Increased Work Demands Post-COVID

January 4, 2022

It is not unexpected to see an increase in teacher burnout and a decrease in teacher retention rates given the added responsibilities teachers face in the aftermath of virtual learning. 

Teachers have been forced to adapt to an array of unprecedented circumstances during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. These circumstances have ranged from adapting to different methods of instruction, challenges to establish connections and relationships, and having to manage tricky technology.

In addition, teachers now act as mediators, social workers, instructors, hall monitors, and security ambassadors in the post-virtual instruction classroom. Such work conditions and responsibilities are often to blame for low retention rates nationwide. 

“Teachers [in Fayette County] are facing many issues while having to do the job we do every day,” FCPS Chairman of the School Board Tyler Murphy said. He said that he understands because he is also a full-time social studies teacher in Boyle County.

But these types of work conditions don’t exclusively affect teachers. They also impact students, their quality of education, and their academic success, and because of this, Kentucky is facing a looming crisis.

“Our teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. You can’t untie that,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said.

Lack of adequate compensation, increased stress/work demands, teacher abuse, lack of mental health resources, and adverse working conditions have caused teachers to burn out. 

Representative Timoney said that he ran for office because he didn’t like how he was treated as a teacher, and he wanted to have a voice and advocate more.

“Teachers are professionals,” Representative Timoney said, “and they do a job that other people can’t just jump in and do, so the way teachers are treated needs to be unique. They need to be heard, and they need their concerns to be listened to.”

But, according to the numbers of teachers who have left or are planning to leave, this isn’t happening in a meaningful way.

The National Education Association found that 32 percent of respondents said the pandemic has led them to plan to leave the profession earlier than they anticipated in a survey conducted in June 2021. This is an increase of 4% from 2020. 

“I think teacher burnout has increased because we had such a large number of things added on to what we were already asked to do,” Crovo said. “I am not willing or able to do something that is hurting me and hurting others, and that is where we are right now.”  

In addition to these stressors, schools have steadily seen an increase in class sizes over the past decade. Many classes at Dunbar have rosters of 35-40 students, up from an average of 30 students in past years.

Once positions open, school districts are having trouble filling those vacancies due to the low retention rates. This leaves schools with one solution: increase the class sizes of current teachers to make up for the loss of staff. 

“[Class sizes are ] a big concern coming from a lot of my colleagues all across the state and all across the country,” said Tremaine. “It’s kind of a vicious cycle- we have people leaving and then there’s nothing to retain them once they’re [teaching].”

Lower class sizes could have a significant impact on a student’s academic success and post-graduation plans whereas higher class sizes mean that teachers are less able to tailor instruction to every student’s needs. 

“With higher class sizes, one person can only do so much,” Crovo said.

Teacher burnout has become a prevalent issue with complaints of overwhelming stress and strain being heard on even the district level.

Chairman Murphy spoke to PLD Lamplighter about what he hears from teachers in FCPS.

“[Educators] feel pulled in all kinds of different directions, and they want to make sure they continue to get all the resources they need to support student learning,” he said.

Teachers, and ultimately their students, are cracking under massive amounts of stress. 

In terms of teacher support and resources offered by the district and the state, educators feel that there is not enough being done. 

Although efforts are being made, teachers say that needs are not being met realistically. 

“In terms of what isn’t working, we get a lot of communications to ‘practice self-care’ or to ‘take a breath’ but there isn’t much beyond that,” Tremaine said.

So what do teachers really need?

Tremaine said that as a building representative and a member of the School-Based Decision-Making committee, that he hears from a lot of teachers who are sharing stories and asking for help.

“We need material help,” he said. “We need help in the classroom, we need help managing mental health, we need help living.”

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