Teacher well-being – what the evidence shows

Following the mid-year break, it is worth reflecting on an issue that dominated the media during the break period, that of teacher well-being. Why is teacher reported stress increasing?

During the previous few weeks, a Sydney private school principal asked parents to cease harassment of his teachers, and considerable media attention focused on the book Teacher, by Gabbie Stroud, which chronicles the daily challenges of the author’s time as a teacher. The challenges of the teaching profession and the resultant attrition from the teaching workforce have dominated the literature for a number of years.  However, anecdotal reports continue to emphasise the unique rewards associated with being a teacher.

Teacher attrition is attributed to well-being, however, the definition of well-being itself is not straightforward. A literature review conducted by Acton and Glasgow (2015) concluded that well-being is informed by factors including: individual (a need for autonomy and a sense of competence, positive attitude, work-life balance, capacity for emotional intelligence); relational (e.g., quality of student and staff relationships, connectedness and belonging in the workplace); and contextual (e.g., work intensification and policy change).

A number of reports provide evidence of the contextual factors. A 2017 Australian study of the effectiveness of teacher education and early career teachers (Mayer et al.), acknowledged the challenging career patterns for beginning teachers with multiple short-term contracts and job insecurity. The study found teachers’ decisions to remain in teaching are linked to a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, including “their capacity to make a difference and effectively contribute to students’ learning, the enjoyment of teaching and working with children, developing new teaching and leadership skills etc. In addition to these intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, there are certain conditions of work that make the everyday experience of teaching enjoyable or not”.

Evidence of increasing stress in the profession is provided in Monash University’s Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, which suggests a lack of job security in teaching contracts, restrictions in teacher autonomy, and limited mentoring opportunities contribute to this situation. A recent study of promoting the teaching profession, commissioned by the Queensland College of Teachers (Bahr, Graham, Ferreira, Lloyd & Waters, 2018), identified “adverse perceptions of task demands (working conditions) that are instrumental in teacher turnover and attrition. These include: workload (the number of annual working hours), likelihood of working in disruptive classrooms, and availability of support staff”. Sources of teacher stress cited include: overcrowded classrooms, an emphasis on testing, restrictions on curriculum, multiple extracurricular and administrative demands and additional stresses of teaching subjects for which the teachers had no specialised background.

A Facebook page specifically developed for teachers to share workplace concerns and strategies, Minds Wide Open, posts reports about significant increases in teachers’ working hours, additional emphases on compliance and demands as contributors to the decline in teacher well-being and morale. These anecdotal reports are supported by qualitative data from a recent research project, Teaching and Learning – Review of Workload, commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation and undertaken by Sydney University Business School and School of Education and Social Work. This study confirmed there was “a surprising uniformity in responses in relation to high hours of work and administrative sources of workload”, even accounting for school size, type and diversity. The project reported an increase in workload over the past five years, which when coupled with perceived conflicting demands contributed to low morale or stress.

Despite these negative data, the NSW study also concluded that teachers are happy to work long hours if they understand and appreciate the value of the work, noting that increased administration and perceived extraneous policy requirements do not fit this category. It is also positive that in Queensland, many teacher organisations are attending to workload and well-being issues and each main employing authority has significant well-being support infrastructure. An awareness of the profession’s challenges also means that teachers are alert to supporting their own and their colleagues’ journeys.

Job satisfaction, positive or negative, is connected to staying or leaving a job in any profession. There is a wealth of evidence which suggests that significant work intensification and changing employment practices are contributing to a decline in teacher satisfaction. In my next blog I will discuss some well-being management suggestions from a range of practitioners, many of them teachers. I would also be very interested to hear of any effective strategies that you, your colleagues, or your schools are using.

I want to be clear it is not the individual’s sole responsibility to manage their well-being: employing organisations at all levels of leadership need to be active in developing supportive workplace practices. Therefore, in my next blog I will focus on both individual and systemic strategies. I look forward to receiving your suggestions to include.

Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton
Chair of QCT Board


Additional Reading

Acton, R., & Glasgow, P. (2015). Teacher wellbeing in neoliberal context” A review of the literature. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40 (8), 99-114.

Bahr, N., Graham, A., Ferreira, J., Lloyd, M., & Waters, R. (2018). Promotion of the teaching profession in Queensland. Bilinga: Southern Cross University. Prepared for Queensland College of Teachers.

