Researchers at Ohio State University arrived at the conclusion after analyzing data from a nationwide health study that collected family info from mostly low-income, single-mother households and their children's caretakers.
"We were interested in that sample because we thought that children of low-income single mothers might experience a more emotionally vulnerable home environment, and we wanted to see if the role of teachers affected their psychological health," explained Lieny Jeon, lead author of the new study, which was published this week in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
One portion of the health study asked teachers to complete a survey that measured their levels of depression. The study also collected information about the child care setting and atmosphere, including factors like: space, furnishings, personal care, learning activities, social interactions and discipline.
Another portion of the study asked both parents and teachers to gauge the level of behavioral dysfunction among the children they care for. Respondents were asked to differentiate between externalized problems and internalized problems.
Internalized behavioral problems consist of inward facing behaviors like depression, worry, fear, self-injury and social withdrawal, whereas externalized problems consist of some sort of acting out.
When cross-referencing the two sets of results, researchers found a direct relationship between teacher depression and child behavior issues -- both internal and external -- as reported by teachers. Analysis also showed a strong link between teacher depression and parents' reports of internalized problems.
"This path between teacher depression and childhood behavioral problems can likely be explained in several ways," Jeon said. "One of the reasons this relationships manifests with behavior problems is because the classroom has an unhealthy climate."
Jeon and her research partner Cynthia Buettner want to further research to get a better idea of why preschool teachers might feel depressed, and how exactly their mood effects their capacity as caregivers.
Both researchers suggest that a lack of compensation, both in terms of actual pay and cultural respect, for teachers may be a factor -- the average annual pay for a preschool teacher is $27,130.
"There's a real mismatch between the expectations for teachers and what they get paid," Buettner said. "They're frequently low-paid positions with not a lot of respect for the work people do."
Buettner and Jeon said teachers need to be better trained on not just how to handle young children, but how to cope with their own emotional problems.