Coping Profiles among Teachers: Implications for Emotions, Job Satisfaction, Burnout, and Quitting Intentions
Teachers inevitably experience stressful events and negative emotions during class, such as anxiety or anger, requiring the use of coping strategies to maintain their personal well-being and teaching quality. Research shows that adaptive coping strategies consistently lead to more positive emotions, better psychological well-being, and lower attrition intentions, while maladaptive coping tends to give rise to negative emotions, and higher stress and mental health challenges.
Previous studies of teacher coping strategies adopted primarily a variable-centred approach, which examines the effects of specific coping strategies but does not address how teachers use different combinations of coping strategies. A study by Dr Wang Hui, Assistant Professor at the Department of Special Education and Counselling, The Education University of Hong Kong, used a person-centred, latent profile analytical approach to explore the structure and outcome of varied coping strategies among 947 practising primary and secondary school teachers in Canada in relation to teachers’ positive and negative emotions, job satisfaction, burnout, and quitting intention. The study assessed teacher coping strategies, teaching-related emotions, and quitting intentions.
A latent profile analysis (LPA) showed a three-profile solution to be optimal, demonstrating satisfactory results for teachers’ coping strategy memberships.
The first profile, consisting of 19% of participants (n = 181), was labelled problem-avoidant copers due to relatively low levels of problem solving (problem-focused engagement) combined with the highest levels of problem avoidance (problem-focused disengagement). This profile additionally reported moderate levels of emotion-focused engagement and disengagement, and the highest level of cognitive restructuring. As a result, teachers in this profile reported less serious well-being and persistence problems; however, they also reported the lowest levels of enjoyment in the classroom, among all three profiles.
The second profile included most teachers (61%, n = 573) and was labelled adaptive copers due to having the highest levels of problem solving and social support (both problem- and emotion-focused coping). Teachers in this profile also reported the lowest levels of disengagement (i.e., problem avoidance, wishful thinking, social withdrawal, and self-criticism) thus demonstrating the most adaptive coping profile (high engagement, low disengagement). Teachers in this profile reported the highest levels of enjoyment and job satisfaction, and the lowest levels of disengagement, anxiety, anger, burnout and quitting intentions.
The third profile was labelled social-withdrawal copers (20% of sample, n = 193) due to having the highest levels of emotional-focused disengagement, especially social withdrawal. This profile was also characterised by high levels of problem-focused disengagement (i.e., problem avoidance, wishful thinking) and low levels of engagement strategies. Teachers in this profile thus tended to simply disengage, avoid dealing with the problem, and withdraw from others as their preferred methods of coping with stress. As a result, teachers in this profile reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest levels of anger, anxiety, burnout and quitting intentions among the three profiles.
The study found that while most of the participants regularly used an adaptive set of coping strategies to deal with stressful situations in class and reported optimal levels of teaching-related enjoyment and job satisfaction, a substantial proportion still use maladaptive coping strategies in response to instructional challenges. These teachers were more likely than others to feel unhappier, angrier and more anxious in class, as well as less professionally satisfied, more burnt out, and more likely to quit their position or the profession entirely.
Since prior studies show 20 to 40 per cent of Canadian teachers leave the teaching profession within the first five years of their career, these findings suggest that specific patterns of coping strategies may be contributing to these alarming attrition rates. Accordingly, teacher professional development programs, such as mindfulness and emotion-regulation interventions, that promote adaptive coping strategies may help equip struggling teachers to deal with daily challenges.
The study was conducted together with Miss Lee So Yeon and Associate Professor Dr Nathan C. Hall at the at the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, Canada.
To learn more about the study, please click here.