Bettina LOVE, author of We Want To Do More Than Survive, notedIt was amazing how much was possible when the system had to prioritize the lives and needs of students, teachers, and their families. The system was forced to prioritize the lives of students, teachers, and families. Laptops were distributed. Internet access was also provided. High-stakes, standardised tests were cancelled. Many cases saw the removal of grades. She quoted a letter from a superintendent in Georgia who told teachers, “We want compassion over compliance.”
Now, Love concluded, “We have to say that we’re not going back. The managing of inequalities, we’re not going back.”
However, with US schools having finished their first semester of full-time, in-person education — and now returning in the midst of a new surge of COVID infections — it’s clear that this is precisely what’s being asked of teachers, as well as their students and families. There were concerns about a mass exodus from the classroom during the height of the pandemic. However, it was almost impossible for most teachers to leave. However, as schools have attempted to “return to normal,” many teachers and other educators are reaching a breaking point.
According to the Labor Department 30,000 teachers resignedOnly September 2021, and since January 2021 the educational services industry has seen the largest increaseThe number of workers quitting. This shortage should have been a wakeup call for school boards, local administrators, and districts, but it has only intensified the pressures placed on educators.
Teachers had to work in terrible conditions during the height of the pandemic. These difficulties were temporary, however. Even more, there was the hope that the pandemic might change our priorities — that we would prioritize the social and emotional needs of students and meet them where they were academically. An infusion of stimulus dollars might bring about the possibility that there will be more money for counselors, smaller classes and support staff.
Instead, educators returned to find that those in charge have doubled down on more of what already wasn’t working. More data and documentation. More testing. More responsibilities on teachers’ shoulders. These demands are being made in a context in which student needs are greater than they’ve ever been, and resources are stretched thin. A pandemic that continues to plague the world is still affecting educators. It is this gap, between the expectation that things would be different and the reality of increased demands alongside a push for “normalcy,” that is driving educators to the breaking point.
Impact of staffing shortages
There is a severe shortage of teachers across the country. This includes substitutes, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and any other support staff that teachers would recognize as essential to the operation of schools. Many places have a shortage of teachers. these shortages are forcing districtsTemporarily close the office or restructure the schedule.
However, the primary responsibility for making up the gap has fallen on teachers’ shoulders. A survey of school administrators revealed that 80% of respondents believed that teachers are responsible for closing the gap. two-thirds said that they were responding to shortagesAsk current employees to accept more responsibilities. Teachers are being asked to take on more responsibilities, such as hall monitoring, after school supervision, cleaning, and even lunch duty. Teachers are being forced to sacrifice their valuable prep time to cover other classes.
Teachers need to take more time to plan differentiated lessons and assess students individually as students return to school with a wider range in needs. Teachers must choose whether to take more work home or give less when they have to cover an absent teacher, or worse, an unfilled job.
Teachers are the reason for this. in Portland, Oregon, are demanding scheduling changesTo make up for lost preparation time and increased planning requirements they are facing. Seventy percent of Portland teachersMore than 1,000 people surveyed said that stress levels are severe or extreme and that they are considering moving. However, the district is resisting teachers’ demands.
“Learning Loss,” Testing and the Demand for More Data
Teachers are feeling the loss of time particularly acutely as they are being asked to make up for “learning loss” and are expected to keep up with pre-pandemic, grade-level curriculum. Instead of adjusting expectations to support students to progress from wherever they are, teachers are expected to bridge the gap between existing expectations and students’ current skills.
Teachers are being asked for more data as part of the attempt to measure learning losses. Districts have also added baseline assessments to meet the increasing pressure of the statewide exams, which were reintroduced by the Biden administration in Spring 2022. These exams are tied to teacher ratings in many States. For example, New York City is spending $36 million on a set of tests given three times during the year to all students to identify “learning loss.”
These assessments steal precious instructional time, take a toll on students, and add more paperwork to teachers’ responsibilities as they are asked to document and analyze the resulting data. While this might yield some useful insights, many teachers feel that they are better able to assess their students’ development and needs than a standardized test is.
Focusing on test preparation can also take away other aspects from the curriculum that students will need when they return to in-person learning. These include hands-on engagement and project-based learning. These skills, especially those involving cooperative social skills, are difficult to learn while remote learning.
Many schools are now doubling the widely-tested core subjects such as math and English/language arts. These subjects can mean that students could spend more than half their school day on them alone. Electives like music and art are being cutIn favor of tutoring blocks or remedial reading programs.
Are the Kids OK?
