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Study: school stress harming teachers

Fatigue plagues most primary school teachers in Germany, according to a new study. Despite high individual motivation, many also say they endure persistent back pain and high levels of classroom noise.

Schools as employers are still failing to promote strategies to help teaching staff handle stress, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) conclude in their report published Thursday.

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Stress management at work

The findings - part of a campaign by Germany's third-largest statutory health insurance fund, the Hamburg-based DAK, to boost health at schools - fit past warnings that chronic stress forces many teachers into early retirement.

Professor Martin Halle, the head of the TUM's center for preventive health and sports medicine said: "Stress burdens teachers not only psychologically but also physically. Many lack strategies for managing stress."

"Numerous studies have shown that a majority of teachers end their careers before reaching the statutory retirement age. Significant causes are depression, muscular-skeletal disorders and cardiovascular illnesses," the study warns.

This [situation] must be changed by schools as employers," said Halle, whose team complimented teachers, however, for helping themselves by pursuing sports and eating healthy food like vegetables and fruit.

Support 'urgently' needed

DAK chairman Andreas Storm added that Germany's 800,000 teachers "urgently" needed support to mitigate harmful factors such as excessive noise, lack of recovery pauses and confrontations with "difficult pupils."

Teacher, his head resting on his left hand, marking pupil's work

Stress, papers to mark and too few pauses to recuperate

"Only when they themselves are fit can they impart a healthy lifestyle to pupils," Storm added.

Fatigued, in pain, disturbed sleep

Severe fatigue was cited by 33.9 percent of the 1,900 primary teachers surveyed in the TUM study. A further 39.4 percent said they were sometimes fatigued. Only one-fifth said they seldom or never felt worn out.

Some 28 percent responded that they suffered from severe to extreme back and neck pain. Strong or extreme headaches plagued some 45 percent. One-fifth described themselves as overweight. Nine percent had high blood pressure.

Nearly 40 percent said their sleep was disturbed, and over half said they were nervous or irritable.

Noise harmful

Nearly two-thirds of all teachers said noise in classrooms and on school grounds created stressful to very stressful situations.

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Nearly half said time pressure was frustrating, and more than half said they lacked pauses at school to revitalize. One quarter cited problems with pupils and their parents.

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School environments

The TUM authors recommend that school principals - often also overburdened - should delegate tasks more, guarantee pauses and quiet workspaces so teachers can prepare for class and mark pupils' papers, and create trusting, convivial working environments for all.

Risk assessments, bullying

The DAK's call for action echoes demands made in 2015 by Germany's Education and Science Workers' Union (GEW) representing 260,000 educators that school and day care authorities conduct EU-proscribed risk assessments at schools.

The TUM study follow findings in May by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that most German pupils feel at home at their schools but get less individual attention than in Finland or Estonia.

That study - one in a series of PISA  investigations - also found that among 15-year-olds, bullying at German schools was experienced by 16 percent of them more than once a month.

ipj/rg (dpa, AFP)

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