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Teachers are in the midst of a burn-out crisis: ‘It has become intolerable’

After two years of pandemic-related disruption, security concerns and tense public scrutiny, exhausted teachers have left the profession in droves.

At least 300,000 teachers and other public school staff walked off the field between February 2020 and May 2022, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Teachers have experienced alarming levels of anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic – even more than healthcare workers, according to a recent study published in Educational Researcher, a journal of the American Education Research Association.

K-12 teachers report the highest rate of burnout of any U.S. profession, with more than four in 10 teachers noting that they “always” or “very often” feel burnt out at work, according to a June 2022 Gallup poll.

Many of the major challenges facing teachers, including safety issues, low salaries, funding shortfalls and declining mental health, are nothing new – but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the existing problems within the profession.

The burnout crisis in teaching has been exacerbated by a national shortage of educators – enrollment in teacher preparation programs has plummeted, a trend amplified by the pandemic, and schools across the United States are compete for a shrinking pool of qualified teachers.

Some teachers resigned due to the challenges of teaching during a global pandemic, while others, taking note of the Great Resignation, found better-paying opportunities in other industries. Those who remain in class report feeling exhausted and disappointed by the role they once considered their dream job.

“If I had no retirement to look forward to, I would probably quit”

August Plock’s class sizes have nearly doubled since he began teaching United States history in grade 11 at Pflugerville High School 23 years ago, thanks to an ongoing teacher shortage and a flock of families migrating to trendy Austin, just a 30-minute drive south.

“I used to teach about 140 students a year, and now that number is close to 200,” Plock, 54, told CNBC Make It. He is teaching six classes this year, each with 28 to 33 students.

Texas has faced a teacher shortage for years, and the pandemic has made the situation worse — the state lost nearly 43,000 teachers last year, setting a new Texas record for retirements and resignations.

“It’s been bad the last two years, but this year it’s been really tough,” Plock said. “We had to dissolve the jobs of teachers in special programs and put them in classrooms without teachers, even if they didn’t want to – it caused a lot of people to quit.”

Plock has had at least 10 extra students added to her class this year and teaches a second subject, geography, due to a shortage of educators.

“It’s fun to work with the students,” says Plock. “But I’ll be honest, I have two years left before my retirement, and if I had no retirement to look forward to, and I was a young teacher, I would probably quit too.”

“It was chaos”

Jeanne Paulino entertaining her students during a recent lesson.

Photo: Jeanne Paulino

Jeanne Paulino would never have imagined that she would become a teacher.

The 24-year-old had her heart set on working as a lawyer throughout high school and college – but at the start of her senior year, a conversation changed her mind.

“I was approached by a Teach for America recruiter, and I was blown away,” she says. “He started the conversation about how education is full of inequalities and how teachers can help address some of the inequalities that exist.”

She was accepted into the program in November 2019 and was placed at Intrinsic Charter High School in Chicago as a Grade 11 English language learning specialist for the 2020-2021 school year – then the pandemic hit.

“It was chaos,” recalls Paulino. “I spent my first year teaching entirely online, and I really felt like I had no idea what I was doing.”

When her school reopened for the 2021-2022 school year, Paulino felt even more lost.

“I probably went home crying at least twice a week this first semester, because I was so exhausted and confused about how to effectively handle all these students in the classroom,” she says. “It was the first time they had been in person together after a long period of separation, and many of them were still dealing with the stress of the pandemic and the lack of social interaction… this led to new behavioral issues that I hadn’t anticipated.”

Now, however, with two years of teaching under her belt, Paulino is confident in leading her class and is thrilled with the positive impact she is able to have on her students’ lives.

Teach for America only requires corps members to teach for at least two years, so Paulino ended her commitment to the program, but Intrinsic Charter School hired her to remain on staff as a full-time teacher for the program. school year 2022-2023.

“The teaching was both better and harder than I expected,” she says. “Sometimes I’m an instructor, other times I’m a confidant or a therapist, but it all feels like incredibly important and meaningful work.”

When she started teaching, Paulino planned to leave after two years, noting that teaching was never an “end goal” for her, but her career goals changed – instead of going to college. by right, she now dreams of becoming a therapist. or a writer.

But there is one thing that keeps her in class for at least another year: her students. Paulino explains, “The great relationships I have with the students have motivated me to stay despite all the stress and sometimes feel overworked and underpaid.”

“I felt tremendous guilt telling them I wasn’t coming back, like I was abandoning these little kids who needed me.”

Amy Owen

a former third-grade teacher in Los Angeles

“Teaching has become intolerable”

Amy Owen still cries when she remembers her last day in class where she spent more than 20 years teaching.

Owen, a former Los Angeles Unified School District third-grade teacher, sent in her resignation letter on June 30 — and was surprised when someone from the human resources department responded to her email congratulating her on her decision.

“It really got me thinking, because I wasn’t happy to leave teaching and I didn’t see it as something to celebrate,” said Owen, 48. “I felt like I was being forced out of teaching.”

She held back tears as she told the news to her students.

“All day there were kids telling me how excited they were to visit my class when we got back in the fall, or how they had hoped their younger brother would have me next year,” says owen. “I felt tremendous guilt telling them I wasn’t coming back, like I was abandoning these little kids who needed me.”

Owen says she’s hit her breaking point ‘many times’ over the years and has debated quitting teaching before – but the 2021-22 school year has pushed her over the edge .

“Everything immediately changed in terms of what the leaders expected of us,” she says. “We’ve gone from valuing the whole child and caring about our students as human beings during virtual learning to testing them to death.”

On top of that, many of his students were still struggling with stressors that had emerged during the pandemic: losing family members to the coronavirus, worrying about getting sick with the virus themselves, feel insecure or shy with classmates after so much time apart.

“It killed my spirit,” Owen says. “At that point, teaching became intolerable, and I couldn’t do it anymore.”

She moved to Charlotte a few weeks after quitting teaching and has focused on volunteering for causes she’s passionate about, like gun reform, and finding a new job — she wants to pursue a career. career in marketing or communications.

“My heart is still broken,” Owen says of his decision to quit. “A part of me still wants to be a teacher, I was proud of that and really loved it…but I don’t think I’ll ever set foot in a classroom again.”

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