In many countries, teachers find themselves among those professional categories with the highest level of stress and exhaustion in the workplace. (Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D, 2008). Research shows that over 50% of teachers give up the profession in the first 5 years of their career. They feel that teaching is an extremely difficult one.
Often, the difficulties of the profession lead highly effective teachers towards social and emotional deficits and ultimately lead to burnout (Spilt, Koomen, & Thijs, 2011; Wisniewski & Gargiulo, 1997). Not only do they lead to burnout, but teachers’s emotional exhaustion and loss can be costly for the education system, both financially and academically (Klusmann, Richter, & Lüdtke, 2016).
Few studies exist in Romania that analyze the well-being of teachers and its effects on teaching practices and the academic results of students.
Simona Baciu, founder of Transylvania College and Happy Teachers for Romania in partnership with Dr. Gilda Scarfe, founder of Positive Ed, UK evaluated and investigated the current level of well-being of teachers at the national level with the help of the “Teacher Flourishing Evaluation” tool that belongs to the Prosperity Center within Harvard University.
Harvard University’s Prosperity Center has developed a tool to measure human prosperity and targets five central areas: 1. happiness and life satisfaction; 2. physical and mental health; 3. purpose and meaning; 4. character and virtue; 5. Close social relationships.
A total of 5227 teachers from Romanian pre-university education participated in the study (4817 women and 366 men). Out of the 5227 participants, 1691 (31%) practice in rural areas and 3608 (69%) in urban areas.
The results of the study were promising with most participants feeling excited about their work. These results were valid regardless of the socio-demographic context. On average 83% reported being satisfied with their lives in general.
Our goal was to generate estimates of the number of teachers who are in the stages of prosperity, stagnation, or who have moderate mental health. These estimates showed that only 32.5% are in the prosperity stage, 5.6% are stagnating and the vast majority have reported moderate levels of mental health (61.9%).
We also found that although most of the participants were satisfied with their work, 36% felt alone. Of the respondents, 68.7% experienced positive emotions such as joy or happiness, but only two-thirds experienced such emotions in the last 2 weeks.
We also decided to collect qualitative data through consultations with a group of selected teachers because we felt that the data collected was disconnected from the harsh reality that teachers face. We held interviews with several of the initial survey respondents and found that over 80% report that their work has no positive effect on their mental health or well-being. This is partly due to the lack of autonomy and support offered by the school management, but also to the lack of understanding of the importance of the well-being of the teachers. It underlines the increased need to place the mental health and well-being of the entire school community in the spotlight of each educational institution in order to encourage teachers to discuss openly their concerns and concerns.
The interviewees emphasized the need to be listened to, appreciated, and understood and that recognizing the effort made can lead to a sense of appreciation. Teachers also said that in extremely difficult times, the mere appreciation and recognition of such a moment by those around them can lead to a sense of validation. The interviews revealed the importance of quality relationships between colleagues, but especially the importance of building a sense of “together”.
Teachers rely on more resources when they feel stressed or worried at work. Family and friends were named as the main sources of support by most of those interviewed. More than 85% said they were calling a colleague with a similar role, but few said they could turn to their direct superior. One possible cause for concern would be that 68% do not turn to anyone when they feel stressed or worried at work.
Teachers said that open discussions about mental health are essential to encourage people who are going through a difficult time to ask for help.
An extremely low percentage said they turn to a professional or doctor if they feel worried or stressed at work.
Most teachers agreed that their own well-being has a direct impact on their professional performance, especially on their ability to teach.
The difficulties faced by teachers are not necessarily related to the workload as is usually assumed, but often it can be a crisis situation in their personal life; difficulties in the relationship, deaths or serious illnesses but also the care of their own children are among the factors that can lead to increased stress and due to the total lack of emotional support in such situations.
Teachers have reported a number of professional situations that trigger a state of high stress. These include busy periods during the school year (the period of simulations and that of national evaluations), the pressure of extra-curricular activities, unpredictability, the pressure to keep up with changes but also the constant changes in school management
Many of the teachers who did not have a state of well-being discussed the desire to be in control and the efforts to do everything perfectly all the time; the awareness that they are not always possible seems to be a big part of their healing.
Most of them said they would be happy to have more support for how to manage their emotions and reactions.
Organization and prioritization are two essential skills that teachers must learn in order to maintain a state of well-being.
As a result of this study, we suggest a model for the implementation of educational programs aimed at the well-being of teachers, which may include accreditation standards, support areas, and course models. Planting a seed of emotional resilience within the framework of teachers’ professional development can allow teachers to build practices based on the science of human prosperity.
If teachers have strategies to support well-being they will be able to more easily manage the stressors that occur in the workplace and not just to survive, but to thrive.
And teachers realize that focusing on their own well-being is essential in sustaining students’ well-being (Sue Roffey, Wellbeing Australia, 2012).
The changing nature of society expects schools to address social justice, create a sense of belonging, develop resilience and keep away from media influences, which encourages unrealistic expectations of teachers (Mccallum & Price, 2010).
John Hattie drew a direct link between the teacher’s motivation, or lack thereof, and the academic results of the students.
“When teachers are exhausted or overwhelmed, their students’ academic results suffer because they become more concerned about their own survival.” (Hattie, 2013)
We hope that our research will provoke conversations about the importance of prioritizing the well-being and resilience of teachers.