Mayer, D., Dixon, M., Kline, J., Kostogriz, A., Moss, J., Rowan, L., Walker-Gibbs, B., & White, S. (2017). Studying the effectiveness of teacher education: Early career teachers in diverse settings. Singapore: Springer Nature.

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25 Responses to Teacher well-being – what the evidence shows

  1. Anonymous says:

    I retired from full time secondary teaching in 2004 after more than 30 years of full and part time work. I felt my final few years consisted of crowd control, administrative paperwork, escalating correction load which was impossible to manage, and a general feeling that work was taking over my entire life with little reward. I felt I was doing very little actual meaningful teaching, and the job satisfaction was very low. I am pleased I left when I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am 9 years in and ready to get out. I was a targeted graduate. I have a passion for making a difference. Teaching has become more about data and paperwork than actually teaching enriching lessons. What once was an enjoyable job has now been destroyed by the workload. The teaching standards? What do they actually achieve? We pay a fee every year to then have to prove ourselves as being good teachers, you only have to see the smiles on my students faces to see I am doing my job. No wonder NAPLAN results are on the decrease and the numbers of teachers who are leaving the profession is ever increasing. Our education is failing and ranked 39 out of 41 countries by the UN, it doesn’t take a trained monkey to see it is not the teachers fault- it is the system.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am a teacher of 8 years who recently left teaching to persue my business motivation IN me. The drive was to help those in my industry, students and educators, to deal with the daily pressures of life. I run workshops in schools on meditation, mindfulness and wellbeing which include strategies and hands on practice.
    I believe all students and teachers should have access to these types of tools.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Agree with the above comments. I’m out too!


  5. Anonymous says:

    I have been a teacher for 28 years. I like the kids, I like the staff. I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to put up with poor behaviour. Students feel I am helping them so in most cases are happy to comply. What is absolutely unreasonable, and the reason I could no longer put my hand on my heart and say “become a teacher” is the ridiculous amount of data, testing and administration duties that take up enormous amounts of time for very little benefit to teaching and learning. It has become fashionable for the new breed of administrators (who are bosses and not leaders, there is a difference) to ride teachers as hard as they can like a badge of honour. They change what was working, self promote themselves, and move on…. When will the powers that be realise that staff have the best idea of who amongst them would make great administrators and would be happy to support them as a cohesive unit. Hang on, they are the individuals who were promoted because they did that…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    I loved being a teacher and delighted in seeing my students achieve. My field was special education and performing a leadership role. The changes in expectations and increased accountability and paperwork diminished my ability to meet student and Staff needs. Increased aggression from students and parents and lack of effective backup for my team produced an environment that was like working in a war zone resulting in stress leave and resignation of valuable team members. One day while attending a meeting more responsibilites were loaded upon us. I had an out of body experience my brain completely shut down when I returned back to my self I had lost the ability to continue to perform to the level required of me. My doctor said I had a mental breakdown as a result I had to retire early. If you are unhappy, not being supported or finding it impossible to do all that is required. Find a new career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tanyachilcott says:

      The above comment has had six words retracted by a moderator at the QCT. If you are the anonymous author and have any concerns about this, please contact the QCT on 3377 4777 and ask to speak to the communications team.
      Thank you, Tanya.


  7. Julie B. says:

    The most important stress reliever is good behaviour management within the school. This needs to be a whole school approach. Secondly, you need respectful colleagues, parents and admin.
    Following on from these, the best way to relieve teacher stress and burnout is for teacher’s to have an extra day or 2 a term of non-contact to enable them to get the planning, marking and communicating (with parents, peers, principals, specialists, etc.] done. When holidays and weekends are spent getting things planned, marked, finalised etc. there is no down time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Anon says:

    After 16 years I’m looking at ways to give back to teachers but not as a teacher! I think wellbeing is of the up most importance but I also acknowledge that currently schools are constructed to be able to address the complex wellbeing needs. I am currently in the process of establishing a business coaching teachers in areas of wellbeing and in the future I’d like to offer programs in schools on Wellbeing self care and self compassion! Teachers need to be able to feel like they are thriving not just surviving as well as feeling safe and supported enough to feel like they are not “weak” when they ask for support.


  9. Anonymous says:

    I used to love teaching in the early childhood years, We planned around the needs of the students, physical,emotional, social, cognitive & creative together with language, literacy & numeracy. It was fun the kids learnt. I enjoyed consolidating the learning and doing as much creative arts with the children, together with singing & drama. Now the push down curriculum means there’s very little of that assessed as it’s all about the academic outcomes eg starting in prep. We can no longer even write a personal message on the report cards. I would love to go back to teach in C & K or just become a teacher aide less stress. I applied for a teacher aide job I didn’t even get an interview.


