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This Back-to-School, It's Time to Talk Teacher Mental Health

Educators need more support for their own well-being so they can continue to teach and support our students.

Teacher working at a desk.

As students return to the classroom from summer break, we can't afford to overlook the mental well-being of educators. Just like students, teachers are feeling emotional pressures that can impact mental health. In a new survey from EdWeek Research Center and Merrimack College, 42% of teachers said their teaching and professional growth had suffered this year because of the state of their mental health. And more than half said that the mental health and wellness of teachers in their school has declined over the course of the 2022–23 school year.

We often hear from our educators about the challenges that lead to stress and burnout. Here are three:

  1. Outside factors are disrupting classroom learning.

    While teachers are still dealing with the pandemic's lingering impact on both students and classroom instruction, the last year has increasingly turned the classroom into a battleground for culture wars. From debates around book bans and critical race theory to gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues, schools have become the foil for politicians looking to score points with their bases. But that's led to real impacts on teachers, who often become targets for angry parents, school boards, and more. One in six teachers marked "the intrusion of political issues and opinions in teaching" as a top source of job-related stress, according to a recent survey from the RAND Corp. And only 55% of teachers say they feel like the general public respects them as professionals, according to EdWeek/Merrimack College.

  2. Schools are short-staffed.

    Educators are doing way more than managing their own students. They may be teaching another teacher's class along with their own, or covering classes during a period that used to be open for eating lunch or creating lesson plans. Nearly half of the public education employees who left teaching in March 2023 resigned, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Staffing shortages hurt students, too. Another EdWeek study from 2022 found that 52% of school staff surveyed said student behavior is suffering and 48% said student learning is suffering due to staff shortages.

  3. Teachers are seeing increasing challenges with students' mental health and well-being.

    Research released by the CDC last year found that 44% of high school students surveyed reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. And the U.S. surgeon general issued an unprecedented advisory about the serious mental health crisis we face with our young people. Teachers are now reporting that these data points are resulting in more students having a tough time in the classroom. The same survey from EdWeek and Merrimack College found that more than 50% of teachers say that the current state of students' mental health is hurting their ability to learn and socialize, as well as negatively affecting educators' capacity to manage their classrooms.

    Students may have difficulty focusing, or lack motivation for completing assignments, and they may act out through disruptive behavior. Teachers are struggling with classroom management, serving both as counselor and educator, trying to support their students through these challenges.

More demands on already overworked educators

Many teachers feel the pressure to support their students' emotional well-being, but they aren't trained psychologists with expertise in helping with emotional issues.

Among other actions, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls for better support for the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. He also stresses the need to expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.

With the surgeon general's call to action on the youth mental health crisis, Common Sense, along with many groups across the technology, entertainment, philanthropy, nonprofit, and foundation sectors, announced our Healthy Young Minds campaign to promote and support the implementation of the recommendations in the surgeon general's advisory.

These are important steps. We also need to take care of the mental health of our teachers. A 2021 RAND survey found that teachers were almost three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than other adults. Yet only 2% of teachers in the EdWeek/Merrimack College survey said their districts offer extensive mental health supports for employees' health and wellness.

Finding solutions

So in the meantime, how can we help educators returning to the classroom?

  • Hire more clinically certified counselors to support students in school and ease the burden on classroom teachers.
  • Provide access to resources and directories so staff can connect students with trained professionals when they need more help.
  • Create space for teacher and staff conversations about mental well-being, and offer support groups and mental health counseling support to educators and students.

Our teachers play a tremendously important role in students' lives. At Common Sense, we have been supporting teachers with tools, resources, and community for more than 10 years. For our kids to thrive, emotionally and academically, schools need to set educators up for success with the support they need. In the meantime, here are some resources for teachers struggling with mental health:

Kelly Mendoza

Kelly Mendoza, Ph.D., is vice president of education programs at Common Sense. She oversees the Digital Citizenship Curriculum and all edtech ratings and reviews at Common Sense Education.