10 SES 04 C, Learning to Teach: Reflection, Distress, Motivation
There is increasing interest in the mental health and wellbeing of higher education students because they currently evidence greater psychological distress and poorer mental health than the general population (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011; Bayram, & Bilgel 2008; Stallman, 2008). Stress is identified as predictive of psychological distress amongst this student population (Morrison & O'Connor (2005). Students enrolled on programmes with practicum components such as teaching practice are particularly vulnerable to stress (Gardner, 2010).
The high stress experienced by student teachers has received international recognition (Montgomery, MacFarlane, & Trumpower, 2012; Malderez et al 2010; Chan, 2003). However, it remains under researched considering that teaching is recognised internationally as a stressful occupation leading to high attrition rates (Chaplain, 2008) and burnout (Loonstra, Brouwers, & Tomic, 2009). Similarly, teacher education students who fail to adequately manage stress are vulnerable to exiting their studies (Chambers & Roper 2000) and others who continue with studies often experience early onset of burnout (Mapfumo & Chitsiko, 2012).
The stress experienced by teacher education students’ increases their risk for psychological distress. However, research detailing the extent of psychological distress experienced by these students is scarce (Gardner, 2010) and is more often exclusively concentrated on the practicum component. For example 36% of Nigerian students teachers experienced psychological distress on placement (Ani et al. 2011). Following practicum 38% of U.K students (Chaplain, 2008) and 38% of Hong Kong students were psychologically distressed (Chan, 2002). The practicum related distress is clearly problematic in terms of student health and well being. However, the published research does not provide sufficient insight into the extent of psychological distress among teacher education students or its determinants. Neither does it provide an in-depth understanding of student teachers experience of stress throughout their teacher education programme. Such knowledge would facilitate comparisons to be made and could serve to inform educators on how to best support students.
Academic issues and workload are identified as key stressors for teacher education students (Chaplain 2008; Montgomery et al 2012; Rieg, Paquette & Chen, 2007). Unique to initial teacher education students are teaching practicum related stressors. These include assessment/ evaluation of teaching; fear of failing the practicum; having high expectations of their teaching; others expecting them to perform beyond their competence; perceived lack of support ; interpersonal conflict and achieving the balance between practicum and personal commitments (Chaplain 2008, Montgomery et al 2012; Rieg et al 2007).
The international evidence points to the problem of teacher education student stress, particularly the sources of that stress as being rooted in their professional formation. It is therefore imperative that teacher educators are cognizant of this phenomenon which has potentially far reaching consequences not only for the immediate impact on student health, wellbeing, learning and attrition rates but also for the health and wellbeing of subsequent teaching professionals. Consequently, the aim of this study was to determine the extent of psychological distress among a sample of Irish teacher education students, to establish its sources and to illuminate students’ experience of this phenomenon. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed. What is the extent of psychological distress? What are the determinants of stress for students? How do students experience stress?
The theoretical framework selected to conceptualise stress among student teachers is the transactional model of Lazarus and Folkman (1984). Central to this model is the individual's cognitive appraisal (primary, secondary and reappraisal) of the perceived demands of the stressful encounter and their perceived capability to deal with the demands.
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