    • Anonymous says:

      I too have recently applied for 3 teacher aide positions and did not get one interview either!! I asked for feedback from one school that I failed to get an interview at and was told ” a teacher aide position was very different from a teacher”.. there was no other specific feedback other than that!
      I started working with children as an assistant in day care centres and worked my way up over the years until i did my degree in Education. I worked as a teacher for 15 years and my last position was as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator in a school in central London where I was responsible for managing all the support workers and nursery education workers so I had a understanding of what was required to be a teacher aide.
      As teachers and managing teacher aides on a daily basis I feel we have a very good understanding of the role of an aide. I was astonished that I did not even get an interview.
      I wanted to be a teacher aide as I did not want the responsibility of a teachers position as I was going back to the workforce after spending time as a mother. I wanted to find something that would work around the needs of myself and my child without the stress. I have recently been offered a job working with families and children not in the education system and without the masses of stress a teacher has to deal with and the pay is better. So here’s hoping for a happier work life balance!


  10. Anonymous says:

    I used to love teaching in the early childhood years, we planned around the the student’s physical,emotional, social, cognitive & creative needs together with language, literacy & numeracy. It was fun & the kids learnt. I enjoyed consolidating the learning and doing creative arts with the children, together with singing & drama. Now the push down curriculum means there’s very little of that assessed as it’s all about the academic outcomes eg starting in prep. We can no longer even write a personal message on the report cards. I would love to go back to teach in C & K or just become a teacher aide – less stress. After 20 years I thought I’d rather be a teacher aide & I applied for a teacher aide job but I didn’t even get an interview.


  11. Camilla says:

    So many of these comments resonate. Hunker down, buckle up and get though the week if you are a teacher – clear the evening diary – most nights are spent in front of a laptop producing feedback – EALD students have doubled my workload – jumping through hoops including learning communities doing lesson snapshots for each other based on pedagogical principles …already passed with our degrees and doctorates compounds workload intensification…I suppose this data informs someone’s Masters. Good on us. I’ve had an immensely rewarding career, despite – but it is nothing to do with DET and ensuing frameworks and policies. It is the students.


  12. DanF says:

    I am a teacher of 20 years experience transitioning to semi retirement or from full time to casual and short term contracts. My reasons for doing so are many and varied, but actual workload (not the” perception of workload”) is a major consderation. Too much assessment, too many meetings, moderation, WHS, ICTs, Acara, C2C etc etc all good and worthy, but just so much of it! The students are the least of my problems(at my current school) There is just too little time to reflect and pause for breath between all the things I have to respond to. And I’m 57. Not as agile as I used to be. I have a wealth of experience but you can’t snap you fingers to access it. On the plus side, this is the first decent forum I have seen for teachers to share their experiences. Your blog is well worth a look and I congratulate the QCT for including it. One last thing: I have never understood why Schools don’t exit interview staff who are leaving. This would yield invaluable data to inform the burgeoning decline in teacher numbers. Thoughts, anyone?


    • Max says:

      Dan F, when I left teaching at a top-achieving school where I had been for many years, I would not have said anything in an exit interview other than what I thought they wanted to hear. The wrong people were/are in leadership, as per the comments of the “teacher for 28 years” (above). “Leadership” has become social climbers instead of exemplary teachers who understand students and their learning. Ultimately that was what affected my wellbeing, not the workload itself. The problem is epidemic, the system is nurturing and reinforcing it. In leaving I would not risk the reference I needed by submitting any sort of honest feedback, even to an “independent” exit interview. I think when you decide to leave, you do it for yourself and by that stage the feedback is a moot point.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charles D says:

        Sadly, although not true of all admin teams, there has been a tendency in recent years to promote clones (like-minded people/those who only say “yes”). Unfortunately, as these people continue to be promoted, the associated problems do indeed become endemic. Few aspirants are brave enough to play “devil’s advocate”/balance the arguments, yet if they are to excel as leaders, this is exactly what they need to do. Good leaders understand the importance of listening to a range of views before deciding on action, and take time to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses. As a retired DP, I would like to think that this would eventually become self evident to all concerned, but sadly I think the intensification of workload has reduced amount of genuine self-reflection occurring in admin teams.


