The Role of Experiential Avoidance in Teacher Stress and Mental Health
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Job dissatisfaction in American public school teachers is at its lowest in 20 years. Workplace stress is a primary factor associated with job dissatisfaction, and teachers are exposed to a range of potential stressors including student problem behavior, difficult interpersonal interactions, and job insecurity. Research has shown significant and strong correlations between low job satisfaction and burnout, depression, anxiety, and decreased efficacy. Although negative outcomes associated with stress impact many teachers, others successfully cope. Experiential avoidance, a relatively new psychological construct, may play a role in why some teachers experience negative outcomes related to stressful work conditions while others do not. To further our understanding of the role of experiential avoidance in teacher functioning, the present study investigated the psychometric properties of a new measure of teacher experiential avoidance and examined the relationships between aspects of teacher stress (i.e., student problem behavior, job dissatisfaction, and low social support), experiential avoidance, and mental health symptoms. Oregon teachers (n = 523) completed measures assessing social support, job satisfaction, the impact of student problem behavior on their teaching, experiential avoidance, depression, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Results showed 1) good reliability and validity for a teacher experiential avoidance measure; 2) that experiential avoidance was significantly associated with all mental health measures in the expected directions; 3) that there were no statistically significant differences between men and women in the relationships between experiential avoidance and teacher mental health measures; 4) a significant interaction effect between job satisfaction, experiential avoidance, and depression; and 5) full mediation of the association between student problem behavior and depression when controlling for experiential avoidance and partial mediation of the relationship between student problem behavior and emotional exhaustion. Findings suggest that experiential avoidance may be an important factor in teachers' psychological well-being.
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