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Anne Lowe

© 2002

Action Research:

Action Research: Stress and Teaching

Why I am interested in this topic:
For the past two years I have been working as a resource teacher in my district. Through this work I have met and listened to many teachers. As a resource teacher I attempt to find ways to help my teachers do their job which in turn benefits our students. Stress is one aspect of teaching life today. I am interested in finding out what makes the teachers in my district stressed, and better yet, what I can do to help them release stress, which in turn will make them better teachers
What I already know:
“Being a teacher today means that you must learn to deal productively with stress if you are to perform well in the classroom, enjoying not only the experience of teaching, but also of living” (Howatt 2001). If teachers are stressed out, our students feel that and become stressed out themselves. To maximize the educational experience of children, it is important that teacher stress be controlled (Anderson 1999).

Stress in teaching is a research topic that has been studied for over 25 years. Research began in the United States in the mid-1970’s; in the 1980’s, books and journal articles on teacher stress began appearing in other countries as well.

Teaching is very stressful. Donald Graves has spoken to numerous teachers and in his book listed below, he tells of his observation of increased tension and fatigue in the teaching profession. Three energy drainers Graves found are: lack of control over time and space, lack of support from administrators, and difficult children. Graves found that one cause of stress is the inability to direct stress toward a solution, which then leads to serious energy loss. Some things Graves found to be energy givers are: students and colleagues at school, and at home, a spouse or partner, music, and taking time for oneself.
In another study, William Howatt describes three sources of teacher stress: societal expectations, actions by supervisors, and individual perceptions (Howatt 2001). Three components he gave to achieving wellness were balance in career and relationships, knowledge and information on how to achieve wellness, and direction in assessing one’s stresses and taking action on getting information on how to overcome them.

A study done in 1999 by Vidya Anderson showed that teachers perceived a reduction in stress using meditation only 2-5 times per week. Meditation has been used to decrease the negative effects of stress on the nervous system thereby increasing the individual’s capacity to resist stress and respond adaptively to the work environment (Anderson 1999).

Teachers who reduce stress are better able to present the curriculum and to meet the learning needs of their students (Howatt 2001).

What I want to know:
I want to know how the teachers I work with are stressed and how they relieve their stress. I also want to know if the role of a resource teacher can do anything to alleviate stress in the teachers’ lives.

Plan for year:
I plan to interview the teachers I work with verbally and/or in written form as to the things that cause them stress in their jobs. I will also continue to read the sources listed below to discover ways others alleviate stress. Next, I will attempt to implement a plan to reduce the stress, then return with an interview to see if there was any difference. Doing more research will help me uncover methods to use to gauge stress levels, and by interviewing, I will probably learn things I had not gone in search of.

Anderson, Vidya L., and Edward Levinson and William Barker and Kathleen R. Kiewra. (Spring 1999). The Effects of Meditation on Teacher Perceived Occupational Stress, State and Trait Anxiety, and Burnout. School Psychology Quarterly, 14 (1), 3-25.

Bobeck, Becky L. (March 2002). Teacher resiliency: a key to career longevity. The Clearing House. 75 (4).

Claxton, Guy. (1989). Being a teacher: a positive approach to change and stress. London: Cassell Educational Limited.

Dunham, Jack. (1992). Stress in Teaching. London: Routledge

Fisher, Bobbi. (2000). The Teacher Book. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gebhard, Jerry G., and Robert Oprandy. (1999). Language Teaching Awareness: A Guide to Exploring Beliefs and Practices. Cambridge University Press.

Graves, Donald H. (2001). The Energy to Teach. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Howatt, William A. (2001). Creating Wellness at home and in school. Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Hubbard, Ruth S., and Brenda Power. (1999). Living the Questions: A Guide for Teacher-Researchers. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Travers, Cheryl. (1996). Teachers under pressure: stress in the teaching profession. London: Routledge.

Vandenberghe, Roland, and A. Michael Huberman. (1999). Understanding and Preventing Teacher Burnout. Cambridge University Press.


Creative writing:

Violin Lessons

“Hold the bow between your thumb and first two fingers,” the instructor told the beginning violin class. He eyed us all one by one, then came to me with a look of disdain: “You need to move this finger up a bit.” His bony hands gripped my nine-year-old thumb and fingers, moving them on the bow, oblivious to the violin that lay on the floor between us. “Let go of that finger there,” he said, waiting impatiently for me to follow his command. Since he was the instructor I figured he knew what he was talking about and besides, I was raised not to question authority. Going against my better judgment and my elementary understanding of the law of gravity, I did as I was told. As if rebelling against the conductor, the bow flew down and drew a nice three-inch crack in the body of the violin.

The class grew silent as I sat still, waiting for the instructor to say something - something like: “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have instructed you to do that.” Instead, he paused, and then said, “Well your parents will have to pay to get that repaired.”

At home that afternoon I tried to change the subject each time one of my sisters asked me to show them the rented violin. Finally, I relented. My family gathered around me as I pulled out the bow and placed the violin under my chin.

“What’s this?” my dad asked pointing to the crack.

“What?” I raised my eyebrows.

“This crack right here.”

Brushing off his inquiry I said nonchalantly, “Oh that. That was there when I got it. It’s nothing.”

Later that night I lay awake in bed trying to figure out how I would tell my parents not only was I responsible for the crack in the violin, but that I had also lied to them about it. It was a scenario only scriptwriters for the Brady Bunch could appreciate. Unfortunately it would take more than thirty minutes to resolve. Five weeks passed and summer violin lessons were drawing to a close. My instructor reminded me that my parents would have to pay to repair the crack.

Riding back from the YMCA that afternoon, I made a feeble attempt at telling my mother. “Ah, Mom...?” I started from the backseat, knowing she couldn’t have a coronary with four other young kids in the car.

“Yeah, Honey?” she sang as we made our way up the Thompson hill.

“Umm...remember that crack in the violin?” I winced.

“Uh-huh,” she replied, “the one that was there when you got the violin?”

Ooh! She remembered. No matter how quickly I thought I had told the lie and no matter how hard I had hoped she’d either forgotten or hadn’t heard it, she had remembered it. This was proving to be difficult.

“Ah, yeah.... the crack that was there.” I moved to the edge of the seat, closer to my mom, her eyes now visible to me in the rear view mirror. “Well, it wasn’t there when I got it. I dropped the bow on it the first day of class and I was too scared to tell you the truth about it.” My mother’s eyes stayed focused on the road, her lips not yet pursed, but they were making their way to that position.

“We’ll talk about it when we get home,” she replied quietly.

Well, the worst was over; however, I still had to break it to them that they had to foot the repair bill. I was, of course, an unemployable third grader, and with my allowance, it would take years to repay them. In the end I got the usual lecture: Mom talking, Dad sitting on the couch next to her, silent. I stood in the center of the living room, staring down at my bare feet dusted with the signs of a barefoot summer. I endured in silence, not daring to look my mother in the eyes, but nodding, hoping she’d finish soon, so I could join my siblings in a game of neighborhood kick-the-can, already commenced.

The next summer I started trumpet lessons with my dad’s old cornet. You didn’t need a bow to play it, and if I had put a dent in it, it was already so beat up, you wouldn’t have even noticed.