Poster Paper: West Virginia Teachers the Opioid Epidemic: Attitudes, Behavior, and Burnout

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sara Anderson1, Jessica E. Troilo2, Frankie E. Tack2, Megan E. Mikesell2, Sloane B. Glover2 and Miles E. Payne2, (1)Tufts University, (2)West Virginia University

West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country (CDC, 2018) and a greater proportion of children are in foster care, largely due to parental substance abuse (Child Trends, 2017). The opioid epidemic has set the stage for adverse functioning on the part of addicted adults and for the broader community, including teachers and students. Teachers play a critical role in the lives of children and families. For example, classroom characteristics (e.g., warmth of teachers during student interactions) has been shown to predict children’s achievement and behavior (NICHD, 2005; Pianta et al., 2008). Teacher effectiveness, in turn, can be affected by children’s characteristics, and there are reciprocal relations between students and teachers (Pianta et al., 2012). Children in homes with addiction, however, likely face trauma and instability, characteristics of adverse childhood experiences, and bring those experiences to the classroom, compromising wellbeing and functioning (Pianta et al., 2012). The response to the opioid epidemic has mostly focused on the law enforcement response and addicted individuals and their recovery, yet many of the people who are in active addiction are parents with children in public schools. Parenting quality may be compromised (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004), with negative implications for children’s development and educational success. Yet, little is known about how children are acting in classrooms, and even less is known about how teachers respond to children who bring their trauma, instability, and fear to the classroom. Thus, the goal of the study was to understand how teachers are coping with the present crisis.

Our project recruited a convenience sample of approximately 2,500 teachers (out of 13,00 in the state) from 54/55 districts. The majority (86%) of participants were female and about half were elementary (48%), 21% were middle, and 27% were high school teachers. Over 60% of participants had over 10 years of teaching experience, and 23% had 5 – 10 years. Over half (55%) had masters’ degrees plus additional certificates whereas 34% had bachelor’s degrees. Participants were directed to an online survey with a series of closed- and open-ended questions. Results are primarily descriptive.

Preliminary results paint a grim picture of the challenges facing West Virginia teachers and classrooms. Over 70% of teachers reported an increase in students influenced by parental/caregiver active substance use over the last 10 years. Despite these increased numbers, less than 30% of teachers reported receiving training specific to children impacted by parental or caregiver substance use. Specifically, 90% of teachers reported a lack of confidence in knowing how to support students with addiction in their homes, yet 80% reported relying on their colleagues for support in knowing how to better work with these students. Most teachers reported classroom behaviors negatively impacting their abilities to teach – sporadic attendance (89%), health issues (87%), poor nourishment (73%) – which are largely out of their control.

Though exploratory, the results point to potential avenues for intervention in schools and classrooms, including the need for training and supports for teachers facing challenges of the opioid epidemic.