Between escalating COVID cases due to the omicron variant and behavioral issues in the classroom, some teachers are ready to quit while others collapse in school bathrooms amid pressure overwhelming.
Educators face layers of stress as the pandemic continues. In Davenport, Iowa, Michael Reinholdt is a teacher coach and, having led a classroom last year, is very familiar with the challenges of in-person learning. Between students taking action, staff shortages and an upcoming wave of omicron infections, he says “teachers are drowning” and reaching their breaking point.
“They feel like they can’t keep their heads above water,” Reinholdt said. “They are not only responsible for the standards they have in the classroom this year, but they are also responsible for all the learning lost over the past 18 months. They feel like they just can’t keep up. “
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, many teachers thought this year would be different. Of course, 2020 has been a tough one between the transition to distance education and a return to blended learning, but for teachers like pre-kindergarten educator Suzen Polk-Hoffses, we hoped this year would be better.
But that’s not the case for Polk-Hoffses and his fellow teachers in Milbridge, Maine.
“I’ll tell you, the teachers I’ve spoken to in my district and across the state just said it’s been the worst teaching year of their lives,” she said. “Really, we just want to teach. We thought it was going to be over. We thought that once everyone got vaccinated and we started wearing masks, it would end, and it became a nightmare.”
Polk-Hoffses said the experience of teaching in a pandemic caused some teachers in his state to quit the profession altogether.
As for the omicron variant, she said that it exacerbates the problems that have existed in the country’s education system for years.
“We try to do our best, but we implode internally,” Polk-Hoffses said. “They are wonderful, dedicated and passionate teachers and we all implode. Never in a million years – I’ve been doing this for 21 years now … I never thought I would implode.”
The problems facing teachers affect all grade levels. Amber Wilson teaches English to 10th and 12th grade students in Denver, Colorado. She says she’s fine, and teaching in person makes a difference because the students can see her face and she can see theirs, but it’s still difficult as the students came back “with a whole series other types of problems “.
“A lot of what we’re seeing is this trauma that’s started to show up in the way high school kids act, hasn’t it?” Wilson said. “So some discipline type issues, just their attention in class, trying to separate them from their cellphones that they had unlimited access to last year. So that’s normal things in high school. it’s exponentially more. “
These problems include what Wilson and others have called “middle school behavior.” This makes sense, Wilson said, because many children entering high school have missed years of college training that typically includes maturing and learning how to act appropriately in school.
Keeping children in their place and dealing with bathroom vandalism are just two of the issues Wilson mentioned as having occurred in his high school.
Peter Faustino is a school psychologist in New York who has worked in the field for over 25 years. He sits on the board of directors of the National Association of School Psychologists and said that in the first three months of the school year, school psychologists saw the same number of mental and emotional health issues as they did. would do so in an entire year before the pandemic.
“We see, I think, the effect of the pandemic and all of these issues really now at the forefront of our work,” Faustino said, “where students and families are really saying, ‘I can’t go on like this. . I need help.'”
These behavioral issues extend down to the elementary level as well, Reinholdt said. And it helped teachers feel overwhelmed and sometimes break down and cry in bathrooms, Reinholdt said, because there just wasn’t enough time to deal with everything.
“I work with the most passionate and dedicated professionals… and they feel overwhelmed by it,” he said. “The amount of responsibility and stress placed on them, both in the professional hemisphere and also in their personal lives here, and they’re crumbling underneath.”
Reinholdt, Polk-Hoffses and Wilson all agree that they don’t intend to leave the classroom, but that teachers struggle and need help so that they don’t lose what prompts them to become a teacher. .
“I really believe education is a game changer for students, and it’s helped me and… I’m not going to let this virus catch me,” Polk-Hoffses said. “I’m going to stay here. Virus, you’re not going to kick me out of my class.”
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