Posted November 14, 2022 by Mark Perna
Educators are working hard to keep it all together for their students. But who is keeping it together for them? Mark’s article, “Burnout Is Educators’ Top Concern. Here Are 4 Ways To Help ,” published at Forbes.com on November 8, 2022.
Last month, the Covid learning loss was punctuated—emphatically—by plummeting math and reading scores nationwide.
At the heart of all these headlines are the educators working at the tactical level to keep it all together for the kids. But who is keeping it together for these teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff?
The education crisis is real, and we’re only in the beginning stages of what could develop into a full-blown disaster. Burned-out teachers are quitting in droves. Meanwhile, the reasons they’re leaving repel others from entering the profession in the first place.
In the immediate future, it’s the students who will suffer. According to a Vanderbilt study, losing a teacher during the school year affects learning outcomes similar to losing 32 to 72 instructional days. But ultimately, the substandard education they may experience will affect every aspect of the American economy and culture.
I recently connected with Dr. Liz Brooke, Chief Learning Officer at Lexia Learning, to discuss the current state of education and what burned-out educators need from their communities, right now. Here’s what we covered.
While returning to the classroom was a step in the right direction, in itself it doesn’t solve students’ academic and social-emotional needs. Brooke notes that at this point, some students have spent their entire academic lives in remote learning. “Teachers point to a lingering uneasy feeling about how to achieve a sense of normalcy again after such a tumultuous period of change for the entire world,” she says. “This is another reason why teachers cite a need for more social and emotional support for students and themselves.”
There’s also a concern that with students back in school, parents may step back from their role in reinforcing their child’s academic skills outside of school. “As students work to get back to appropriate grade level performance, this extra support outside of the classroom is still critical,” asserts Brooke.
Additionally, many teachers expressed worry about a lack of time to address all the needs of students in every subject—not to mention, in forging a human connection with these young people. “This is compounded by shrinking numbers of specialized staff in schools,” says Brooke.
Resources to learn
To support their performance and wellbeing, Brooke says that students need resources including people, curriculum, social and emotional understanding and basic classroom supplies.
But perhaps most tangibly at the moment, they also need more individualized instructors such as special education teachers, reading specialists, speech language pathologists, school psychologists and other critical roles. “Now back in the classroom, students are presenting with a wider variety of learning profiles than perhaps ever before,” says Brooke. “For example, a single teacher may have several students reading at kindergarten level, some reading at fourth grade and others reading at seventh grade level.
“Various profiles in one classroom are not new, but now the variety of profiles is more significant. These variances make it harder for teachers to create individualized learning paths.”
At a time when many schools are seeing a decline in classroom specialists, substitutes, support staff and classroom teachers, students have never needed them more. “Unfortunately, teachers don’t have control over many of these resources,” says Brooke. “It speaks to a larger question of what role a community could/should play in helping support schools.”
Lexia’s recent national teacher survey found that 71% of educators are worried about teacher burnout during the 2022–23 school year. “For many teachers, it is the combination of mental, financial, physical and emotional strain of teaching during and post-lockdown and in many cases, with fewer resources, while also taking care of their own families, that has led to burnout,” says Brooke. “Many teachers also report feeling underappreciated and underfunded.” Of course, this is all on top of teachers’ growing concerns around their own physical safety.
Support staff shortages are causing teachers to take on more responsibilities, even as students require more support than before from specialized staff. “Teachers are being asked to provide social-emotional support, serve food in the cafeteria and even clean,” says Brooke. “This is resulting in less time developing lesson plans, working with individual students and collaborating and learning from their peers. The impacts are far reaching and long lasting.”
Brooke notes that as a society, we place a huge amount of responsibility on educators. “That weight has only grown heavier as teachers are tasked with helping students overcome learning loss and get back on track,” she says.
“Teachers, like many of their students, need more social and emotional support,” says Brooke. “The lack of support for teachers is becoming all too apparent and is a contributing factor to burnout.”
The teachers who show up for the kids need their communities to show up for them. Here are four strategies that can provide a starting point for better teacher support and retention.
1. Provide Emotional Support
“Consider the emotional wellbeing of teachers and how it’s impacting their decision to stay in the profession or potentially leave,” says Brooke. “The key is to understand the elements of trauma and secondary traumatic stress, which is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another (which occurred frequently during the pandemic).”
2. Show Appreciation
A primary reason teachers are leaving the profession, Brooke argues, is because they feel undervalued and their efforts are underfunded.
“During the pandemic, families and caregivers learned firsthand just how difficult it is to be a teacher,” says Brooke. “When this happened, I thought teachers were finally going to get the value, respect, recognition and pay that they deserve. This did happen for a while, but it is clear that a lot of teachers are still feeling undervalued and underfunded.”
As a society, we will start retaining teachers in greater numbers when we give them the respect, appreciation and acknowledgement they deserve.
3. Give Teachers a Voice
Brooke observes that when surveyed, exiting teachers most often cited the desire for more autonomy over the academic decisions that directly impacted their effectiveness. Two-thirds stated that they wanted to have more of a voice and influence over the materials used.
“This demonstrates that input into curriculum and administrative support for teachers’ ideas would also be helpful to boost retention rates,” she says.
4. Invest in Teachers’ Knowledge and Careers
“We know from research that teachers are most engaged when they understand the why of what they are being asked to do and that they have the skills to be successful,” says Brooke, “or that the school will provide them with the training they need.”
When those two elements are in place, she says, educators are empowered and engaged and therefore more likely to remain in the profession. “In fact, Lexia Learning’s recent survey found that nearly one-third of educators call for more training and professional development opportunities as a way to retain teachers.”
As the education landscape continues to shift, technology will play an increasing role in effective assessment. “Teachers need to know where the students are starting and then meet them where they are to be effective in helping close gaps,” says Brooke. “Technology should be leveraged for what it does best, like providing some assessment data and profiles of students.”
One way Lexia supports this need is through online programs where every click of the mouse or screen tap is captured and analyzed. “Even if two students are working on the same activity, they may answer differently and require additional support in different concepts,” says Brooke. “The teacher will receive an alert about the student’s struggle with a particular concept and can group other students who are also struggling. Lexia then provides that teacher with a lesson on how to teach the concept, with lots of different ways to adapt the lesson based on students’ individual needs.”
As both students and teachers enter the classroom with bigger needs than ever before, technology can help, but of course it’s just a piece of the bigger picture. Teacher engagement and retention will only increase when they receive meaningful support for the difficult work they show up to do—day in and day out.