The Mediating Role of Teaching Quality and Student Engagement Between Teacher Mental Health and Learning Outcomes of Students with ASD.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are entitled to free and appropriate education in public schools. Teachers play a critical role in delivering educational support for students with ASD on a daily basis. However, teachers of students with ASD report more stress and burnout compared to teachers of students with other disabilities (Kokkinos & Davazoglou, 2009). Despite the attention to burnout and stress, the actual influence of teacher burnout and stress on the learning outcome of students with ASD remains unclear.
(1) To understand the effects of burnout and stress on teaching quality, student engagement, and individual educational program (IEP) outcomes of students with ASD.
(2) To understand the mediating roles of teaching quality and student engagement between teacher burnout and stress and IEP outcomes of students with ASD.
Seventy-nine dyads consisting of a special education teacher and one student with ASD selected randomly from each teacher’s caseload were recruited. Teachers’ levels of stress and burnout, including emotional exhaustion (EE), depersonalization (DP), and personal accomplishment (PA), teaching quality, and student engagement were collected using standardized measures at the beginning of the school year. The students’ progress on the IEP goals were tracked throughout the school year using Psychometric Equivalence Tested Goal Attainment Scaling (PET-GAS; Ruble et al., 2013).
Effects of burnout and stress on teaching quality and student engagement. Multivariate regressions showed that teacher stress was the only significant predictor of both decreased teaching quality (b = -.07, t(54) = -3.08, p = .003; F(4, 54) = 3.41, p = .015) and of decreased student engagement (b = -.03, t(66) = -2.82 , p = .031, F(4,66)= 2.21, p = .078).
IEP outcomes. PA was the only significant predictor (b = .06, t(60) = 2.90, p =.005) of student IEP outcomes, F(1,60) = 6.70, p < .001.
The mediating role of teaching quality and student engagement. Despite having no direct influence, entered in parallel, stress, EE, and DP influenced IEP outcomes either through student engagement alone or through student engagement and teaching quality (indirect effect = -.001 ̶̶ -.05, SE = -.22 - .001, 95% CI = -.21 ̶̶ -.0001). PA had only a direct influence on student IEP outcomes (see Figure 1).
One of the three burnout subscales (PA) was negatively and directly related to achievement of long-term IEP outcomes for students with ASD. In contrast, stress, EE, and DP, had indirect effects on student IEP outcomes either through student engagement alone or through teaching quality and student engagement together. The results not only document a direct impact of teacher burnout and stress on student learning outcomes, but also provide preliminary documentation of potential mediating mechanisms between burnout and stress and student learning outcomes. The results suggest that stress management and mental health should be addressed in pre-service and in-service training, and in evidence-based programs for students with ASD in school.