Are gender and grades important for being an engaged teacher

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the potential differences in levels of engagement and burnout in a large sample of teachers depending on gender and their teaching grade. Responses from 727 Spanish teachers (436 females and 291 males) were analyzed. 413 were primary teachers and 314 secondary teachers. The Maslach Burnout Inventory and Utrecht Work Engagement Scale were used to assess burnout and work engagement, respectively. Analyses of Variances showed significant differences in two dimensions of burnout and all three dimensions in engagement as a function of grade level taught. Specifically, secondary teachers reported higher levels of Depersonalization and lower levels of Personal Accomplishment than their primary counterparts. Moreover, primary teachers exhibited significantly higher levels of Vigor, Dedication and Absorption that their secondary counterparts. With respect to gender differences, female teachers showed higher scores in all three dimensions of engagement and males reported higher depersonalization. It is concluded that special attention should be paid to gender differences and grade taught in the study of work engagement and burnout in educational context. Finally, likely to burnout research, further examination of other potential primary background variables of work engagement in teaching is needed.

Keywords: engagement; burnout, grade level taught; gender differences; teachers

In recent decades, teacher stress and burnout have become serious and growing problems in educational settings (Kyriacou, 2001; Guglielmi & Tatrow, 1998). In addition to acknowledging that burnout is a function of organizational demands and job resources (Maslach, 2001), researchers have also posited that teacher burnout is determined, to some degree, for several key background variables. Different past studies have confirmed that several background variables are related to teacher burnout across elementary to university teachers (Byrne, 1991; Greenglass & Burke, 1988). For example, background variables such as gender, age, years of experience, marital status or type of student taught, among others, have been empirically associated with teacher burnout (Byrne, 1999). In this study, two of these important background variables related to teacher burnout will be explored: gender and grade level taught.

Research of gender differences in teacher burnout has yielded mixed findings, except for depersonalization. In different studies, depersonalization has been systematically higher for males than for females both primary and secondary teachers (Anderson, & Iwanicki, 1984; Byrne, 1991). Higher scores on depersonalization among men are usually explained by prescriptions of the masculine gender role (Greenglass, Burke, & Ondrack, 1990). For instance, it has been argued that men hold more instrumental attitudes and are taught that masculinity involves the suppression of emotions, whereas women are more caring, seem to disclose emotions more easily, and show stronger emotional involvement with others than males (Anderson & Iwanicki, 1984). However, male teachers tend more to develop indifference and cynicism about their work and about people whom they work with in order to keep distance from its depleting demands compared to female counterparts (Ogus, Greenglass, & Burke, 1990).

According to this recent literature, grade level taught can also be considered an important background variable related to teacher burnout. In fact, a number of accumulating evidences have found that teacher burnout is more prevalent among high school than among primary school teachers (Anderson & Iwanicki, 1984; Beer and Beer, 1992; Burke & Greenglass, 1989). More specifically, some studies have reported significantly lower levels of perceived personal accomplishment and higher levels of depersonalization for secondary school teachers (Anderson & Iwanicki, 1984; Russel et al., 1987; see Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998, for an overview). Some authors pointed out that specific stressful work conditions in high school (i.e. heterogeneity of classes, lack of resources and social support; imposition of measurable goal-achievement standards, etc,) and certain characteristics of high school students (i.e. more conflicting students, higher discipline problems, lack of motivation and apathy; low academic achievement) made secondary teachers more tend to burnout than primary counterparts (Vandenberghe & Huberman, 1999).

