What Principals Need To Know About Teacher Anxiety

A lot of these are easy fixes for administrators.

Teacher anxiety in an anatomy classroom

Picture this: It’s a bright and early morning, and teachers are gathering in the staff room, coffee in hand, ready to tackle another day of working with kids.

But amid the hustle and bustle, there is an undercurrent of anxiety. One teacher is silently panicking on the unrealistic deadlines and targets set by their administration. Another is worrying about the fallout (and the hours of prep needed!) if she takes a sick day. The math team is upset about a vague but scolding email from their team leader, while the ELA team is confused about the rumblings they hear about grade level changes next year and content complaints from a handful of parents. 

Teachers carry many worries that can sometimes overshadow their dedication and passion for their careers and their students. And many wish their administrators understood what underlies some of their biggest anxieties.

We recently found Julia’s #STEAMing Up Learning post, “What should administrators know about the biggest sources of anxiety for educators?” and gathered teachers’ responses from the tweet.

As a former highly anxious teacher, every one of these resonated with me. Administrators, we hope you’re listening!

Parent Complaints and Poor Communication

Not surprisingly, this was my own biggest source of anxiety. Teachers report most frequently that their administrators’ poor communication skills cause a lot of anxiety. As teachers, we often sense a heightened level of urgency and immediacy in the requests from administrators. Regrettably, administrators often fail to acknowledge our requests or respond promptly to our emails. Why is the expectation of immediate communication only directed toward us? Why is it a one-way street?

And as this tweet thread would confirm, a frustrating trait of administrators’ is the effervescent “I need to see you in my office sometime today,” without any further details. No context or explanation. This used to make my heart palpitate in the middle of class so badly! Similarly, these educators commented:

“Had a principal call me into his office because of a parental complaint. Fine. He had a file with my name on it and a page full of dates and notes about me, open, facing him, and never mentioned it.” —@moraggemma

“Calling us to a meeting without any explanation as to what the meeting is going to be about.” —@ThatsMrWhite

“Being summoned to the ‘principal’s office’ via email or publicly over the intercom by an administrator who is known to have people leave crying. You can sense the silent whispers ringing in your head as you walk down the hallway to your fate.” —@StacyRSalter

Unrealistic Workload and Expectations

Teachers often find themselves trying to maintain balance amid an ever-increasing workload, unrealistic deadlines, and expectations from administration. The constant pressure of accountability can become overwhelming, leaving us feeling like everything in the school rests on our shoulders. Like educator @flfieldsfam says, “All the expectations for success are placed on the teacher and few are actually placed on the students.”

Teacher shortages have exacerbated how difficult it already was for teachers to take sick or personal days. @RachelBRosen says it like this: “Knowing there is an illness tearing through my house and how am I going to find coverage for my class if I have to call in sick?!”

Student Behavior Problems

When students come first, sometimes administrators overlook the well-being of teachers. Teachers dedicate themselves to their work but are often met with ineffective or no support. @CaveCavy says, “My biggest source of anxiety is slow response to safety or behavior issues that need admin intervention.”

As safety concerns continue to plague America’s public school system, teachers are on edge about their well-being. Teachers can face unsafe situations in their classrooms involving students. Yet, administrators may fail to grasp these traumatic experiences’ impact on teachers’ overall well-being.

Evaluation Worry

The mere thought of performing poorly on an observation or evaluation is enough to send teachers spiraling. The idea of being judged solely based on a single lesson, which may overshadow years of hard work and dedication, is not only anxiety-ridden but also frustrating. For some teachers, their anxiety persists even after the evaluation. It can take days to receive administrator feedback, leaving teachers uncertain and uneasy, especially if their evaluation scores are less than satisfactory.

The High Stakes of Testing Season

High-stakes testing has become a significant source of anxiety for students as well as teachers. The pressure to achieve specific scores can overshadow the joy of learning. As a teacher, I used to panic thinking about how my students’ test performance reflected on my effectiveness. In addition to the state-mandated tests, many teachers have to take on numerous extra pretests, post-tests, and diagnostic tests each quarter. As @819teach puts it, “Testing, testing and more testing. I’m not even just talking about state tests. Our county makes us do pretests and post-tests and then retest after you pulled those who failed into small groups. Throw in iReady diagnostics 3x a year and I am so over it all.”

Chaotic Management

Ever been to a disorganized, chaotic school event? So has @RobertPollard02, who noted this as an anxiety trigger: “Putting an event on the school calendar but not actually having a plan for that event.”

Teachers often find themselves burdened with unnecessary stress caused by poor organizational skills on the part of their administrators. Last-minute changes to course schedules, unclear expectations when preparing for the upcoming semester, and the absence of planned events on the schedule can all contribute to our worries. The haphazard arrangement of events at the 11th hour can be highly disruptive. @Deanna_Breeding calls for more transparency: “The angst and anxiety I get not knowing about what changes ‘might’ happen …”

Distrust and Lack of Support

Teachers thrive in an environment where they feel valued and supported. It can be disheartening when administrators overlook our concerns during decision-making processes that directly impact us. Like @moffatmom says, “I’ve been teaching for 35 years and when decisions are made about things that directly impact our classrooms, and we are not consulted, it is infuriating! Our voices need to be sought out and taken seriously.” The lack of transparency between administrators and teachers further exacerbates our distress. Many teachers report an imbalance in information sharing, where only select individuals are privy to new information while administrators leave others in the dark.

Teacher anxiety is very real and deserves to be taken seriously. We don’t expect administrators to remove anxieties. But listening to teachers is a crucial step in creating an environment to address anxieties. Teachers are afraid principals are going to dismiss their anxiety as weakness or being ill-suited for the job. Schools have to be better about receiving feedback. Taking steps to create a healthier school culture doesn’t just benefit individual teachers’ needs—it benefits the entire school community.

What other anxieties do you wish your principal knew about? Let us know in the comments!

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Teacher anxiety is common in schools. But how many principals really know about it? See what teachers report are their biggest triggers.