What are districts coping with?

Will that impact learning?

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 3/16/22

NATIONWIDE — Teaching has always been stressful. But now as many as 55 percent of teachers are thinking hard about leaving, according to a survey released last month by the National Education …

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What are districts coping with?

Will that impact learning?

Posted

NATIONWIDE — Teaching has always been stressful. But now as many as 55 percent of teachers are thinking hard about leaving, according to a survey released last month by the National Education Association (NEA). That’s up 37 percent from August.

Teachers are exhausted. As of November 2021, according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation, the mental health of teachers and principals was in the top three concerns of superintendents.

Only student mental health ranked higher.

Three-quarters of district leaders in that study said that political polarization about COVID-19 safety or vaccines was interfering with their ability to educate students. Forty-three percent said the same about polarization related to critical race theory.

Teachers and support staff are leaving. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that state and local public school employment fell by five percent since the start of the pandemic. There are fewer teachers, fewer substitutes, fewer bus drivers, fewer food-service workers and fewer superintendents. There are plenty of openings: job growth is projected at seven to eight percent in teaching alone, depending on the grade level.

(For a local take, see Elizabeth Lepro’s story “Everyone is exhausted” at https://riverreporter.com/stories/everyone-is-exhausted,51581).

Much of this is driven by stress, according to research from the Brookings Institution. It’s not just about the people leaving. “In addition to concerns about mass departures, stress hinders the effectiveness of those who remain in the profession,” the think tank warns.

The NEA survey found that 80 percent of the remaining teachers and administrators were shouldering the extra work.

Class sizes get larger and can be harder to manage, according to a 2010 study by Fortes et al. Controlling behavior is more difficult. Less attention can be paid to students. Large classes have more students with different levels of background knowledge, and that makes teaching difficult.

High turnover consumes money that could have been used elsewhere, wrote Emma Garcia for the EPI. And a shortage becomes a vicious circle: the fewer teachers there are, carrying larger class sizes, the fewer people will want to go into teaching.

For those who stay and to lure more people into the profession, Brookings recommended higher pay, free counseling, more autonomy, involvement in policy and more paid mental-health days. (The EPI notes that states cut education budgets in 2010-2011; often those cuts were not reinstated “and student enrollment has grown.”) Reduce class sizes and employ more counselors for students—remember those mental health concerns.

Teachers who were most likely to leave during the pandemic, but not before, “experienced working conditions that were linked to higher levels of stress than teachers who were unlikely to leave,” wrote Elizabeth Steiner from RAND.

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