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Teacher Mental Health Can be Affected by Fear of Falling Ill

28 Apr 2020

Teacher Mental Health Can be Affected by Fear of Falling Ill

By Kimberly Cruz-Montalvo
Outreach Representative for

American teachers face a wide array of on-the-job risks, but the major one brought to light by the recent SARS-CoV-2 outbreak is disease transmission. The CDC stated that in order to prevent mass infection during an outbreak, groups of 10 or more should be avoided. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average self-contained class sizes in American schools are:

  • Primary schools: 22 students
  • Middle schools: 17 students
  • High schools: 18 students

Most schools include class periods where the students interact with students outside of their classroom, further increasing the risk of disease transmission. Teaching is already a stressful career, and the fear of falling ill during flu season or other seasonal outbreaks piles on unneeded stress. Prolonged stress has been associated with increased risk of disease as it suppresses immune functioning. Stress can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems.

Other stress-factors related to illness are whether or not the teacher has sick days, having children or other dependents fall ill that need care, or simply feeling guilt for calling out sick on more than one occasion. The FDA states that cold and flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May, making up most of the average school year.  Due to their contact with multiple students during the day, it is understandable that teachers may fall ill multiple times during the school year.

The CDC recommends the following actions for everyone, not just teachers, to avoid getting sick during cold and flu season.

  • Get your yearly flu vaccine, especially if you or someone you love is a high-risk person.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people and stay home if you are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. (Only use alcohol-based sanitizers if soap is unavailable).
  • Clean and disinfect common surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables, and phones, often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Take the medication your doctors prescribe you.

However, there are health factors that teachers often worry about that aren’t as easily avoided as the flu or common cold. Stress-induced hypertension, ergonomic issues, mold and asbestos exposure in older schools, and incidents of workplace violence are all health threats facing teachers today.  School districts across the US are seeing lawsuits due to teachers developing mold-induced breathing problems, mesothelioma, and even SARS-CoV-2 related cases.

What Can Be Done?

For teachers to have better mental health in their profession, schools should make every effort to help teachers keep their classrooms clean and safe. An important factor of this is creating and enforcing strict regulations to prevent teachers and students from coming into class when they are feeling under the weather.

Schools should also increase workplace conditions by notifying teachers of exposure-related health risks, ensuring that their buildings are kept in good condition, and should provide de-stressing activities for their staff. Finally, states should make every effort to ensure class sizes should be kept to a minimum to decrease both disease transmission and teacher’s stress levels. When teachers feel heard and respected, it lowers their stress levels and will lead to better mental health on the job.




CDC Says "Take 3" Actions to Fight Flu. (n.d.). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Mcleaod, S. (2010). Stress, Ilness and the Immune System. Retrieved from SimplyPsychology:

Schools and Staffing Survey. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics:



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