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Conte, E.; Cavioni, V.; Ornaghi, V. Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55191 (accessed on 21 April 2024).
Conte E, Cavioni V, Ornaghi V. Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55191. Accessed April 21, 2024.
Conte, Elisabetta, Valeria Cavioni, Veronica Ornaghi. "Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55191 (accessed April 21, 2024).
Conte, E., Cavioni, V., & Ornaghi, V. (2024, February 19). Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55191
Conte, Elisabetta, et al. "Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19." Encyclopedia. Web. 19 February, 2024.
Coping Strategies in Italian Teachers after COVID-19
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Teaching is a mentally and physically demanding profession that can be a source of stress and burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic put further pressure on teachers who had to face sudden challenges, such as online teaching and difficulties in holding students’ attention in virtual environments. Research has demonstrated that the negative effects of stress factors on teachers’ wellbeing can be modulated by coping strategies. 

teachers stress factors coping strategies wellbeing COVID-19

1. Introduction

In recent decades, numerous studies have documented that teaching is one of the most challenging occupations because of its persistent demands and responsibilities [1][2]. Teachers of all school grades are at high risk of developing work-related stress and receiving a diagnosis of burnout syndrome, regardless of how many years of teaching experience that they might have. On the one hand, novice teachers tend to be more vulnerable in the first years of their teaching careers and are more likely to quit their job [3][4] or voluntarily migrate to other schools [5]. On the other hand, senior teachers often report decreased enthusiasm and increased dissatisfaction because of a workload that becomes harder to manage with age [6][7].
Stress factors can be attributed to both personal and organizational variables. Individual traits and resources, such as self-efficacy, emotional intelligence, and social–emotional competencies, have been reported as being protective factors against stress and mental health issues [8][9][10][11][12]. For instance, a greater or lesser ability to positively interact with students, colleagues, and other school community members can limit or buffer teachers’ stress, respectively [13]. As teachers put pupils first in their job, their relationship with students is identified as potentially being the most impactful on stress and burnout [7][14]. Collaborative and supportive relationships with colleagues can also enhance teachers’ wellbeing [7][15].
Concerning organizational variables, Van Droogenbroeck et al. [7] stated that “the working conditions of teachers have changed significantly over recent decades. Teachers have experienced a noticeable increase in high-stakes accountability demands, administrative tasks, and standardization which may cause stress and feelings of deprofessionalization. This intensification of the profession is the result of teachers being increasingly subjected to external pressures and demands from policymakers, supervisors, parents, and experts” (p. 106). Time pressure, excessive workload, adverse working conditions (e.g., class size, a lack of safety, and inadequate environments and salary), imbalance between work and family life, sudden and frequent changes due to school reforms, red tape, and a lack of positive support from school administrators have been identified worldwide as frequent causes of stress for teachers [16][17][18][19][20][21]. In the Italian context, some organizational variables related to working conditions have been recognized as particularly challenging for teachers’ wellbeing. For example, school classes are usually overpopulated (i.e., approximately 25 children per class) and often include 3–4 children with special educational needs, the salary of teachers in Italy is significantly lower than that in other European countries, and opportunities for professional career advancement are scarce [22].
Teachers’ wellbeing often depends on a combination of job demands and available resources. Simbula et al. [23] identified three profiles of Italian teachers: those who perceive that they have ample job resources and are able to use them to effectively deal with high job demands; those who perceive that they have high levels of job resources in the face of low job demands; and, finally, those with deficient job resources, who are unable to cope with job demands. The latter group tends to show negative outcomes more often than the other two. Certain factors, such as a higher self-efficacy and mentalized affectivity, more positive emotions at school, and a higher hedonic balance concerning their professional role, may diminish teachers’ risk of burnout [24][25]. Lowering the levels of burnout can have positive effects, for instance, on teachers’ constructive attitudes and confidence in professional training [26].
In contrast, work-related stress negatively affects teachers’ wellbeing. Hence, teachers may experience higher levels of mental health issues—such as depression, irritability, anxiety, and frustration [18]—lower quality interactions with children [27], less life satisfaction [10][22], and reduced self-efficacy at work [28], which also can affect students’ wellbeing and their school achievements [29][30][31][32].

