Seabrook professors explore stress among teachers
University of Houston psychology professor Teresa McIntyre has long respected teachers for their ability to inspire and change lives.
Now she is launching a large-scale research effort that she hopes will improve teachers' work lives and possibly enhance their effectiveness in the classroom.
The Seabrook resident, who is also part of UH's Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation & Statistics, or TIMES, is the primary investigator for a three-year study on the stress factors middle school teachers face.
The study, "Using Longitudinal and Momentary Analysis to Study the Impact of Middle School Teachers' Stress on Teacher Effectiveness, Student Behavior and Achievement," is being funded by a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.
A close partnership
Among the collaborators on this project is Teresa's husband, Scott McIntyre, who is a professor of organizational psychology at UH-Clear Lake.
The study, which will involve 200 teachers in 20 Houston Independent School District campuses, follows a small-scale pilot program completed last school year.
"My research has always been directed toward real problems in real life," Teresa said. "My excitement is to be able to contribute to solving a real problem."
Teresa earned her bachelor's degree in psychology in her native Portugal, followed by master's degrees in community counseling and clinical psychology from Georgia State University, Atlanta, which she attended as a Fulbright scholar.
She went on to earn her doctorate degree in clinical psychology from GSU and then completed a fellowship in the same discipline at Harvard Medical School.
Since then, she also completed a fellowship in behavioral medicine at Cambridge Hospital and Portugal's most advanced degree, Agregação, in health psychology from the University of Minho in Braga, Portugal.
In recent years, Teresa has been conducting research in partnership with Scott.
While living in Portugal for several years in the 2000s, they completed a study on stress and health professionals.
It was during that study that Scott introduced a methodology for assessing stress real-time, using an iPod Touch platform.
After returning to the United States about four years ago, Scott began working for the UH main campus.
Teresa approached David Francis, chair of UH's department of psychology and director of TIMES, about work.
Francis asked Teresa if she could apply what she knows about stress to educational settings, and she embraced the idea.
"As a mother of three children who were in middle school at the time, I became very aware of the stress involved with teaching in a middle school setting," Teresa said.
Francis, a Hugh Roy and Lillie CranzCullen Distinguished Professor, said he is excited about the work Teresa has proposed.
"The model we're looking at suggests that when teachers are stressed it affects their performance in the classroom," Francis said. "It is important to understand those things."
The pilot study Teresa and Scott conducted last year gave them a chance to see if the methodology they used for assessing stress in real time for health professionals would work just as effectively with teachers. It did.
"The pilot was excellent, well beyond our expectations," Teresa said. "Ninety-eight percent of the teachers participated."
That study involved 50 teachers representing four middle schools throughout greater Houston. The couple agreed not to name the schools for permission to do the research there.
Using the iPod Touch platforms, teachers were asked nine times a day to reflect on their emotions, how they were working, how much control they felt over their work, whether they felt appreciated and whether they were experiencing social conflicts.
After the pilot, many of the participating teachers described their experience as a positive one.
The study helped teachers better understand their stress and it gave them a safe, anonymous outlet for voicing their emotions. It also acknowledged the difficulties they deal with daily.
This research is focusing on seventh and eighth grade math, science and social studies teachers.
Teresa said she opted to work with HISD for the current study because of its size.
The research calls for at least 20 schools for three years, with two years devoted to teacher stress and the third exploring whether teacher stress impacts student achievement.
HISD has a large employee base and has a history of collaborating with the psychology department at UH.
A study there will be able to encompass teachers working with a wide range of students on large and small campuses.
"It's a very interesting, very dynamic process," said Teresa, who also has studied traumatic stress in military and civilian populations.
"Our main goal is intervention creation. We want to improve teacher health, well being and effectiveness."
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