Teachers Have Reached a Breaking Point. But Remedies Do Exist.

Burned out, tired, demoralized at a breaking point. Spend time with teachers these days, and phrases like these come up often. It is not a new narrative, but it is certainly an accurate one for many, as the pandemic continues to radically reshape the educational landscape.

Earlier this year, a RAND Corp. -study of former teachers that stress was the most common reason for leaving the profession. Another study showed that almost all teachers agreed that teaching is more stressful now than before the pandemic. Three-quarters of National Board Certified Teachers work at least 20 percent more since the start of the pandemic. And color teachers continue to face a unique form of stress due to institutionalized racism.

“It’s a different job,” says Chanea Bond, an English high school teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, about pandemic teaching. “There is no sleep that makes me tired of exhaustion. It is a physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion. ”

At this point, some are wondering, is there anything at all that school administrators can do to help teachers?

Several things actually according to a new evidence-based research assignment focused on improving teacher well-being from EdResearch for Recovery, a project from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University and Results for America, a nonprofit that connects politicians and local governments with research-based strategies.

Some funds are obvious if they are difficult to implement quickly. Building a culture of mutual trust between teachers and administrators can enhance relationships and even happiness. And schools that commit to achieving racial and social justice see less revenue and dissatisfaction from color educators.

Others simply require flexible and willing school leaders. Asking teachers to help design professional development opportunities can boost morale. Similarly, teacher satisfaction can be improved by giving teachers a break from administrative paperwork and supporting them when it comes to classroom management.

“There’s a new kind of urgency for school leaders to meet their teachers’ intellectual, social, emotional and ethical needs right now — so they stay that way,” said co-author Doris Santoro, professor of education at Bowdoin College and author of the teacher-centered book “Demoralized.”

The map also shows other strategies, e.g. The benefit of collecting data on the teacher’s concerns and how trauma – informed practice can reduce stress. But the goal is really about encouraging a spirit of collaboration between teachers and administrators.

“For me, it’s so much about the process and the structures we work by, and less about the actual strategies,” says co-author Olga Price, associate professor at George Washington University and director of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools. “I think there are a lot of really innovative, effective strategies when you bring together people who care about the problems. And who will care more about the well-being of educators than educators? ”

This is not to say that strategies are arbitrary. They are deliberately linked to robust research and were chosen because they largely focus on communication and collaboration and thus do not require much extra funding to implement.

An Annenberg paper from last year, quoted briefly, surveyed nearly 8,000 teachers and found that the most successful teachers were those who could trust their school leaders for strong communication, reasonable expectations, and targeted professional development.

Ideally, pointing directly to evidence will make it easier for teachers and administrators to agree on what works – and sell the idea to families and district leaders.

“I think there are a lot of leaders out there who have wanted to implement some of these strategies but have met resistance,” Santoro says. “For someone who says, ‘Why bother doing it, what good is it?’ We have evidence here – and on the contrary – just a click away. ”

But there are still pervasive challenges. Before the pandemic, Bond, the Texas teacher, was given extra time to plan lessons with his department. Lately, there has been no time due to a shortage of teachers and a number of new responsibilities around students’ mental health and social-emotional well-being. Still, something as simple as an administrator taking over a class so she can catch up on other work from time to time can be a great help. “We’re asked to make time without getting anything,” she says.

One point that did not end up making the brief, but could just as easily have, is that teachers are in pain and need space to grieve. In the last year and a half, teachers have lost a lot, Santoro explains. They have had to deal with the loss of loved ones, time with their students and the familiar notion of what teaching is.

Bond says her school still mourns a colleague and several members of her community. Pushed to move on as if nothing happened feels heavy for her.

“We’ve made people cry in their rooms and in the hallways,” she says. “My colleagues are different than they were before the pandemic. I mean, we’re shaken. ”

A simple acknowledgment of that reality – and a little room to work through the emotions that come with it – would go a long way, she says.

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