Improving Teacher Attendance by Embracing Mental Health

  (Updated March 24, 2022)
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Female teacher pressing forehead to her hand and looking down at desk

Examining Teacher Burnout

Teacher mental health is extremely important. Teachers are vital in our world today, and we must help them stay mentally focused and avoid burnout. In other careers, some professionals can go home, kick off their shoes, and relax, leaving a portion of their cares at work for the next day.

Teachers, however, often take home their computers to plan, papers to grade, and parent emails and messages to respond to. Additionally, they worry about the wellbeing of their students. After days like these continue to add up, especially following a global pandemic, teachers experience pandemic burnout as well.

What causes burnout in general? Several factors can contribute to teacher burnout. These include:

Lack of Communication

Sometimes administrators can be vague regarding what is expected of teachers. This can create confusion among teachers and leave them feeling pressure to do things that may not necessarily be requirements.

Work Overload

Teachers are often asked to do more than they can get done in a normal workday. Oftentimes they are on multiple committees in addition to their classroom duties.

Classroom Management Difficulties

Teachers face student discipline issues on a daily basis. This can include disrespect, insubordination, and students being disruptive and off-task. If teachers don’t have guidance on how to improve classroom management and support the consequences of these behaviors, they can experience burnout.

Low Income

It’s no secret that teacher salaries are low in comparison to the cost of living, which can contribute to stress and attempts to make ends meet.

Practice Self-care

Making self-care a priority is something that should be stressed and modeled in schools. When teachers are engulfed in a culture that recognizes this need, they are more likely to make self-care a priority.

By preventing and combating teacher burnout, administrators can help avoid poor teacher attendance, help raise student achievement, and boost staff morale. It is important to address each of these possible causes of burnout and collect feedback from teachers in order to continually improve school working conditions.

The Importance of Teacher Attendance in School

Teacher attendance is essential. Needless to say, in order to be effective, teachers need to be present. Teacher attendance is just as important as student attendance; students need to see that showing up and giving your best effort matters.

Having a substitute teacher is often not as beneficial to students as having a certified teacher present. Additionally, teachers who are chronically absent, can create a domino effect within a school building.

For example, if a specific teacher is always absent on Fridays or Mondays, an administrator may have to pull a teacher assistant to cover their class each week due to substitute shortages. This impacts not only the absent teacher’s classroom, but the other teacher and their students as well.

The Importance of Mental Health

In most schools across the nation, things are getting back to “normal.” After two years of a global pandemic, however, folks are still coping with stress and anxiety. Many school districts are looking at ways to improve the social, emotional, and mental well-being of their staff. Some districts are offering social-emotional learning activities and professional development for staff such as yoga classes or self-care opportunities.

In Rockingham County, North Carolina, for example, The Instructional Support Services Department has designed a Virtual Reset Room, in which staff throughout the county has access to various de-stressing activities. These activities include things like virtual reset tools, adult coloring, wildlife cameras, and music.

Clearly, it’s important to support teachers not only instructionally, but mentally and emotionally as well in preventing teacher burnout. Mentally healthy teachers have better impacts on students and better attendance. Studies show that approximately 28% of teachers are chronically absent and approximately 2% report they are not suffering from on-the-job stress. This is concerning considering teachers set the tone for classrooms and the school itself.

It is imperative that school administrators work with staff to provide tools for stress management, address teacher anxiety, and regularly check the mental health pulse of their staff.

How Prioritizing Mental Health can Improve Teacher Attendance

Embracing mental health awareness and wellness is key to making improvements in teacher wellbeing and attendance. Here are some ways to prioritize mental health for educators:

Make Changes When Possible

If there are things that can be taken off the plates of educators, this is something to consider. Things that can be changed should be. School improvement teams at sites are great places to discuss possible changes that can make the lives of educators easier.

Incorporate Physical Activities

It’s no secret that getting your body moving can help your mental state. Providing opportunities for staff to get physical can help boost morale and staff wellbeing. Some schools develop a “Wellness Committee” that can come up with ways to help staff get moving.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries can be helpful in preventing teachers from becoming burnt out. Boundaries could be designating a set time at night to stop responding to parent messages or choosing at least one day a week to leave school on time and do something fun in the evening.

Whether we start in big ways or small ways, it is important to remember that we must take care of ourselves and teachers so that we can show up every day and be our personal best for all of the students. There are many ways to improve teacher attendance and mental health; the suggestions discussed here are just a few ideas that can be a good start.

*Updated March 2022
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