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Research Questions

  1. What is the state of teacher well-being during the pandemic?
  2. What job-related stressors have teachers faced during the pandemic, and how are these stressors associated with teacher well-being?
  3. How do teachers' reports of well-being and intentions to leave their job compare with those of the general public?
  4. How do the job-related stressors faced by teachers who were considering leaving their jobs because of the pandemic differ from those faced by their peers: teachers who were likely to leave before the pandemic and teachers who were unlikely to leave?

Teaching was a stressful occupation long before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic occurred; during the pandemic, it might have become even more stressful. Teachers are navigating unfamiliar technology, are balancing multiple modes of teaching, and have concerns about returning to in-person instruction. In addition, many teachers are caring for their own children while teaching.

To explore the issue of job-related stress among teachers, the authors fielded a survey in January and February 2021 through RAND's American Teacher Panel. The results suggest that teachers have experienced many job-related stressors during the 2020–2021 academic year. Perhaps as a result, one in four teachers were considering leaving their job by the end of the school year — more than in a typical prepandemic year and a higher rate than employed adults nationally. Black or African American teachers were particularly likely to plan to leave. Also, teachers were more likely to report experiencing frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than the general population.

Stressful working conditions and increased personal responsibilities were more common among likely pandemic leavers (i.e., teachers who were unlikely to leave their jobs before the pandemic but who were likely to leave at the time of the survey). The experiences of these likely pandemic leavers were similar in many ways to those of teachers who left the profession after the start of the pandemic. These similarities suggest that likely pandemic leavers might decide to quit their jobs absent efforts to address challenging working conditions and support teacher well-being.

Key Findings

  • Nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic. Black or African American teachers were particularly likely to plan to leave.
  • A much higher proportion of teachers reported frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than the general adult population.
  • Mode of instruction and health were the highest-ranked stressors for teachers.
  • One in three teachers were responsible for the care of their own children while teaching.
  • Many pandemic-era teaching conditions, such as technical problems while teaching remotely, were linked to job-related stress, depressive symptoms, and burnout.
  • More teachers who were likely pandemic leavers (i.e., teachers who were unlikely to leave their jobs before the pandemic but who were likely to leave at the time of the survey) experienced working conditions that were linked to higher levels of stress than teachers who were unlikely to leave and those who were considering leaving prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The experiences of likely pandemic leavers were similar in many ways to those of teachers who had already resigned during the pandemic.

Recommendations

  • Schools should implement recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures in a way that allows teachers to focus on instruction. Districts and schools could recruit additional staff to help students comply with safety measures. Schools could ensure that windows are operable, employ fans and air purifiers, or upgrade ventilation systems. Education leaders also should consider how schools can facilitate vaccinations for younger students once they become available.
  • Leaders should collect data on teacher working conditions and links to well-being. State, district, and school leaders should keep in mind that teachers from different backgrounds might be affected differently by their working conditions. For example, teachers of color might experience different job-related stressors and working conditions — and thus have different needs — than their teacher peers.
  • District leaders should work with teachers and school leaders to design and implement a variety of mental health and wellness supports. States and districts should consider using American Rescue Plan funds, along with teacher and principal input, to provide mental health supports for staff.
  • State leaders should help teachers access child care, which could go a long way toward alleviating stress and promoting teacher retention. State leaders should consider including teachers in the definition of essential worker to ensure that they are eligible for American Rescue Plan child care assistance.
  • District leaders should collaboratively develop clear policies for remote teaching and consider adopting technology standards for remote teaching equipment issued to teachers — such as laptops, cameras, and microphones — and provide necessary training to support remote teaching in the long term.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was supported by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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