There is a lot of conversation around student learning losses due to the pandemic. But there seems to be less talk about the toll it has had on teachers. I was working with a school faculty last week and during our training session the principal shared that the district had decided that they would go back to in-person instruction after their spring break — in three weeks time. I could see their excitement to finally be with children again and to be finished with trying to teach through a screen. At the same time, I could see trepidation on their faces.
In a recent New York Times Article a survey by the NEA was cited showing that “…28 percent of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early. That weariness spanned generations. Among the poll respondents, 55 percent of veteran teachers with more than 30 years of experience said they were now considering leaving the profession. So did 20 percent of teachers with less than 10 years’ experience.” We are literally burning teachers out.
After our training session a few teachers stayed on the Zoom call and we chatted about their pending transition for a while. They explained that when they go back to in-person instruction there will only be six weeks left in the school year. Although their rollout was not perfect they had worked really hard to establish a learning routine during distance learning. This transition mandates additional work to design lessons for a hybrid teaching schedule. To make matters even harder on them, their district gave families three options — stay in distance learning, go back to school part-time in a hybrid schedule, or opt out of both and do school at home without virtual instruction. These teachers are tasked with designing three different types of lessons for each school day for the remainder of the school year. They were already overworked and fatigued and looking to summer to begin planning for a fresh start next school year. Transitioning now seems to be the proverbial “nail in the coffin” for many teachers.
I am certain that most teachers around the world are experiencing fatigue and longing to head back to the classroom. There is another dimension to teacher burnout, feeling like a failure. I have spoken to many teachers who feel badly about the job they have done over the past year. Even though many of the factors that have contributed to lower success rates were beyond their control they still have had to face poor attendance, lower grades, as well as increased student depression and anxiety every day this school year.
In the same way that it is tough to accurately gauge students’ learning loss due to the pandemic it may be challenging to assess the fatigue and burnout teachers are facing. However, we know it exists. The time is now to put empathetic plans in place that will make teachers’ reality more sustainable, not add more work to their overloaded schedules. Teachers need hope just like students.
The following questions may be helpful to get a pulse on how teachers are feelings:
I would love to hear from you! Specifically, what other questions should schools be considering as they assess teacher burnout this spring and as we make plans for the fall. Please add your thoughts in the comments below.