Strategies for improving teacher well-being throughout your career
Improving teacher well-being is a top concern for districts, schools, and educators far and wide. But just as wellness looks a bit different for every teacher, what teachers need for their own well-being also shifts and changes—depending on both where they are in the school year and the stage of their career.
As Education Week found in a recent exploration of teacher affirmations, one person’s inspirational saying can feel to another like toxic positivity—a way of using rose-colored glasses to gloss over life’s difficulties. And as educators grow and evolve throughout their careers, they face different challenges that demand new solutions.
How do concerns related to teacher wellness vary throughout the academic year and across career phases? We’ll explore what educators need to thrive as they move through their careers.
What are the most important needs of teachers?
A teacher survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center found that declining job satisfaction rates may occur when educators feel they’re not receiving:
- Professional respect from the public.
- An adequate compensation package.
- Time to focus on the work they love—teaching—instead of administrative duties.
Furthermore, a review of almost 20 years of research on teacher well-being underscored the importance of social relationships, including meaningful interactions with peers, students, and administrators.
Importantly, just as no two students are the same, every teacher’s needs are unique. Some may find that job-related stress is easier to manage with better social support, whereas others might believe that greater recognition or a higher salary is a key factor for striking an appropriate balance.
Generally speaking, however, teachers’ needs seem to echo what everybody strives for: the ability to connect with others, the opportunity to devote our talents to work that matters, and the feeling of being respected and appreciated for our efforts.
How teacher well-being evolves across careers
Teachers may also experience a fluctuating constellation of needs that influence well-being throughout their careers. In particular, we’ll focus on important factors that impact teacher wellness for:
- New teachers in the first few years of their career.
- Midcareer educators with a significant amount of experience under their belts.
- Long-term teachers who may be looking for additional leadership responsibilities.
Although teachers who are newer to the field may face a greater number of challenges as they acclimate to the profession, education is a demanding vocation for all. As such, teacher well-being is no less important for those who have devoted decades of their lives to classroom instruction.
Early career teachers: Gaining experience and confidence
Some fields allow greener employees to gain their footing before assuming greater levels of authority, but teachers are tasked with substantial responsibilities from the outset. In particular, there’s the challenge of delivering high-quality instruction on a day-to-day basis as well as the task of nurturing student growth over the long term.
Many enthusiastic new teachers are eager to help young learners explore new concepts and reach loftier personal heights. That doesn’t mean the first few years are going to be free of stress or doubt, though.
Challenges facing new teachers
Education Week conducted a series of interviews and reported that some of the top issues for new teachers included classroom management and receiving limited hands-on training before entering the workforce. Although first-year teachers may enter the classroom feeling like they have a firm handle on instructional methods and the theory surrounding educational best practices, they may also worry that they don’t have the firsthand experience required to keep classrooms humming on a daily basis.
Such struggles can take their toll on teacher wellness—especially if these new educators feel like they don’t have enough support within their schools or sufficient time to disconnect.
Opportunities for elevating the well-being of new teachers
For early career educators, having ample opportunities to connect with mentors and other supportive school colleagues can go a long way toward helping them gain additional training in their first few years on the job. Such efforts can also improve social relationships among peers within the school, which is a key component of overall teacher well-being.
Writing in Edutopia, Jason DeHart, an education professor and former middle grades English teacher, offered some salient advice for new teachers, including the need to retain a sense of perspective. The job is hard, and nobody’s perfect right out of the gate—but there’s always a chance to improve.
“Teaching is essentially human and is a complicated balance of personal interaction, pedagogical implementation, and content area knowledge,” said DeHart. “Self-doubts are normal.”
Midcareer teachers: Managing stress and environmental factors
Once teachers make it past their first few years on the job, they’ll likely feel like they have a good handle on the ins and outs of what it takes to be an educator. Although they’ll continue striving to refine their work, they have enough experience under their belts to move forward with confidence.