In last years, work engagement, a related and emerging field of positive organizational psychology, have received substantial research attention in human service professional and specifically in teaching professions (Hakkanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006; Lorente, Salanova, Martínez & Schaufeli, 2008). Work engagement, considered the conceptual antithesis of burnout, is conceived as a positive work-related state of mind characterized by three dimensions: vigor (energy and resilience, willingness to invest effort in one's job, not feeling easily fatigued, persistence), dedication (strong involvement in one's work, sense of enthusiasm and significance, pride and inspiration), and absorption (pleasant state of total immersion in one's work) (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, & Bakker, 2002). Research has found that work engagement is positively associated with job characteristics that might be considered resources: social support from co-workers and superiors, performance feedback, coaching, job autonomy, task variety, and training facilities (Demerouti, Bakker, Janssen, de Jonge & Schaufeli, 2001; Salanova, Schaufeli, Llorens, Pieró, & Grau, 2000) and also some individual differences appear to be an important predictors in terms of burnout and engagement (Langelaan et al., 2005). Specifically, in educational context, some authors have found that teachers' job demands (pupil misbehavior, workload, and physical work environment) predicted ill health through their impact on burnout, while teachers' job resources (job control, supervisory support, information, social climate, and innovativeness) is an important predictor of organizational commitment through work engagement. However, none studies have systematically analyzed the influence of primary background variables on engagement and, specifically it is unclear how particular primary background variables such as gender and taught levels might be related to engagement and positive job attitudes in teachers. While recent research has underscored the importance of examining potential background precursors of teacher burnout, to our knowledge, research has not examined the potential influence of primary background variables of work engagement in teachers. Therefore, in order to address this issue, our goal in the present study is to examine the potential differences on burnout and work engagement in teachers as a function of gender and grade level taught. Given that engagement is the conceptual antithesis of burnout and secondary teachers are considered to be more potential stressful grade level taught, it plausible to think that secondary school teachers will exhibit both higher scores on burnout and lower scores on engagement than their primary school counterparts. With respect to gender differences, some research have found that female teacher show higher personal and emotional involvement with their students than males, which made females more tend to emotional exhaustation (Maslach & Jackson, 1985); female teachers also tend to receive higher ratings by students on their sensitivity to and concern with class level and progress than do their male counterparts (Feldman, 1993). Some authors also have found that female teachers identify higher with the goals of the school; are willing to invest major effort in their student´s success than male teachers; and they express a higher emotional commitment with students and a more intense sense of professional vocation and involvement in helping to others than male counterparts (Oplatka, 2004). Therefore, it is tentative to think that these higher emotionally involved in caring for others in females teachers might imply higher levels of work engagement in them toward teaching task compared to their male counterparts.


Participants and procedure

The sample consisted of 727 teachers of whom 435 were female and 291 male, with a mean age of 40.69 years (SD = 9.47). All worked at primary and secondary public educational centers in different provinces of Spain. 413 were primary teachers and 314 secondary teachers. All teachers completed the battery of questionnaires.


Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach & Jackson, 1986). This scale consists of 22 items scored on a 7-point frequency scale from 0 (never) to 6 (daily) and composed by three dimensions: Emotional Exhaustion, which describes feelings of being emotionally depleted and overextended by one's teaching work; Depersonalization, which describes indifference or distance in one's attitude toward work or students; and Personal Accomplishment, which describes feelings of individual's expectations of continued effectiveness at work (Maslach & Jackson, 1986). We used the most widely used Spanish version of MBI (Seisdedos, 1997). In the present study, internal reliability, as measured by Cronbach's alpha, was .89 for emotional exhaustation, .70 for depersonalization and .83 for personal accomplisment.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES; Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002). This measure comprises 15 items scored on a 7-point frequency scale from 0 (never) to 6 (daily) and grouped into three subscales that reflect the underlying dimensions of engagement, namely, Vigor, Dedication, and Absorption. We used the well-validated Spanish version (Salanova, Schaufeli, Llorens, Pieró, et al., 2000). In the present study, internal reliability, as measured by Cronbach's alpha, was .86 for vigor, .90 for dedication and .87 for absorption.


In order to investigate whether there were differences among teachers in burnout and engagement as a function of grade level taught, a series of ANOVAs were conducted. Analysis revealed significant differences in two of the three dimensions of burnout (see Table 1). Specifically, secondary teachers reported higher levels of depersonalization and lower levels of personal accomplishment than their primary counterparts. Secondly, work engagement differences for females and males were also examined by ANOVAs. The results are also shown in Table 1. Analyses of data indicated significant difference in depersonalization and all three dimensions of work engagement. Male teachers exhibited significantly higher levels of depersonalization, while female teachers showed significantly higher scores in vigor, dedication and absorption. Finally, we analyzed the potential interacting effect between gender and grade level taught on burnout and work engagement dimensions, however, no statistically significant interaction effect were found.


