It’s no secret that the demands on our schools and our teachers are growing. Over time, stress, exhaustion, and teacher burnout have all played a role in the demise of our educational system, and with the added impact of the pandemic, a bright spotlight of concern has been placed upon it. We depend on our teachers to guide, love and pour their knowledge into our children with energy and vigor, and they have gone for decades without being heard. If we don’t pay attention to what is happening and provide resources and support, we will lose them. In fact, recent data shows that 55% of educators are considering leaving the profession.
While that statement alone is sad, the ones who really lose out are our children. Research shows that the negative impact of teacher turnover on student achievement is significant. Consider this, losing a teacher during the year represents a loss of between 32 and 72 instructional days, which equates to ⅙ to ½ of the school year (Henry, 2018). This loss combined with the loss due to Covid is significantly impacting our children.
What’s more, teachers who do not leave the profession are more stressed out and disengaged than ever before. Not because they don’t want to be there for the kids, but because the environment is not supporting them in the way they need to be supported. While teacher mental health has been getting more attention in recent years, 42 percent of teachers said administrators have not made any efforts to help relieve their stress. About one-fifth said their administrators have tried, but it didn’t help.
Our children are stuck in the middle of a system that is broken and circumstances they have no control over. The situation may vary from district to district, school to school, but the burnout is real, and the message and the solutions are likely similar and revolve around three things:
Safety – In an era where political tensions run high, and administrators, teachers, parents, and students are adjusting to the post-pandemic new reality, teachers have an increasing need to feel safe. Throughout the pandemic and now coming out of it, teachers have reported threats of violence, including verbal harassment, threats, and cyberbullying, from students, parents/guardians, administrators, and colleagues.
Security – This element includes an environment of psychological safety from administrators. Teachers need to know their superiors have their backs. An environment of trust, where they can safely discuss their fears and frustrations creates the sense of security – physically, emotionally, and socially that teachers need to thrive. While we focus on these necessities for our children in the classroom, not much thought is given to the need for teachers to have that same environment to be successful in teaching.
Connectedness – Traditionally, teachers choose the profession because they have a deep desire to help others succeed. They have a deep connection to the people they work with and to their students. Covid robbed them of that connection. The separation between administration and teachers is vast, and even highly effective teaching teams find themselves so overworked and overwhelmed that they are unable to collaborate meaningfully with one another. There is a disconnection and lack of communication that leaves teachers to make assumptions about what is going on. Where there was once collaboration, teachers are operating in silos. Where there was once mutual respect and communication, there is the feeling of a lack of support and disconnection.
Even as in-person teaching has started back up, masks, attitudes, and fears about learning loss have compounded the return. These fears place added pressure on teachers who are already caught between what the administration wants, and what parents are demanding. That, along with the uncertainty of what will happen next with Covid makes it nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand – educating our children. And there is a knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.
Be sure to read our future blogs to find hope amidst the chaos and learn ways we can effect change and help our administrators and teachers reconnect for the good of everyone – including our children.