2. The COVID-19 Emergency as a Stressor

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated this delicate situation. To prevent contagion, governments worldwide adopted urgent containment measures, such as avoiding crowds, keeping physical distance, and staying at home. These measures resulted in the interruption of most face-to-face activities, including on-site education [33]. Schools were closed, and teachers were suddenly required to shift to distance teaching to sustain students’ learning [34]. The challenges linked to these new teaching experiences (e.g., a lack of digital competences, work–family balance, disruptive student behaviors, increased working hours, and time pressure), the risks of contagion with related depression and anxiety symptoms, and the lack of support from administrators were identified as significant stress factors during the pandemic [35][36][37][38][39][40]. The unexpected situation also had psychological effects on teachers and impacted their quality of life. In fact, teachers reported increased levels of physical and mental health problems [41][42][43][44]. When the emergency was over and teachers and students went back to on-site schooling, they had to face new environments and routines. Again, anxiety was a common feeling for teachers, as they felt fear of the COVID-19 emergency, they encountered difficulties with the new teaching modes and communication with parents, they perceived inconsistent support from the administrators, and they felt that they did not receive respect or appreciation for their work at school [37][45].
Similar perceptions and negative feelings were diffuse among most people the world over, and the people of Italy were also strongly affected by the adversity of the pandemic. In fact, Italy was one of the first countries where COVID-19 spread. At the beginning of 2020, a state of emergency was officially declared throughout the entire national territory, and strict restrictions were applied. A dramatic increase in mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties, was recorded, especially at the beginning of the pandemic [46][47]. It is noteworthy that people’s fear of COVID-19 decreased over time, positively impacting their mental health and quality of life [48].
Italian teachers also experienced higher levels of mental health issues, such as depression, than the rest of the population [39]. Most teachers were unprepared to deal with remote learning and had to make great efforts to engage and motivate their students [49], especially younger pupils who were more restless and had limited attention spans, therefore needing more frequent breaks [50]. Messineo and Tosto [36] reported that teachers who perceived distance learning as a burden also experienced higher levels of stress and negative affect. Furthermore, their findings pointed out that both a lack of emotional regulation and negative coping strategies played a significant role. Their conclusions suggested that these variables need to be taken into account when exploring teachers’ wellbeing and stress factors.

3. Dealing with Challenging Situations

Stressful events lead people to use coping strategies, which are defined as voluntary cognitive and behavioral efforts that an individual uses when facing internal and external demands [51]. Scholars distinguish between approach and avoidant coping strategies on the basis of how much they are directed to face or avoid a problematic situation [52]. Some coping strategies, such as those that are problem-focused (i.e., planning how to address the specific problem), are more effective in reducing mental health issues, whereas those based on avoidance and emotional suppression result in less desirable outcomes. Other coping strategies can be categorized as social (e.g., seeking help and support from other people), emotion-focused (e.g., positive reframing and humor to reduce negative feelings linked to the problem), and cognitive-focused (i.e., when the individual tries to rationalize and make sense of a stressful situation) [53]. Notably, distinguishing between “good” and “bad” strategies could be detrimental because, although some strategies are apparently negative, they could be the most adequate in the short term to deal with a certain situation [52].
Research on teachers has shown that these professionals mostly adopt functional (i.e., approach) coping strategies in their vocation, such as acceptance, positive reframing, planning, and active coping, whereas negative strategies are usually avoided (e.g., self-blame, denial, and the use of alcohol or drugs) [54][55]. However, the quality of the coping strategies that they adopt may depend on their levels of stress and burnout. Martinez et al. [56] found that teachers who were more personally accomplished and less emotionally exhausted more frequently adopted positive strategies, such as problem solving, seeking social support, and positive reframing. Conversely, teachers who experienced more emotional exhaustion and depersonalization often adopted non-functional strategies, such as self-criticism, resignation, and hostile attitudes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers reported that they more frequently used positive rather than negative coping strategies, and their use depended on the specific stress factor that they experienced. For instance, they used functional strategies when the stressor was related to scarce parental engagement, and they used dysfunctional strategies when they perceived a lack of digital competencies to deal with distance learning. Furthermore, teachers used more coping strategies, especially negative ones (i.e., avoidant strategies), when they perceived higher levels of stress [34][55]. Messineo and Tosto [36] investigated the coping strategies that Italian teachers adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic (Spring 2021). Specifically, they found that higher levels of perceived stress were associated with negative coping strategies, such as the avoidance of the problem and less positive attitudes (i.e., accepting a challenging event and looking at it in a positive light). Interestingly, more stressed teachers sought more social support, which scholars also interpreted as a “negative” coping strategy because interactions with friends, colleagues, or relatives may intensify negative feelings and problems, without helping the individual to find a solution.

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