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“Seeing an extreme level of teacher burnout”

By Natasha Singer

© The New York Times Co.

At Farmington Central Junior High in rural Illinois, classes still start at 8 a.m. But that’s about the only part of the school day that has not changed for Caitlyn Clayton, an eighth-grade English teacher tirelessly toggling between in-person and remote students.

At the start of the school day, Clayton stands in front of the classroom, reminding her students to properly pull their masks over their noses. Then she delves into a writing lesson, all the while scanning the room for possible virus threats. She stops students from sharing supplies. She keeps her distance when answering their questions. She disinfects the desks between classes.

Then in the afternoon, just as her in-person students head home, Clayton begins her second day: remote teaching. Sitting in her classroom, she checks in one on one via video with eighth graders who have opted for distance learning. To make sure they are not missing out, she spends hours more recording instructional videos that replicate her in-person classroom lessons.

“The days where it’s 13-plus hours at school, you’re just exhausted, hoping to make it to the car at night,” said Clayton, noting many of her colleagues feel similarly depleted. “We’re seeing an extreme level of teacher burnout.”

In more than a dozen interviews, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced trying to provide normal schooling for students in pandemic conditions that are anything but normal. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once, because of virus risks or quarantine-driven staff shortages, requiring them to repeatedly switch back-and-forth between in-person and online teaching.

Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled.

“I have NEVER been this exhausted,” Sarah Gross, a veteran high school English teacher in New Jersey who is doing hybrid teaching this fall, said in a recent Twitter thread. She added, “This is not sustainable.”

Many teachers said they had also become impromptu social workers for their students, directing them to food banks, acting as grief counselors for those who had family members die of COVID-19, and helping pupils work through their feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation. Often, the teachers said, their concern for their students came at a cost to themselves.

“Teachers are not OK right now,” said Evin Shinn, a literacy coach at a public middle school in Seattle, noting that many teachers were putting students’ pandemic needs above their own well-being.

Experts and teachers unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements, undermining the fitful effort to resume normal public schooling. In a recent survey by the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, 28% of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.

That weariness spanned generations. Among the poll respondents, 55% of veteran teachers with more than 30 years of experience said they were now considering leaving the profession. So did 20% of teachers with fewer than 10 years’ experience.

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