Teacher Well-Being – We Need Systems Change (Part 2)
Reforming teacher training to better prepare teachers for the job they face

By Mark Greenberg
Emeritus Bennett Chair of Prevention Science, Penn State University, Chair of CREATE (www.createforeducation.org)

In the current national focus on teacher quality, the essential role of teachers social and emotional competencies is often overlooked. But ask educators when they need those competencies and they’ll likely respond everyday.”                              Jones, Bouffard & Weisbourd, 2013, p.62

The Emotional Nature of Teaching
Teaching is a highly rewarding but emotional exhausting profession.  Teachers give their heart and soul to their jobs and while relationships with their students are often very rewarding, teaching requires high emotional labor. What this means is that teachers often need to manage their own emotions in order to support the authentic emotions of their students. As a result, teachers often experience vicarious trauma from their support of the many needs of their students.  As my colleague, Marc Brackett has noted “Educators have always known that emotions play a key role in teaching and learning, yet few systematic efforts have been made to train teachers and educators on the skills associated with emotional literacy. “(Brackett & Kremenitzer, 2011)

No one has captured this better than Linda Darling-Hammond who reflects about great teaching “If you think about what kids say about great teachers, what they are really saying, quite often, is that great teachers are socially and emotionally intelligent; they interact well; they are able to be centered, and fair, and they have good relationship skills; they make the other person feel attended to, and important; they pay attention to students’ learning, and are able to be responsive (2014).”  .  

The Current State of Teacher Training and SEL
In seeking to support teacher well-being, one of the major concerns is the nature and quality of their preservice training.  So, it is at least somewhat surprising that in teacher pre-service training it is a very rare College of Education that requires teachers to take a course on social and emotional learning, either in regard to students, or for teachers, themselves. In fact, in many Colleges of Education, there are no courses offered in this topic.  As a result, there is an enormous gap between the preparation teachers receive and the situations in which they find themselves when faced with their own classroom.  It is no wonder that teachers suffer very high rates of stress and burnout.

CASEL commissioned a comprehensive research study on pre-service courses led by Kimberly Schonert-Reichl at the University of British Columbia. After detailed review of 3,916 courses from 304 Colleges of Education, they found there was very little explicit content in required coursework focused on providing teacher candidates with information on SEL of Teachers or SEL of Students. The study found that few teacher education programs covered the five SEL competencies outlined by CASEL. For example, only 13 % had at least one course that included information on relationship skills. For responsible decision-making, self-management, social awareness, and self-awareness, the numbers were between 1 and 7 %.  Further, most pre-service programs do little or nothing to support teachers own self-care.  This lack of preparation leads many new teachers to feel unprepared to manage their classrooms and the secondary impact on their own well-being often leads to teacher turnover.  In 2010, the costs of teacher turnover was estimated at 7 billion dollars per year in the U.S. and the cost of each teacher departure is estimated to cost between $10,000 and $25,000. 

Teacher Education Reform: Next Steps
If we want teachers to succeed and schools to thrive, we must address changes needed in the preparation of the next generation of teachers. This requires that we develop quality preparation programs that give teachers a deep understanding of child development, peer relations, equity, and systemic issues that affect identify and belonging.  Such coursework can help teacher candidates set the stage for SEL by teaching them to develop safe, inclusive, and supportive classroom environments. Teachers should also learn the science and practice of evidence-based SEL.  In addition, by helping teachers to explore their own social and emotional awareness we can support their own well-being and teach skills and habits to support the emotional labor of teaching.  

To make these essential changes, faculty will need to reflect on their own teaching and integrate practices that support SEL effectively in their coursework. This will require new training opportunities for faculty (online, summer institutes, etc.). Finally, there is a need to conduct research on the effectiveness of such efforts to build more effective preparation programs with outcomes that include teacher instructional quality as well as teacher well-being, satisfaction, and retention.

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best...
                                                                                                                              Bob Talbert


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