Add To Favorites

Mental health support necessary for North Dakota to keep teachers, says UND researcher

Grand Forks Herald - 2/28/2024

Feb. 28—GRAND FORKS — More robust support for educators' mental health is a critical component to addressing North Dakota's teacher shortage, according to a UND researcher.

Clinical assistant professor Lee Ann Williams' study of teacher experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic was conducted nationwide, but she says her findings are readily applicable to North Dakota's educators, who report significant levels of job dissatisfaction in a recent statewide poll.

Williams' study is set to publish in March.

Teachers, Williams says, need more training on how to manage their mental well-being in increasingly high-stress classroom environments, as they deal with higher workloads and a more negative perception of teachers in society.

"Teachers are taught how to teach, but they're not taught self-care or how to take care of themselves in the classroom," said Williams, who previously developed mental resilience training for use in public and private schools in Florida.

Williams' research predates her move to North Dakota in July, but examines an issue that has hit the state particularly hard. In August, Gov. Doug Burgum approved an emergency rule allowing student teachers to run their own classrooms.

A task force assembled by executive order

met Thursday

to discuss how the state could better recruit and retain teachers, as many school districts deal with staff shortages and burnout.

In North Dakota, 40% of teachers report they are unsatisfied with their jobs, a November poll conducted by public school teachers union North Dakota United and the state Department of Public Instruction found, while 49% are currently considering leaving the profession.

Some 88% of educators who said they were considering or had considered leaving the profession cited burnout as a factor in their decision.

Teachers' mental health has become a concern of the union since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta said, particularly in the wake of politicized attacks on teachers and public education in general.

"Teachers in public education and in general have taken a lot of abuse in the culture wars and it's caused a lot of teachers to question whether they want to stay in the profession," he said. "Teachers have a very stressful job and when they don't feel support from the general public, it makes it hard to stay in the profession."

According to North Dakota United, 40% of teachers surveyed plan to retire in the profession now, though 97% had planned to do so when first hired.

Those numbers are even more stark for teachers younger than 40, less than a quarter of whom plan to retire in the education field. Williams cited the graying of teaching as a long-term threat to the state's supply of educators.

The poll also showed teachers want to see policymakers and school district administrators take concrete steps to support and respect teachers' expertise, a point Williams echoed.

"The key is when you get them, how do you keep them?" she said. "You have to create a culture to trust teachers to do their job, and also create a culture that supports them."

Grand Forks Public Schools is taking steps of its own to assess its teachers' wellbeing and offer solutions, district mental health coordinator Christine Litzinger said.

Litzinger said the school district will soon be administering a survey of district teachers' stress levels and well-being and how teachers feel the district can better support them.

"Definitely, the district is listening and taking steps to try and alleviate stress factors, because it can be systemic and it can be personal," she said.

Litzinger works to connect teachers with mental health resources available in the community and through their employment benefits.

More substantive action, Litzinger said, poses a challenge due to a lack of financing and an overall shortfall of mental health professionals in the state.

Archuleta thinks North Dakota has a chance to make a real difference in the teacher shortage issue, citing the shared mission between the governor's office, the Department of Public Instruction and North Dakota United.

"We have the opportunity to do what no other state can do," he said. "The teacher shortage has brought us all to realize we have a lot more in common than what separates us."


(c)2024 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)

Visit the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.