Under Stress: The Concerns and Coping Strategies of Teacher Education Students

Rosalind Murray-Harvey
Phillip T. Slee
Michael J. Lawson
Halia Silins
Grant Banfield
Alan Russell

In this study information was sought from students about their concerns regarding the teaching practicum component of their course and the strategies they used to cope with these concerns.

Research Questions

The questions that guided the research reported in the full version of the paper were:

(1) How are Australian students' concerns about the practicum conceptualized?

(2) What concerns teacher education students most and least in their practicum?

(3) What account must be taken of gender, age, or intake differences between students in preparing them for the practicum given the greater diversity of students now than in the past?

(4) What strategies do students employ to help them cope with practicum stresses and which of these do they regard as most important?

(5) What is the effect of stress on teacher performance?


Findings of this project are based on data gathered from two groups of students who provided information about their concerns in each of their two teaching experience placements. In total, survey responses for Practicum 1 were obtained from 309 students and for Practicum 2 from 298 students.

Instruments: The Perceptions of Teaching Questionnaire

The Perceptions of Teaching questionnaire comprised three sections. The first section consisted of the 29 item Survey of Practicum Stresses (SPS; D'Rozario & Wong, 1996). In the second section space was provided for students to answer the question "What coping strategies did you use to cope with any stress that you may have encountered during the practicum?" In the third section of the survey students were asked to rank the 5 strategies that were the most important for them. In addition to the information that students provided, teachers who supervised Group 2 students in the second practicum were asked to rate their student teacher on a 5-point scale (1 = Not yet satisfactory, to 5 = Outstanding) on each of 7 teaching areas as well as an overall assessment.


What concerns teacher education students most and least in their practicum? At least half the students experienced stress at least some of the time for 21 of the 29 Survey items. Concerns about balancing practicum and personal commitments, coping with the teaching workload, managing time, and concerns about others' expectations of their competence generated most stress. The students who now comprise the student population bring with them varied life experiences and a range of other competing interests, including work and family responsibilities that need to be balanced with achieving their goal of becoming teachers.

Students were least stressed by concerns related to being evaluated. Most students expressed low levels of concern about failing the practicum, relations with the supervising teacher (including being observed and evaluated), relations with other teachers and the school Principal. The supervising teachers in our study appeared to be able to manage the dual roles of support and evaluation with little conflict.

What account must be taken of gender, age, or intake differences between students in preparing them for the practicum given the greater diversity of students now than in the past? In this study there were no significant differences in reported levels of stress between the two intakes of students, between males and females, younger and older student groups or between graduate-entry and undergraduate students. However, for all students, the first practicum was significantly more stressful than the second practicum. The finding of a considerable reduction in stress in the second practicum confirmed that the teaching experience itself may act as an effective strategy.

What strategies do students employ to help them cope with practicum stresses and which of these do they regard as most important? Students' coping strategies point to the importance of social support networks in developing and maintaining coping strategies while on teaching practicum. Such networks may be newly established (in the case of supervising teachers) or existing (such as family and friends). Some issues emerging from the findings have implications for practicum placements. The first is the possibility of social isolation where a student might be the only one placed in a school. For example, in rural school placements where there are no family or friends in the area, students could be denied opportunities to draw on effective coping strategies. Secondly, given the importance students placed on being able to talk with other student teachers during their practicum, this suggests that multiple placements in single school would be desirable. Finally, the quality of the supervising teacher emerged as a key component for success in the practicum. This finding is not surprising given that students move from the familiarity of the university setting into the new social and learning environment of the school, one in which they are novices and uninitiated. The supervising teacher is their major point of reference and advice in this new situation. For this reason alone, teachers need to be made aware of the high status granted to them by their students. Supervisors also need to take account of the impact of their presence on students.

What is the effect of stress on teacher performance? A certain amount of stress may be considered a normal part of the process of adapting to unfamiliar environments, of forming new relationships, and of coming to terms with a range of new and different expectations required of their role as a classroom teacher. We predicted that teachers' lower ratings of student performance would be associated with higher levels of stress reported by students. Without exception, performance was rated as significantly less competent by teachers where students had indicated that the relationship with their supervising teacher was a source of stress (r = &endash;.39, p < .01) and where their relationship with the university supervisor was a source of stress (r = &endash;.27, p < .05). Along with stress in the relationship between student and teacher, students fear of failing the practicum was significantly related to teachers' assessment of their performance as poorer (r = &endash;.36, p < .01).

The information presented here is from part of a paper presented at the Third International Conference on Teacher Education, Beit Berl College, Israel, 27 June - 1 July, 1999. A full version of the paper is available from Roz Murray-Harvey or Phillip Slee.

Stress Survey Items

Subscales were derived from analysis of our own data and vary from the seven subscales of the SPS (D'Rozario & Wong, 1996) (item numbers corresponding to D'Rozario & Wong's Survey are shown in parentheses)

Teaching Subscale

Managing groupwork (22)
Students with learning difficulties (25)
Pupils' emotional/behav'l problems (26)
Managing individual seatwork (23)
Giving appropriate feedback to pupils(21)
Classroom management (24)
Communicating concepts to pupils (20)
Teaching mixed ability classes (27)
Marking pupils' written work (28)
Delivering lessons (19)
Establishing rapport with pupils (18)
Having high expectations (3)

Preparation Subscale

Overall teaching workload (5)
Selecting lesson content (16)
Writing detailed lesson plans (15)
Preparing resources for lessons (17)
Managing time (29)
Others expectations beyond me (4)
Striking a balance (2)
Practicum-related assignments (6) 

University Evaluation Subscale

Evaluated by my supervisor (14)
Observed by my supervisor (13)
Relating to my supervisor (12)

School Evaluation Subscale

Observed by Cooperating teacher(s) (10)
Evaluated by Cooperating teacher(s) (11)
Relating to Cooperating teacher(s) (9)
Relating to teachers in the school (8)
Fear of failing the practicum (1)
Relating to Principal/Deputy Principal (7)

D'Rozario, V., & Wong, A. F. L. (1996). A study of practicum-related stresses in a sample of first year student teachers in Singapore. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Singapore Educational Research Association and Australian Association for Research in Education, Singapore, 25-29 November 1996.

Full article:
Murray-Harvey, R., Slee, P., Lawson, M., Silins, H., Banfield, G., & Russell, A. (2000). Under stress: The concerns and coping strategies of teacher education students. European Journal of Teacher Education, 23(1), 19-35.