Educators have a lot on their plates, even in the best of times. Keeping a classroom of students with different academic needs and abilities, disparate backgrounds, and unique personalities organized and engaged is challenging, to say the least. If you haven’t tried it, your grasp of the dedication, caring, and patience needed to pull it off is incomplete.
Now add in the COVID-19 pandemic that came on in the spring of the last academic year and you have a public school system where educators are pulling double and triple duty with no increase in compensation and limited resources as they attempt to ensure Idaho students have the opportunities they deserve. The result? School employees are stressed out and overwhelmed by the unrealistically increased workload, diverse student needs, and technological limitations to reach all students.
I am hearing every day from professional educators at their wit’s end. Some are ready to leave the profession, possibly for good. Some are having panic attacks. Some have trouble sleeping. Some are asking their doctor for antidepressants. Many are sacrificing their own health and quality time with their own families in order to have any chance of keeping up with their dramatically increased workloads.
Teachers are being asked to do the full-time work of teaching their classes in person. Then they are expected to turn around and develop and deliver a lesson online for families who have opted to school from home. Tack on hours of extra emails and other communication with parents and students. And don’t forget that many of them are also cleaning and disinfecting their classrooms—often with supplies, they have bought out of their own pocket.
Here is just a sampling of comments I have received recently from Idaho educators.
“I am working from 6:00 am to past midnight, 7 days a week. I take no lunch. I spend less than 30 minutes eating dinner. This is unsustainable.
“I am currently working 12 hours a day and going into my classroom for several hours on the weekend.”
“My workload has increased exponentially this year. I am now responsible for deep cleaning my classroom in between each class period. I also have to catch up kids who miss school or end up quarantined. I am exhausted and depressed at the end of the day.”
The Career Ladder has been frozen, and the vaunted Advanced Professional Educator rung has yet to be implemented. Most educators are taking on this extra work while their pay has been reduced or frozen. Already struggling with serious teacher retention issues and a 20.9% wage penalty for becoming an educator versus another equally educated profession, Idaho faces a dim prognosis for being able to recruit and retain educators over the coming months and years. This represents another setback that will have negative implications for Idaho’s future.
Educators are putting their lives on the line during this pandemic, while the safety protocols and transparency in reporting remain inconsistent from local school districts. Some districts are reluctant to share information about positive tests for COVID-19 and many lack the resources and supplies to provide safe environments for educators and students. These actions undermine the safety protocols that have been put in place and jeopardize the health of those working and learning in school buildings.
Back in the spring when school buildings were closed to protect the public health and emergency instruction measures were implemented, many parents and community members expressed a new appreciation for Idaho’s professional educators. While educators stayed connected and still took on the leading role, parents suddenly found themselves in charge of managing and organizing the work of their children and trying to keep them on task. This is work that educators do every day for large classes of students who differ in needs, ability, and motivation. And Idaho teachers do it with the sixth largest average class size in the nation.
Idaho educators are dedicated to their profession and to the students with whom they work. They want to be in classrooms with their students whenever it can be done safely. The COVID-19 crisis has shed new light on a lack of resources and revived a mindset that educators are expendable, replaceable, and not valued.
It has also highlighted the incredible work ethic and caring of so many educators in Idaho. I am extremely proud of how they have answered the challenge of the public health crisis and done everything they can to ensure the academic success and mental well-being of their students. Hopefully, we can use the pandemic to turn the corner and have all Idahoans recognize and appreciate the amazing educators we have in our state.
President, Idaho Education Association