Students returning to school after suffering unprecedented levels trauma in less than two years are experiencing a lot of anxiety. As of July 20, 2021 more than 140,000 children had lost a primary caregiver and, if the trend holdsBy December 2021, this number will have risen past 200,000. Students have had the responsibility of caring for and watching over their families as they fall ill. Many older students took over as breadwinners for their families after their parents became incapacitated or laid off. Even those who didn’t experience these deprivations felt isolated and alone.
Students have struggled adapting to in-person schooling, and teachers have often failed to support them. Students need the support they so desperately require, including compassion, flexibility, and flexibility. Teachers who are often stretched to breaking point may become complacent and fatigued when students in need disrupt classes or avoid engaging.
While school districts have made lip service to the importance and value of social-emotional wellbeing, there has been very little in the way of material support or changes in approaches. Federal funding has not resulted in an infusion of social workers and counselors. New York City has the following: school district rolled out an $18 million, 45-question social-emotional “screener”Teachers were asked to complete the questionnaire. The screener converted the answers to a single score that tracked whether students were “on target,” “advanced” or “in need.” Many teachers pointed out that they were given just a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire on students they barely knew while they had no way of getting support for students they already knew were in need.
A consistent problem with the approaches to social-emotional health is that they have rarely addressed the role that schools themselves play in contributing to students’ well-being. It is assumed that school is a safer and more comfortable place for young people. The pandemic exposed the many ways schools can be oppressive, especially for students of color, who are often the victims of racial bias. Teachers are expected to enforce the same disciplinary rules that cause so many students to be excluded, rather than taking the time to adjust their expectations and shift school cultures. This puts teachers — especially teachers of color — in an impossible situation and makes it harder to develop the relationships that are even more vital right now.
Micromanaged, Disrespected, and in the Line of Fire
Teachers continue to be micromanaged despite all the constraints and extraordinary efforts they are required to make. Teachers are expected to submit lengthy, often daily lesson plans that conform to state standards for evaluation. Districts adopt new curricula that teachers are forced to learn and implement — and just as often then abandon them. Teachers have little control over the content of professional development sessions and are often left disconnected from the issues that they face in their classrooms.
A study by Education Week According to reports, 42 percent of U.S. teachers polled say their administrators have done nothing20 percent of respondents said that administrators fail to help them relieve stress. Yoga, mindfulness sessions, and Work days can be dressed in jeansTeachers are often left without the time and resources they need to plan, leave work to be with family and friends, receive adequate compensation, have safety and health protections, and have flexibility and trust. Teachers need more autonomy and to be able to trust their professional judgment and expertise.
Even though teachers do have administrators that support them, and there are many of them, they often find themselves in a hostile political climate where they face parental and community outrage. At school board meetings across the countryEnraged parents and members of the community (many not even parents) have shouted at teachers and leaders in their communities over everything, from curriculum to mask mandates.
The 2021 movement of parents calling for schools to reopen for in person learning converged in a backlash against culturally sensitive curriculum and teaching about the history racism in this country. Twenty-two states have introduced legislation and five states have passed bills banning the teaching so-called critical racism theory. These bills are actually directed at any curriculum that encourages oppression against various groups. Multiple teachers have already lost their jobsAs a result, many others feel threatened and unsupported.
And There’s Still a Pandemic
One of the most Orwellian aspects in the 2021-22 schoolyear is the way the ongoing pandemic was systematically denied. Teachers are not only tackling all the challenges, but are also doing so with inadequate safety and health protections. Nine states have banned mask mandatesOnly 16 have them. Rest are a patchwork. Even when masks are necessary, teachers will tell any parent that getting children to wear them correctly and consistently is a difficult task. Meanwhile, ventilation systems in schools haven’t been updated in decades — particularly schools serving high concentrations of low-income students.
Many districts don’t conduct regular or adequate testing for students and staff. In New York City, the nation’s largest school district, only 10 percent of unvaccinated students who opt in are testedOn a weekly basis. Quarantine rules cause confusion and disruption. While there were central plans for remote instruction in the 2020-21 school years, districts now act as if this is a rare occurrence rather than a regular occurrence. Teachers find it almost impossible to plan.
As this article was being written the Omicron variant was creating new cases, throwing schools back into chaos and potentially putting families, educators and students at risk. It is evident that COVID will continue influencing teaching conditions for the future. There is no “after” in which these untenable conditions are resolved. Instead, the future of public schools is being shaped by what’s happening now. The outcome will be determined by whether teachers leave the profession or fight for a different vision for their students and themselves.