  13. Anonymous says:

    I became a teacher to teach students who have difficulties learning. The workload involved in the day to day requirements of a teacher is making it difficult to achieve a satisfactory balance to give students the appropriate support to assist them. The extra meetings, paperwork and administration requirements eat into any decent planning time. This is having an effect on work, family life balance. Something has to go and it will not be family. Unfortunately my reason for entering the profession is being slowly eroded due to untenable demands I feel are not necessary.


  14. Bradley says:

    The time spent with students is the reward. Yet it seems so much time outside the classroom is wasted on endless meetings planned by people who need to justify their positions because they are never in a classroom.


  15. Anonymous says:

    I am a passionate teacher of more than thirty years and love my subject area and my students. I feel that much of my job now, involves unrelenting paper work and filling in forms, just to conduct an overnight excursion is a mammoth undertaking. I feel there is a massive disconnect between the offices of the departments of education and those at the coal face. There is NEVER any consultation with us, the workers and thus, nothing improves and we get lumped with more rubbish paper work or policy. The current system is making me a lesser teacher and it is because of the system, that I cannot teach the students to the standards I expect of myself. It is absolutely criminal that “the system” is doing this to me and thousands of other teachers. Please, just let us teach!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Anonymous says:

    I have always loved teaching and I have taught in the lower school for over 30 years. This year I have been given a couple of children with behaviour that I can only describe as ‘nothing I have ever experienced’. These children should have a permanent teacher aide or be put in a small group because being in an unsupported classroom environment is so detrimental to everyone!…. I am fine with inclusion but when there are severe emotional and behavioural issues inclusion must be supported to be successful. It is pathetic when you are meant to call the ‘Behaviour Teacher’ after the problem occurs. This is reactive, and to be successful the support must be proactive! So here are some of my traumatic incidents….On missing a number fact one boy then tipped the contents of his tidy box on the floor, then threw the empty tidy box which hit the little girl (seated in front of him) in the back of her head, he then trashed my classroom when I removed the class (since no one from admin would answer my phone call)…..I have never felt so traumatised. The vision of him standing on top of a desk pulling on a string with art work hanging from it and with destruction (knocked over desks, chairs, books ) all around will haunt me…. Then there’s the second child who slammed the door repeatedly shouting ‘F#@#K You!’ repeatedly with his finger raised and then ran to the sandpit to carry as much sand in two hands to throw on the children as we were on the way to the Hall for Assembly….and then he ran to grab a thick stick over a metre long to try to hit me but threw it at me only missing the back of my head by a fraction….This is enough to make a normal person retire, but I really don’t want to let just 2 children stop me from doing a job I have always loved. There is not enough support and the admin are people who can ‘talk the talk’ but have never ‘walked the walk’.


  17. Charles D says:

    I strongly agree that intensification of teacher workload is a major issue which affects even the best of our profession, and sadly, we lose some very good ones! Sometimes even the reward from student interactions is not enough to overcome the negatives. I also agree with the many positive approaches in this and related articles to support and nurture those new to our profession, and genuinely understand the concerns teachers have about the increased focus on dubious forms of accountability and associated paperwork. Surviving and flourishing in teaching requires the ability to compromise at times, and adjust personal expectations to closer match the realities. My experience has been that those who see teaching is a vocation (not just a job) generally respond better to the school based strategies referred to earlier, though there is no substitute for caring, supportive admin teams who understand that leaders are there to serve, not rule.
    Although still registered with QCT, I retired as Deputy Principal nearly 5 years ago and then tutored pre-service primary teachers at University level for the following 3 years. Looking at the whole picture of early attrition referred to in the article however, I think there may also be some other issues that ALSO need to be considered.
    Many studies seem to have focused on the high rate of early attrition in the profession and new teacher classroom expectations. Ingersoll and Smith (2003) found that teaching has always had “high levels of attrition among newcomers” (p. 202), and after dealing with pre-service teachers for nearly 40 years, I’m not surprised. I wonder whether any research has been done around earlier expectation issues such as community beliefs about the nature of a teaching career, and the relationship between early attrition and the factors that led to the actual choice to train as a teacher.
    Although probably difficult to undertake, it would be interesting to see some research on whether the rate of attrition has shown any trends over the years, and the relationship of these trends to factors other than the intensification of workload which undoubtedly occurred during my career.
    Perhaps the real leaders in our profession need to reflect on some significant changes of attitude that have coincided with, and been exacerbated by, the intensification of workload in the last few decades.
    For a significant number (though fortunately NOT a majority), unrealistic expectations are evident well before they reach a classroom, with many expecting high marks for effort rather than actual achievement of criteria, and a university course workload that allows them to continue ALL their other life priorities uninterrupted. The pendulum has perhaps moved too far with Universities changing from a “sifting / evaluating role” to a “support the customer role”, where they see their role as providing whatever courses “customers” request, rather than actually advising their students on potential suitability for those careers. If research says that the rate of attrition is higher in teaching than other professions, then let’s acknowledge this by our actions. In addition to “matching skills” type questionnaires to assist with course selection, perhaps Universities need to implement an active ongoing process in teacher education courses that assists students to continually reflect on their suitability for the chosen career in light of what they have learned. Far better to change out of teaching in 2year Uni, than crash and burn in the first few years of teaching. The decision stills stays with the pre-service teacher, but course criteria need to guide self-reflection and be rigorously enforced for the sake of both the pre-service teacher and their potential students in the classroom.


