A DATA BASED MODEL OF HOW TEACHERS COPE WITH WORK STRESS

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb009892
Date01 February 1984
Published date01 February 1984
Pages173-191
AuthorJOSEPH J. BLASE
THE JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION
VOLUME XXII, NUMBER 2 SUMMER, 1984
A DATA BASED MODEL OF HOW TEACHERS
COPE WITH WORK STRESS
JOSEPH J. BLASE
While there has been considerable research in the general area of teacher stress,
little attention has been given to studying how teachers actually cope with work
stress.
A review of the available literature reveals that no models of teacher coping
exist which have been developed directly from the study of teachers. This paper
describes a data-based taxonomy of behaviors that teachers use to cope with work
stress and the perceived effectiveness of such behaviors in dealing with stress. The
taxonomy was constructed from data collected from school teachers located in
several regions of the United States. How educational administrators can promote
"organizational literacy" in teachers, thereby preparing them for the realities of the
school as a work setting, is discussed. In addition, the proposed taxonomy is dis-
cussed in terms of its theoretical significance for future organizational research.
INTRODUCTION
There are important human problems, such as those that we have seen in
occupation, that are not responsive to individual coping responses.
Coping with these may require interventions by collectivities rather than by
individuals. Many of the problems stemming from arrangements deeply
rooted in social and economic organization may exert a powerful effect on
personal life but be impervious to personal efforts to change them . . .
Coping failures, therefore, do not necessarily reflect the shortcomings of
individuals; in a real sense they may represent the failure of social systems
in which individuals are enmeshed.1
Social scientists have devoted a great deal of attention to the study of
occupational stress and have employed a variety of theoretical perspec-
tives and research methodologies in order to understand and explain the
origins of and responses to stress.2 In recent years a number of studies
have examined various dimensions of occupational stress among public
school teachers. Some of these studies have demonstrated relationships
between conditions in the work environment of the school and
physiological, psychological, and social harm incurred by teachers.3 Other
research has indicated tenuous links between teacher stress and both work
absenteeism and career attrition.4 Additionally, studies have suggested
that excessive teacher stress has a harmful effect on the quality of teacher
and student performance in the classroom.5
JOSEPH BLASE is Assistant Professor of Educational Administration, University of Georgia,
Athens, Georgia 30602.
174
Coping with
Stress
Given the recent exploding interest in the study of teacher stress and
related problems such as teacher anxiety6 and teacher burnout,7 it is sur-
prising to find that so little attention has been given to the precise ways in
which teachers cope with job-related stress. In the absence of such
research, general coping models, for example, those which identify adap-
tive versus maladaptive mechanisms8 or productive versus nonproductive
mechanisms,9 are commonly used to broadly describe how teachers deal
with work-related stress. While such models add to our knowledge of
teacher coping processes, clearly they have demonstrated limited capacity
to capture the range of behaviors teachers employ to cope with stressful
work problems. An understanding of coping behaviors, which consist of
attempts to control or reduce internal and external demands,10 is essential
to explaining the overall impact of stress, i.e., the meaning, severity, and
duration of stress for the individual.11
Prominent stress researchers have pointed out the need for research
which specifically focuses on how teachers cope with work stress;12
however, only two studies provide some data on this phenomenon.
Kyriacou13 administered a questionnaire to a small number of teachers to
determine the frequency with which they used specific actions to deal with
stress.14 The research of Needle et al.15 employed a general life coping
model to study teacher stress and coping.16 While Kyriacou and Needle et
al.
have made important contributions to understanding this relatively
unexplored area, they employed models of coping developed from the
study of nonteaching populations. Consequently, no inductively derived,
grounded data existed which described the meaning of coping categories
from the teacher's perspective.
This paper describes a taxonomy based on qualitative data obtained
directly from public school teachers. Called the Teacher Stress Coping
(TSC) Taxonomy, it identifies behaviors teachers typically employ to deal
with work-related stress. Teacher's perceptions of coping effectiveness for
each category are also reported. In addition, implications for educational
administration, both in terms of organizational research and of helping to
develop in teachers what is referred to as "organizational literacy", are
presented.
THE RESEARCH METHOD AND PROCEDURES
The data which serve as the basis of this paper were drawn from an ex-
ploratory qualitative study which investigated and described the teacher's
perceptions of work stress. The study was developed according to
theoretical criteria associated with Cox's17 interactional model of stress.
This model treats stress as a dynamic transaction between a person and
his/her environment. Such a definition emphasizes that stress is an in-
dividual perceptual phenomenon which results from a comparison
between perceived environmental demands and the individual's ability to
cope with such demands. When individual coping proves to be relatively

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