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Teacher stress rising, but venting helps.

Several surveys in recent years have confirmed what many educators need no survey to tell them: Teachers are stressed out. With standardized tests pressuring teachers to improve student performance, researchers say the problem is getting worse.

"Reducing stress involves predicting the problem and then controlling it, but they can't control it in many cases," says Dr. Mark Attridge of Optum, a Minneapolis-based health consulting firm. "If you know you can't control it, it's even worse. You know that [troublesome] kid in your fifth hour is going to be at you, and now you have to conform to all these national and statewide standards. So, there's even less control over your own class."

Echoing the results of other surveys on the subject, a 1998 Optum study in Minnesota found that 44 percent of educators endured high stress levels. The high stress was reported by educators of all ranks and cut through age, economic and gender boundaries. Many studies have shown that educators cited a lack of support from administrators as a key source of stress.

Optum followed up its research over several years to find solutions. Attridge said his firm established "behavioral" stress relief strategies at an inner city Minneapolis school to give teachers greater control and less costly alternatives to prescribed medications. For example, educators were encouraged to seek more support and vent to friends and family, find brief exercise breaks, and improve their diets. Self-care exercises prompt teachers to segregate problems into controllable activities and focus less on dynamics that are less controllable, he says. For example, he says teachers should not fret about a student's negative home life, but refer those problem cases to social workers.

Over a year, stress levels declined by about 15 percent at the school. "You can only change this so much," Attridge says. "It's hard to make a huge difference. If you give them an extra hour of prep every day, that would be huge. Schools can't afford that. Teachers are buying kids pencils out of their own budgets."

Darryl Alexander, the American Federation of Teachers' health and safety director, says she worries that mental stress among educators could impact physical health. With little success so far, she has been trying to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the physical consequences-measuring Levels of the stress hormone cortisol, for example, in teachers. "I would like to see if teachers have a disproportionate rate of stress-related diseases," she says. "We need more documentation."
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Richter, Allan
Publication:District Administration
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:DOE pushes to expand tough courses.
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