  18. Anonymous says:

    I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and have always considered myself to lucky in that I had an enjoyable job. My concern at the moment is the number of teacher I see and support who are harbouring very high levels of stress and very low levels of job satisfaction. Experienced, caring and good teachers who are “on the brink”. Never before have I seen this in such large numbers. Apart from the work load, constant change of Principals and Deputy Principals (I have lost count of how many people have been in these roles) has had a huge impact on the degradation of the values held highly in this school when I first arrived. We have lost our identity as a school and spend our time and effort trying to please our employer. No longer is the whole child the centre of our attention. We are tired of the day to day verbal and physical abuse from students (and sometimes the parents). No matter what or how much we do, we are in the wrong. Our Admin are caught too. They have to deal with the Departmental expectations, the demands of the staff, with student behaviours and the parents/caregivers. They too are in a no-win situation.
    We are trying to support each other through small, token things (giving chocolates, morning teas, breakfasts, after school get-togethers). Having someone to confidentially debrief with, sound-off too or just chat to has proven to be a great help. Our teachers are burning out big time. We can’t do a lot about our community but our staff just want to be able to do the job they love – teach kids – and feel safe in their workplace.


  19. Anon says:

    I’m taking a break from my weekend full of marking to respond to this. I am in my 30th year of teaching and like many here, I no longer get the joy out of the job that I used to. I rate myself as an excellent teacher and I work in a school where behaviour is not an issue. It’s the work intensification and constant changes that are wearing me down. I have never worked so hard in my life; I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that my workload has doubled since I started teaching. NAPLAN, ACARA, NCCD, EALD etc etc… It’s all those acronyms that make teaching a profession I would not recommend to those starting out. My husband suggested it to our daughter a few weeks back and I very quickly put him in his place and reminded him how often he is a “marking widow.” The job just seems to want too much and it’s difficult to see how this has made improvements in the standard of education we are providing our students. All of the administrivia only serves to take time away from the real job of teaching.

    I also agree with comments above about the lack of real leaders at the top. My recent experience has been that those aiming for leadership positions kowtow to those above them to get the next best job and do so with little regard for the plebs at the chalkface.

    I have a few years until I turn 60 and it’s kind of sad that, at a relatively young age, I am wishing my life away for retirement. But if I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t know if I’ll make it until then anyway. This Christmas holidays are going to see quite a few hours spent looking for alternatives on SEEK.


  20. Paul Symoniw says:

    Teachers are their own worst enemy because they accept work from administrators to be completed in their own time at home where it is unpaid.I used to work 50 or 60 hour weeks and be paid for 25. I also marked and caught up on paper work and planning on the so called holidays.I burned out after 33 years.
    I have suggested to the union that teachers work 9 to 5 and clock on and clock off just like any other public servant and be paid for overtime. This would focus the minds of our administrators to prioritize what work we are given and a lot of non-essential admin-trivia would disappear as their budgets would no longer have the free 30 hours a week of labor we donate because we are responsible salaried professionals.
    We do not chose out clients, how, where or when we work. If we are late we get docked pay regardless of the many extra hours we have already worked that week. To call us professionals is a joke used to exploit us.I would much rather be a wage slave and have a life; than be a salaried professional living a miserable stressful existence.
    The QTU response was that teachers would not like the loss of prestige that being called a salaried professional gives them.


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