RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to hear now about a problem a lot of us face, especially teachers. We're talking about workplace stress. Earlier this year in one national survey, roughly half of the nation's teachers agreed with the following statement, quote, "the stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren't really worth it." And that's a problem not just for them - teachers stress can hurt student learning and cost schools money. Cory Turner with the NPR Ed team reports on a new effort to help teachers keep calm and carry on.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: A recent Washington, D.C., symposium on teacher stress began with a joke.
MARK GREENBERG: A daughter said to her mother one day, I don't want to go to school.
TURNER: Mark Greenberg is at the podium, surrounded by caffeinating researchers, wonks and teachers.
GREENBERG: The kids don't like me very much. A lot of kids tease me, and they're not very nice to me. And I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything. And the mother said - well, honey, you have to go. You're the teacher.
TURNER: Greenberg is a professor of human development and psychology at Penn State. And he's studied America's schools for more than 40 years. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - also an NPR founder - Greenberg helped author a new brief exploring teacher stress.
GREENBERG: Teachers report the same level of high daily stress, 46 percent, as nurses and physicians in America.
TURNER: He says that stress is on the rise for lots of reasons, including high-stakes testing and students coming to school stressed. As a result...
GREENBERG: Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.
TURNER: Greenberg says that should bother all of us. Turnover costs schools billions of dollars a year. And he points to research that's found teacher stress and burnout also hurt student achievement. As for potential fixes, one big one might surprise you.
PATRICIA JENNINGS: How people here have experience with mindfulness?
TURNER: Mindfulness - for teachers. Patricia Jennings wrote the book on it. Really - it's called "Mindfulness For Teachers." She was a classroom teacher for two decades and now studies stress in the classroom as a professor and researcher at the University of Virginia. The Journal of Educational Psychology will soon publish a study of her work in New York City teaching mindfulness to more than 200 teachers in high-poverty schools. In a nutshell...
JENNINGS: The teachers showed reduced psychological distress and time urgency, which is this feeling like you don't have enough time, and then improvements in mindfulness and emotion regulation.
TURNER: Translation - these teachers were better able to cope and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students' big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.
But what is mindfulness? Well, simply put, it's about attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance. I'm sure, to many of you out there listening right now, this all sounds a bit squishy. But there's even been research on how mindfulness can help reduce stress in Marines. Meria Carstarphen was also at that teacher stress symposium with Mark Greenberg. She's run a couple of big-city school systems and is now superintendent in Atlanta. Carstarphen tells all of her new teachers, you can't take care of your students if you don't take care of yourself.
MERIA CARSTARPHEN: The first thing I say is - put your oxygen mask on first, and then we'll talk about everybody else.
TURNER: Research shows that mentoring for new teachers also makes them less likely to quit. And workplace wellness programs can help, too. But those require school-wide, even district-wide buy-in. The one thing teachers can control is their own state of mind.
Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
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