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Research in high-income Western contexts has shown teacher depression to be associated with poorer quality of classroom learning environment in elementary school classrooms (McClean & Connor, 2015), lower classroom quality interactions (Jeon, Buettner, & Snyder, 2014), and responses to children’s emotional behavior (Li Grining et al., 2010). However, less attention has been paid to the social determinants of depression among early-childhood education (ECE) teachers, especially those whose own lives are characterized by poverty and food insecurity.
Teachers in low-income countries face many hardships in their work and personal lives that threaten their well-being and effectiveness in the classroom. Yet remarkably little systematic research has examined the living and working conditions of teachers in low-income countries and how such conditions relate to teacher well-being, including mental health, and in turn child outcomes. To fill this gap, the present study examines the social determinants of mental health among 334 ECE teachers representative of the Greater Accra Region Ghana, a country where factors such as food insecurity has been linked to rising rates of depression in the adult population (Atuoye & Luginaah, 2017).
We examine two research questions: (1) what are the personal and professional determinants of teachers’ depression and anxiety symptoms? And (2) what are the associations between depression and anxiety with observed classroom quality and children’s school readiness skills over one school year?
Data come from the Quality Preschool for Ghana project (Wolf et al., 2018), an intervention study aiming to improve ECE classroom quality and children’s school-readiness skills. Teacher depression was measured using the Goldberg Depression Scale (Aminpoor et al., 2012) (18 items; alpha = 0.72). Using multi-level regression analyses, first with teachers nested in schools, we consider how teachers’ personal life conditions, as well as work conditions, predict depression and anxiety at the start and end of the school year. Second, we will examine how depression and anxiety levels predict different dimensions of observed classroom quality including instructional and emotional support. Finally, we examine how levels predict children’s early academic and social-emotional skills over the course of one school year.
Table 1 summarizes participant characteristics and Table 2 displays preliminary results to the first research question. Both personal (poverty risk and food insecurity) and some professional challenges (lack of parental support, major problems at school, long travel times, paid late) were significantly associated with more depression and anxiety symptoms among teachers. Preliminary analyses assessing associations of depression and anxiety with child outcomes suggest a curvilinear association, with that strength of the association between teacher depression and child outcomes diminishing with the number of symptoms.
Preliminary findings suggests that hardships both inside and outside of the classroom shapes the psychological well-being of ECE teachers in Ghana, and that teachers’ mental health has consequences for young children. Implications for global ECE policy and practice will be discussed.