The main objective of this study was to analyze the potential influence of primary background variables on burnout and engagement in a sample of Spanish teachers. Our results have corroborated and extended previous findings in teacher burnout, indicating that secondary teachers are more tend to exhibit indifferent attitude towards work in general and specifically towards the students (Anderson & Iwanicki, 1984; Russel et al., 1987). Consistent with these results and in line with the idea that engagement is the conceptual opposite of burnout, our research has also found that primary teachers had more energy, zest and stamina while developing their teaching tasks (vigor), showing more sense of significance from their teaching task (dedication) and reporting to be highly immersed in their academic duties (absorption).

Taken together, our results suggest that, because male teachers are more likely than females to use depersonalization as a coping strategy, they are at greater risk of experiencing cynicism and detachment from their students. Consequently, male teachers are less unlikely to be emotionally involved in academic tasks and showed less energy and dedication toward teaching task and students. Our findings are in consonance with this argument. In general, these findings suggest that gender differences in depersonalization and work engagement are significant and need to be further investigated. As Maslach and Jackson (1985), the female sex role prescribes nuturant and caring behaviour for women when dealing with people and their problems. Therefore, female teachers would be more likely than their male counterparts to respond in a caring and sensitive way, and thus could be more likely to be lower on depersonalization. Similarly, female teachers more than males still tend to be responsible for satisfying both the emotional and physical needs of students and, therefore, are more likely than men to become emotionally involved with the problems of their students along with those of parents and administrators. These higher tendencies to become emotionally involved in caring for others might explain higher levels of work engagement in women than in men, at least in professions related to help to others. Similarly, teaching has been traditionally considered a female dominated-job (Greenglass & Burke, 1988), where females feel their work as important and feel more satisfied caring and teaching children and young. In this line, it is possible that gender differences in work engagement depends on if the job is female or male dominated. For example, in other more male-dominated jobs, such as management or business, work engagement might be higher in males than in females. Future gender studies on work engagement should take into account the gender-dominated job dimension.

The finding concerning the grade level taught differences in burnout can be attributed to a number of factors that should be in consideration for further research. For example, for secondary teachers working with adolescence may be more stressful than working with younger students due to dealing with higher students´ misbehavior, impoliteness and poor attitudes toward school work (Phillips, Sen, McNamee, 2007). Classes in secondary are generally more heterogeneous and large in number of students. Finally, some research has also pointed to community and parental expectations as among the most important stressors secondary teachers confront in their daily work (Tatar, 2003). These characteristics of work in secondary schools seem both to exacerbate general burnout and might decrease levels of work engagement in teachers. Future research should identify the potential organizational, social and/or personal dimensions to be implicated in these important differences in positive work-related state for primary and secondary teachers.

Some limitations of our study should be mentioned. First, we did not take into account other primary sociodemographic variables that might be also related to work engagement and should be controlled for. For example, we did not include the marital status, their professional status, the size of their school, or the number of students per class, between others. Some of them have classically showed their relative impact on teacher burnout (Kiriacou, 1987). Further research including these precursors would extend our study and the list of potential socio-demographic variables associated to burnout/engagement. Second, only teachers working in public schools were surveyed here it possible that teaching conditions and other organizational characteristics differ from those presented in this study.

Our study has important theoretical and practical implications. With respect to theoretical implications, our investigation extends the inclusion of new personal resources in the known job demands and resources model (Demeuroti, Bakker, Nachreiner & Schaufeli, 2001), which explain that certain employee's work conditions, job demands and personal resources, are related in different ways to positive (i.e. engagement) and negative (i.e. burnout) organizational outcomes, being typical of specific occupations. In the field of teaching, our study suggests that research on burnout/engagement should take into account the grade level taught as an important job demand. Similarly, gender should be considered as a primary background dimension to be included in the list of job demand-resources that might reduce or increase the levels of work engagement in teachers.

Therefore, these findings have also important practical implications to the design of teachers' professional development program. Since that male teachers and secondary teachers are more likely to experience less levels of work engagement, future teachers intervention program should focus on promoting levels of work engagement in these groups. Increasing the levels of work engagement in teachers might indirectly to be beneficial for students, contributing to a warmer and supportive climate at school. That is, it is possible that students of highly engaged teachers are more likely to learn and develop a positive attitude toward school that those of teachers with low levels of work engagement, even increasing their academic achievement or reducing the dropout rate. These possibilities suggest avenues for developing more effective interventions in teachers who are at greater risk of experiencing lower work engagement.