or increase the resources for the teacher,” Lambert said.

According to McCarthy, classroom demand and resources are only a fraction of the work-related stress teachers face. Personal coping strategies play a significant role as well.

“Teachers [should] be taught not just how to manage their classrooms, but also how to keep themselves healthy and making sure they have their proper support from other people, avoiding burnout,” McCarthy said. “Focus on learning not just how to become a good teacher, but also a good cope-er [sic],” McCarthy said.

Kellie Teague, English junior and Uteach student, says these aspects aren’t emphasized in the Unviersity’s UTeach program.

Teague said while the curriculum includes teaching students how to make lesson plans and how to operate professionally in the classroom, it lacks education on stress management. 

“We don’t get any kind of education on how to deal with stress or prevent it,” Teague said.