Let’s take a look back to March 2020. A deadly virus by the name of COVID-19 brought us into a global pandemic that seemingly brought life and society as we know it to a halt. Schools were closed and teachers and students were sent home, throwing education into immediate online instruction. It was an abrupt shakeup that no educator had ever seen before.
Fast forward to late 2021, schools are back in session and many are in-person, and like all of us in one way or another, the educational community has been set ablaze. Since the Omicron variant’s appearance, 2022 continues to show that the role of today’s educators is more uncertain than ever. It’s time to discuss teacher burnout.
Teacher Burnout: What is it?
Teacher burnout can be simply described as teachers reaching their limits. It isn’t something solely related to the pandemic, however, it’s been heightened by it. This can be due to stress, overworking, exhaustion, and more that stem from the demands of their workplace.
Per American University’s School of Education, “The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 270,000 teachers have left the profession each year since 2016 and projects this rate of departure to continue through 2026.” The Brookings Institution also noted that based on data from a teacher survey, “42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year” and more than 50% pointed to COVID-19 as the culprit.
Research from the National Education Association and the RAND Corporation matched the sentiment above, but it also noted K-12 educators were more likely to remain in their roles versus other public sector employees.
Sean, a high school math teacher, described his experience in two waves. One wave being the swift push into learning new technology and strictly virtual instruction practices, and the second was being thrown back into the classroom after 1.5 years of teaching remotely. “The aspect of virtual teaching that was hard to get used to was not being able to see and address students directly in person. There was a huge barrier to communication. Effective teaching is about building relationships, and that obstacle was enormous.”
He said the recent burnout stemmed from needing to use planning blocks and lunch periods to “do remediation in order to fill in the major learning gaps that were formed,” during the period of “pandemic instruction.” He also noted the regular and widespread instances of student absences, which started a cycle of more time spent catching up than learning new lessons for many students.
Middle school science teacher, Christi, echoed Sean’s sentiments concerning “lack of time to implement and plan sound instruction,” but for her, it has largely involved an increased amount of time supervising students. Due to the pandemic, there’s been a national shortage of substitute teachers. This scarcity has also forced educators to cover for each other, putting even more added stress on already burnt-out instructors.
Social distancing mitigations have made students adhere to rules like three to a lunch table and waiting in lines before dismissal to catch buses. This has led to additional supervision and discipline since some students are known to disobey these unfamiliar restrictions.
Burnout and Sleep
Sean has been an educator for more than a decade and has found himself grading school work until late-night hours on top of being a dad to young children. He’s found himself working 14+ hour days and the expectations seem to be at an all-time high. He describes burnout as just feeling “overwhelmed” more than anything else.
Christi recalled her sleep pattern disruption while teaching during the pandemic. “Last year I had a terrible time with my sleep. Living and working from home threw my schedule off significantly. This year I am making it a priority to get good sleep by using a variety of apps and techniques,” Christi said.
To combat burnout, the school system in her area “implemented several early release days for students to allow for teacher planning.” However, she expressed that many teachers, parents, and students continue to feel unheard by their school board. She best described the current climate in comparison to the end of the school year as “June Tired.”
How to Make a Difference
While there’s no way to undo the stressors of the pandemic and subsequent damage it left behind, there are some ways you can support your local educators.
Good behavior starts in the home. If you’re a parent to a child who’s enrolled in K-12 schooling, you can teach by example. If your student is frustrated by the rules and regulations in school, remind them how important it is to follow them, no matter how difficult it can seem. Disobedience makes a teacher’s job even harder, and after all, these rules are in place to keep your children safe.
Encourage kids to show up to class! Not just physically or virtually, but mentally. They can make the best of a not-so-great learning situation by staying engaged and getting their work done.
Parents can do a number of things to support teachers. It can be as little as getting involved in school activities and initiatives, whether it’s donating your time or donating money to a food drive. Morale is huge here! If you really want to go above and beyond, contact members of the school board or attend school board meetings that are open to the public. This is somewhere you can respectfully share concerns and back the hardworking teachers in your area. Because at the end of the day, helping your teachers means helping your kids.