How depressed teachers can impact your child's learning

Your child's teacher's mental health should be a concern for all..

Teaching can be a difficult and stressful job. Many would argue that teachers are not supported adequately, especially because their work is some of the most important that exists. The lack of resources and support provided to teachers may contribute to or exacerbate mental health problems such as depression. This article reviews a study on a small group of third grade teachers to examine what kind of impact a teacher's depression may have on student learning.

The study

The study out of Arizona State University, which appeared in the journal, Child Development, assessed 27 third grade teachers in Florida, and their 523 students. Teachers completed questionnaires about the frequency of symptoms of depression that they experienced, such as poor sleep and appetite, and feeling like a failure. Throughout the year, students' skills in basic reading and math were assessed. The study also involved periodic video recordings which were observed and rated for the quality of the classroom learning environment.

The results

It was found that teachers' depressive symptoms in the winter months predicted students' poorer performance in mathematics in the spring. This prediction was especially true for students who had weaker math skills in the fall. Students with a strong performance in mathematics were not negatively impacted by teachers' depression. It was also demonstrated that teacher's depressive symptoms negatively impacted the classroom learning environment.

Interestingly, reading skills of students were not negatively impacted by teacher's depression. When teachers delivered a new core math curriculum and were found to be depressed, student learning was more negatively impacted. It is possible that these findings imply that the teaching of new material is therefore more negatively impacted by teachers' depression than the teaching of familiar material.

Recommendations based on the results

Researchers suggested that increased resources are provided to teachers in the form of supportive mental health services and ongoing professional development. By increasing support and development to teachers, it is proposed that their mental health will improve, and as a result, so will the quality of the classroom learning environment and student achievement. 

The authors note some preliminary studies in which mental health interventions such as a stress management program and weekly mental health coaching sessions proved beneficial to teachers. Despite these studies' findings and the fact that teaching is one of the most stressful professions, however, psychological support is rarely offered as a part of teachers' professional development.

The authors also point out that teaching is one of the few professions in which taking a break and calming one's self down during moments of distress is rarely an option. Teachers must keep teaching, often managing crises and all kinds of behavioral problems.

The authors note that this type of environment likely increases a teacher's susceptibility to mental health problems such as depression.

Important to note

A study such as this is one of the first to examine the impact of teacher depression on student learning. Its sample size was small and limited and for these reasons, its results should not be considered definitive or descriptive of all learning environments. It does raise important concerns, however, and points to the growing need for mental health support for educators.

McLean, L and Connor, C M. Depressive symptoms in third-grade teachers: Relations to classroom quality and student achievement, Child Development, February 11, 2015.

Continue Reading