For these midcareer teachers, the impact of the professional environment in which they operate can have a bigger impact on their well-being than the daily rhythms of the job. Additionally, these professionals may find themselves looking for new opportunities for growth.
Challenges facing midcareer teachers
Recent reports on teacher retention rates have indicated that many teachers are experiencing greater stress due to the current political landscape and contemplating an exit, though most don’t actually leave the profession. After devoting so much time and effort to the field, commitment to the classroom often wins out for midcareer teachers, many of whom may also be motivated in part by retirement packages and other benefits.
So how do these dedicated teachers manage stress and remain connected to their passion for the work?
Opportunities for promoting teacher well-being among midcareer educators
District administrators have an important role to play when it comes to improving factors that influence wellness for teachers in the middle phase of their careers. One study of midcareer teacher retention found that teachers who have between five and 20 years of work experience are more likely to remain in their roles when they feel like they’re part of a positive school climate. According to the research, workplace conditions that had a clear bearing on teaching carried the most weight.
As such, teachers may have to work with administrators to further promote well-being throughout the school community. This includes working collaboratively to find areas where excess burden could be removed from teachers’ workloads and encouraging superintendents and principals to demonstrate their trust in teachers.
Long-term educators: Finding new opportunities
Teachers who have achieved excellence in their profession and put in the work to continuously perfect their craft are not immune to daily stressors. After all, these everyday obstacles can impact educators at any stage in their careers. It’s just as vital to look after the well-being of our most experienced teachers and to ensure they’re part of the fabric of a positive and welcoming school community.
Even in the best of times, long-term educators may eventually find themselves asking, “What’s next? How can I keep growing?”
Challenges facing long-term teachers
Education is by no means a static field. In decades-long careers, teachers often see big shifts in policy direction, public perception, and professional obligations. When these changes present fresh challenges, educators have to learn to adapt quickly to the new circumstances.
Additionally, teachers may be looking for opportunities that allow them to grow into new roles while still participating in classroom instruction—a passion that has likely sustained them through many years of hard work.
Opportunities for supporting the well-being of long-term teachers
One possible retention strategy for helping to solve school staffing shortages—offering leadership roles for experienced teachers—can also have a positive impact on teacher well-being for long-term educators.
In particular, long-term teachers who want to find new ways to grow while supporting their colleagues may benefit from stepping into roles where they can share their expertise with fellow educators.
As part of a helpful teacher career path guide, TEACH.org, a resource from the Department of Education and Microsoft, highlighted several exciting school leadership opportunities. These included:
- Serving as a chair for the teacher’s grade level.
- Working as an instructional specialist.
- Providing mentorship for early career teachers.
- Coaching other teachers in the school or district.
Adjusting across the school year
Teachers’ stress levels may rise and fall from one month to the next. In turn, educators may experience fluctuating needs throughout the academic year that affect which well-being resources could be most useful for them at any given moment.
Many point to the “October slump” as a time when energy seems to wane in the classroom, but individual teachers may find that other points in the year present their own unique challenges.
For this reason, an Edutopia article on averting teacher burnout emphasized the importance of establishing habits early in the school year to avoid elevated stress later. In practice, that means being deliberate about volunteering for additional work, limiting the amount of time spent grading, scheduling breaks, and setting boundaries early on.
In districts where students have access to unlimited, 24/7, and 1:1 tutoring through Paper, teachers may want to help learners early in the school year get comfortable using the service both in the classroom and at home. That way, it’s easier for educators to feel confident clocking out. They’ll know students are always able to turn to Paper for extra help.
Watching out for your well-being—starting from year one
For new teachers and longtime pros alike, well-being is paramount. With the right support for managing stress, connecting with supportive colleagues, and growing into leadership roles, educators can maintain a focus on wellness that allows them to thrive in a challenging—and rewarding—career path.
For more information about how Paper can help support teacher well-being at every stage of the education career path, check out our free ebook on how 24/7 tutors can empower teachers.