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Stress, burnout, and mental health among teachers of color

By Christopher J. Cormier, Venus Wong, John H. McGrew, Lisa A. Ruble and Frank C. Worrell
February 2021
Teaching in K-12 schools is stressful, as educators know and research documents. For example, Herman et al. (2020) found that 94% of middle school teachers reported high levels of stress. Although all teachers experience stress, minoritized teachers of color often experience unique stressors. Common examples include being asked to translate for parents who do not speak English or function as the disciplinarian for students experiencing behavioral challenges (Bristol & Mentor, 2018; Dixon et al., 2019). Often, these students are from other classes, and teachers are interrupted from working with their own students and completing their other responsibilities. Minoritized teachers of color may accept these additional duties to support students who share their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, but they also engender stress. Moreover, when there are

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Here are more sources of support for minoritized teachers of color.

  • Profound Gentlemen (www.profoundgentlemen.org) is a nonprofit with a focus on mentoring and creating community for male minoritized teachers of color.
  • The Division for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners (community.cec.sped.org/ddel/home) is a supportive group of minoritized teachers of color in K-12 schools.
  • Cormier and Scott (2020) outline several advocacy strategies for minoritized teachers of color in special education.

What administrators can do to reduce burnout for minoritized teachers of color

  • Have clear policies that are applied equally to all teachers.
  • Ensure that all teachers feel that they and their culture are valued and respected members of the school community.
  • Visit their classes and appreciate their unique styles and strengths.
  • Ask how you can be an ally.
  • Provide clear and realistic job expectations.
  • Provide support for autonomy.
  • Increase respectful communication.
  • Create social situations where all cultural groups feel welcome.

 

References

Awa, W.L., Plaumann, M., & Walter, U. (2010). Burnout prevention: A review of intervention programs. Patient Education and Counseling, 78(2), 184-190.

Billingsley, B. & Bettini, E. (2019). Special education teacher attrition and retention: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 89(5), 697-744.

Bristol, T.J. & Mentor, M. (2018). Policing and teaching: The positioning of Black male teachers as agents in the universal carceral apparatus. The Urban Review, 50(2), 218-234.

Brunsting, N.C., Sreckovic, M.A., & Lane, K.L. (2014). Special education teacher burnout: A synthesis of research from 1979 to 2013. Education and Treatment of Children, 37(4), 681-711.

Cormier, C.J. & Scott, L.A. (2020). Castaways on Gilligan’s Island: Minoritized special education teachers of color advocating for equity. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 53(3), 234-242.

Dixon, D., Griffin, A., & Teho, M. (2019, September). If you listen, we will stay: Why teachers of color leave and how to disrupt teacher turnover. The Education Trust & Teach Plus.

Herman, K.C, Prewett, S.L., Eddy, C.L. Savala, A., & Renke, W.M. (2020). Profiles of middle school teacher stress and coping: Concurrent and prospective correlates. Journal of School Psychology, 78, 54-68.

Katz, S.J., Kessler, R.C., Frank, R.G., Leaf, P., & Lin, E. (1997). Mental health care use morbidity, and socioeconomic status in the United States and Ontario. Inquiry, 38-49.

Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., & Walters, E.E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.

Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E., & Leiter, M.P. (1997). Maslach Burnout Inventory (3rd ed.). In C.P. Zalaquett & R.J. Wood (Eds.), Evaluating stress: A book of resources (pp. 191-218). Scarecrow Education.

Reiss, F. (2013). Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine, 90, 24-31.

Ruble, L., Yu, Y., Watkins, M., Adams, M., McGrew, J., & Salyers, M. (2019, January). Adapting an evidence-based burnout intervention for special educators. [Poster presentation]. Annual Project Director’s Meeting, Institute of Education Sciences, Washington, DC, United States.

Salyers, M.P., Hudson, C., Morse, G., Rollins, A.L., Monroe-DeVita, M., Wilson, C., & Freeland, L. (2011). BREATHE: A pilot study of a one-day retreat to reduce burnout among mental health professionals. Psychiatric Services, 62(2), 214-217.

Williams, D.R., Mohammed, S.A., Leavell, J., & Collins, C. (2010). Race, socioeconomic status and health: Complexities, ongoing challenges and research opportunities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1186, 69.​

Wong, W.H., Ruble, L., Yu, Y., & McGrew, J. (2017). Too stressed to teach? Teaching quality, student engagement and IEP outcomes. Exceptional Children, 83(4), 412-427.

World Health Organization. (2001). The World Health Report 2001: Mental health: New understanding, new hope. Author.

Zuckerman, M. (1999). Diathesis-stress models. In M. Zuckerman (Ed.), Vulnerability to psychopathology: A biosocial model (pp. 3-23). American Psychological Association.


Christopher J. Cormier (cormierc@stanford.edu) is a post-doctoral research fellow at Stanford University in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.

Venus Wong (vwhwong@stanford.edu) is a post-doctoral research design fellow at Stanford Medical School, Clinical Excellence Research Center. 

John H. McGrew (jmcgrew@iupui.edu) is an emeritus professor of Ppsychology at Indiana University-Purdue University.

Lisa A. Ruble (laruble@bsu.edu) is a professor in the Department of Special Education at Ball State University.

Frank C. Worrell (frankc@berkeley.edu) is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley.


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