Teachers are leaving the profession in droves as accumulated frustrations from the past two years catch up with them.
During the height of the pandemic – or at least what we thought, at the time, had to be the height – our teachers never quit working. In fact, they worked harder than ever, learning and adapting to new technology and attempting to engage and hold the interest of students whose faces appeared in tiny boxes on a screen.
Many did it while their own children were in the next room, logging into their own classes, or fighting with their siblings, or screaming about where the last box of cereal went.
As in-person classes became an option, teachers then juggled TWO separate jobs, teaching some kids in person and meeting all of the requirements placed on teachers the second they walked through the school door AND teaching another set of kids virtually.
They dealt with technological issues and kids claiming they had posted or emailed work that teachers never saw. Many taught a hybrid model in which half their students sat in front of them in the classroom and the other half tuned in virtually. This demanded that the teacher use two different types of instructional models to work with all the kids in the class.
Stephen Berlanga, who teaches in Palm Beach County, Florida, described a typical day instructing using the hybrid model very similar to the one adopted in many Houston schools.
“I keep trying to make sure I’m paying attention to the virtual kids, I’m asking them questions, and alright, I’m going to pivot back to the in-person kids and ask them questions. Finding that balance where it feels adequate for both groups is insanely difficult to do.”
Teachers care or they wouldn’t teach. Sometimes they care too much. Berlanga is one of 3.2 million teachers who faced daily uncertainty and a precarious balancing act of trying to accommodate students through a pandemic, and they worried, every day, that they weren’t being effective, that their kids weren’t learning, that the lost instruction would have long-term implications.
In addition to instruction, they worried about getting COVID from one of their many students, who came from families that may or may not have been vaccinated, or even practiced CDC guidelines. And they had no say as to whether those children would wear masks, as that decision was made for them at a higher level.
Some needed their students to be masked-up and maintain social distancing for their own health or the health of a compromised family member. Others hated the masks, hated not being able to see their students’ faces, and desperately wanted school to return to normal. Much like our divided country, teachers were divided in their own beliefs but were unable to control their own work environment.
Consequently, teachers left. According to the Rand Corporation, which regularly surveys and conducts scholarly research, 25 percent of educators left the profession at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. They cited stress-related health problems, depression, and burnout as top reasons for their departures. The numbers suggest that of all careers, teaching ranked as one of the highest for job burnout and departure during the pandemic.
Those who have returned for the 2021-2022 school year never recovered from the previous year and now have additional stressors to face. Teacher shortage has led to larger class sizes, and no one anticipated that the nation would still be gripped by COVID cases and death, raising alarm bells for many instructors with families of their own to worry about.
The teachers who remain faced the new year with low morale and exhaustion, and now, in addition to more students, are confronted by parents who are angry about mask mandates – on both sides of the argument – and are attacking teachers who have no control over the matter.
To make it all worse, teachers have not been fairly compensated for any of this. Some states gave out $1000 or $500 bonuses at the end of last year. Imagine doubling your work, dealing with a pandemic, and caring for your own children and being compensated with a small, one-time bonus that can’t begin to cover the hours you worked and the toll it took on you and your family.
Teachers deserve better. Their role in our society is crucial. Parents seemed to realize that when everything shut down and they got a glimpse into the life of a teacher. But the gratitude and acknowledgement that were expressed then have unfortunately waned, even though teachers are tackling just as many obstacles.
Let’s give our teachers a break and show true appreciation for their fortitude. We truly can’t exist without them, and they deserve way more accolades than what they’ve been given.