...but is it enough?
As COVID-19 survives a third school year, teachers are making a transition out of the classroom for various reasons, like health-related fears, burnout, early retirement, and career changes. One RAND study found that 1 in 4 teachers were considering leaving the profession at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
I myself left the classroom in June 2021 in exchange for a career in EdTech, where I don’t experience the same stressors I felt teaching. Although I didn’t leave the classroom directly because of the pandemic, it certainly was a factor. I am one of many teachers who traded whiteboards and worksheets for Slack channels and editorial meetings.
I didn’t feel the full impact of my career change until school resumed this September. As my former colleagues reluctantly went back into their classrooms, I was overwhelmed with relief, gratitude, and satisfaction in my switch.
I know firsthand how stressed teachers are at this time. The burnout is widespread, and teacher SEL initiatives are simply not enough. Staff breakfasts and free coffee cannot charge the mental and emotional stamina needed to teach during a pandemic.
The new school year has begun, and the consequences of the anxiety, fear, and frustration felt by teachers last year have taken effect. Teachers are leaving the classroom, although not at the rate predicted by the RAND study previously mentioned. However, losing any amount of educators in a building puts more responsibility on those that remain. The pandemic has put a particular stress on Special Education teachers and staff, as legally required mandates must be met despite impacted resources.
When staff levels decrease, class sizes increase, scheduling is affected, individualized instruction is reduced, and special programs are minimized. There are uncharted learning gaps, student accountability issues, SEL shortcomings, and poor academic integrity habits to address. Social distancing continues to hinder activities like carpet read alouds in kindergarten classes. In schools where hybrid learning is still offered, teachers are expected to improve their practice since last year. And of course, observations are still being conducted through all of this, putting even more pressure on teachers to receive a score reflecting their competence.
Aside from maintaining staff, some schools have thought of incentives to attract new staff. Fulton County schools in Georgia offered a $5,000 signing bonus for new special education teachers this year.
The issues from last year that caused so many educators to reconsider their profession still exist. Teachers continue to question if they want to stay in the classroom. It’s impossible to know now when the pandemic will stop affecting education, if it ever does. However, it’s important to remain vigilant on how teachers are being affected by the tension that surrounds them. If teachers continue to leave due to burnout, school buildings will be critically impacted. Schools need systemic SEL for teachers, just like for students, that is not an afterthought, but rather at the bones of the district.
What can your school do to engrain respect, value, and support for teachers into its identity?
Factors Contributing to Teacher Burnout during COVID-19, Tim Pressley
I felt like I was being experimented on, Abigail Johnson Hess
Why Teachers Leave--Or Don’t, Liana Loewus
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