In a January 2022 National Education Association survey of its members, 90% of educators called burnout a significant problem. Teacher burnout has existed for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic intensified it for many. More than half of NEA survey respondents said they're likelier to leave the field sooner than anticipated. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the June quit rate for state and local government education employees was lower than the quit rate for all occupations. But at above 1% for most of 2022, the quit rate has been generally higher than in pre-pandemic years.
Teachers need help—perhaps more now than ever in recent memory.
Once the pandemic hit, anxiety levels rose for many educators who had to quickly adjust to an unprecedented teaching model, shifting from a traditional classroom to a virtual learning experience. Many teachers quit due to fear of exposure to COVID-19, and some simply pivoted to other professions. There were also a high number of absences among teachers. As a result, staffing shortages ensued, which caused existing teachers to work longer hours with higher demands, which spiraled into a heavier workload. Many educators have also confessed to feeling undervalued socially and by administrative staff.
While most school staff, parents, and students have returned to in-person learning schedules, the pandemic's impact on the American education system lingers, with students months behind on learning. Noticeable test score gaps also continue to affect disadvantaged students disproportionately. As students fall behind academically, educators' mental health is simultaneously taking a hit. A 2022 Rand Corp. study found that "teachers and principals reported worse well-being than other working adults."
- About 90% of teachers support this measure
Reducing paperwork for teachers could allow more time to focus on the needs of their students.
Teachers are often overwhelmed by paperwork, whether it's regarding disciplinary issues or covering for absent coworkers. The teaching profession is a heavily legislated one, for special education teachers in particular. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires students with special needs to have detailed documentation of their educational curriculum.
- About 92% of teachers support this measure
The NEA survey found that 55% of school teachers said they are more likely to leave education or retire earlier than planned due to, among other reasons, "an unprecedented level of strain made worse by recent dire staff shortages." (That's almost double the figure NEA found in a July 2020 survey.)
Teachers said they would benefit tremendously from having more support from colleagues. That includes access to mentorship opportunities that can help new teachers grow and develop. A 2011 study by Ingersoll & Strong found mentorship from veteran educators greatly benefited new teachers and increased teacher retention rates.
- About 94% of teachers support this measure
Teachers believe addressing student behavioral issues can help in combating staff burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to increased behavioral problems as students find ways to cope after the pandemic disrupted their educational and social lives. In addition to teacher fatigue, behavioral issues displayed by some students have made learning environments more challenging.
While resources can guide teachers in handling mental health and behavioral issues, on-site support from counselors and social workers provides crucial aid to students and reduces the burden on teachers.
- About 93% of teachers support this measure
School districts nationwide have been battling staffing shortages in recent years—shortages that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated. According to a June 2022 Institute of Education Sciences finding, 62% of public schools are concerned about filling vacant staffing roles. Among all subject areas reporting present vacancies, special education and elementary school posts are in dire need, with 47% and 45% unfilled nationwide, respectively.
The shortages are so dire that some districts across rural Texas have shifted to a four-day school week as they struggle with retention issues and the ability to hire new teachers. There's been a growing popularity of rural districts adopting a four-day school week to avoid staffing burnout and to remain competitive in the hiring market. Unfortunately, there hasn't been conclusive data on how this affects learning outcomes.
To attract more teachers, states such as California have allowed prospective educators to bypass basic skills if they've taken eligible college courses. California has also allowed teaching candidates more time to complete required tests to obtain teaching credentials.
- About 96% of teachers support this measure
In most industries, wages are not keeping up with inflation. That includes teachers' salaries. In 2022, the NEA released an updated report on educators' salaries showing the average annual salary at $66,432 for the 2021-22 school year, which, while up $10,000 since 2021, nonetheless represents a $2,150 reduction in earnings when adjusted for inflation.
In March 2018, West Virginia teachers went on a nine-school-day strike, which caused closures in K-12 classrooms across the state's 55 counties. The teacher walkout wasn't just about compensation; teachers wanted to raise awareness about their daily challenges in helping students achieve positive educational outcomes. The strike ended when the state's governor increased teachers' earnings by 5%.
This story originally appeared on Teachercertification.com and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.