RAND's survey asked nearly 2,500 public school teachers and more than 1,500 principals about their working conditions and well-being midway through the 2021–2022 school year. Researchers also fielded similar questions to hundreds of working adults across the U.S., to see how their answers compare. The results depict an educational system operating in crisis mode, still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

Teachers said their biggest source of stress was helping students make up lost ground after more than two years of school disruptions. More than half also said they had been asked to take on extra responsibilities—even filling in as nurses, bus drivers, or cafeteria workers—to cover staff shortages. Principals said they worried about the mental health of their teachers and staff.

More than 60 percent of educators said they had felt down, depressed, or hopeless at some point in the past two weeks. Nearly a quarter of the teachers said they were not coping well with their job-related stress—twice the rate of other workers. That could leave a lasting mark on a generation of students: Previous research has drawn a direct line between the health and well-being of teachers and the academic performance of their students.

“Teaching is stressful, and it may always be stressful,” said Elizabeth Steiner, a policy researcher at RAND who helped lead the survey. “But it's important for teachers and principals to be in a position to manage that stress and not feel so burned out that they disengage.”

Educators in RAND's survey were two or three times more likely than workers in other professions to say political issues were sources of stress in their jobs. Many said managing student and family concerns about mask mandates and other COVID measures had been especially stressful. Some also cited local and national debates over the teaching of race, racism, and bias. More than a third of surveyed teachers, and nearly two-thirds of principals, said they had experienced harassment over their school's policies for COVID safety or for teaching about race, racism, or bias, mostly from parents or other student family members. Those who did were twice as likely to say they sometimes fear for their physical safety at school.

Read the full article about educators during COVID at RAND Corporation.