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Workplace stress and the quality of teacher-child relationships in Head Start

Objective: The quality of the emotional relationship between teachers and young children affects children's social and emotional development and their academic success. Little is known, however, about whether the amount of workplace stress experienced by early childhood educators impacts the quality of their relationships with the young children in their classrooms. The purpose of this dissertation was to determine whether workplace stress was associated with poorer quality teacher-child relationships in Head Start, the nation's largest federally-funded early childhood education program. Methods: Two separate but complementary studies were conducted. In Study 1, teachers from 37 Head Start programs in Pennsylvania (PA) completed the Staff Wellness Survey (SWS), an anonymous, web-based survey about workplace stress and the levels of conflict and closeness in their relationships with children in their classrooms. Study 2 data came from an existing federal data set, the 2006 Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES). In FACES, a nationally representative sample of Head Start teachers responded to interview questions about workplace stress and were observed and rated on the quality of their teacher-child relationships in their classrooms. In both studies, the association of poor quality teacher-child relationships was examined with the presence or absence of 3 types of perceived workplace stress: high demands (above median), low control (below median), and low support (below median). Results: In Study 1, surveys were completed by 994 teachers (52.0% of teachers in the 37 PA programs), of whom 19.8% experienced 0 of the 3 types of workplace stress, and 23.3% experienced all 3 types. Teachers experiencing all 3 types of workplace stress were more likely than those experiencing 0 types to report high conflict (upper quartile) in their relationships with children, even after controlling for teacher depressive symptoms and economic stressors (odds ratio [OR] = 1.98, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.19-3.29). Only low control was significantly associated with low closeness (lowest quartile) in teacher-child relationships after adjusting for covariates (OR = 1.50, 95% CI: 1.09-2.05). In Study 2, data were available from 325 teachers (89.0% of teachers participating in FACES), of whom 19.4% experienced none of the 3 types of workplace stress and 38.5% reported experiencing [greater than or equal to] 2 types. Teachers experiencing [greater than or equal to] 2 types of workplace stress were more likely to have poor observed teacher-child relationship quality (below median) than teachers reporting 0 types of workplace stress (OR = 2.68, 95% CI: 1.22-5.90). Conclusion: In both a large sample of Pennsylvania Head Start teachers and a nationally representative sample of Head Start teachers, higher perceived workplace stress was associated with poorer teacher-child relationship quality. In light of these findings, Head Start should consider more closely examining and addressing workplace stress as part of its professional development and training activities for teachers. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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