The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a plethora of new and unexpected concerns for professional educators. It has also brought to the forefront issues that have been percolating and under-emphasized for years. IEA members are among those with a front-row seat for how both sets of concerns are impacting their work, as well as the growth and achievement of the students they serve. Several members had an opportunity to share their experiences and concerns with Gov. Brad Little during his recent tour of school buildings around the state.
“I told him that the stress of the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on veteran teacher morale,” says Twin Fall Education Association member Annette McFarlin, who teaches at O’Leary Middle School. Which is consistent with what members all around the state have been experiencing. Educator stress and anxiety resulting from vastly increased workloads is a largely under-reported side effect of the public health crisis. One member called it “a ticking time bomb.”
Mental health issues are also affecting students—something McFarlin shared with the governor. “Our students are dealing with so much more than students of years ago, and the pandemic has exacerbated the issue,” she says. Students are trying to find their way through depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, bullying, and peer pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, and numerous other problems. “With everyone trying to cope with so much stress these days, it is vital that we look out for each other and take care of each other,” McFarlin says.
In Lewiston, Little received feedback from members about the equipment and protocols needed to protect people from COVID-19. “I told him how important it is that we have adequate safety measures to keep students and staff safe,” says Deanna Didier, Lewiston Education Association President and an educator at McGhee Elementary School. “The things we need have been ordered but the shipping dates keep getting pushed back. We finally received the plexiglass we need for our office staff.”
Both McFarlin and Didier felt the governor was open and understanding about their concerns, and those of other educators. “He was very receptive, and I felt like it was a really positive experience,” says McFarlin. “We need to keep communicating and building relationships with elected officials for the greater good of our state. We have to support each other.”
The follow-through is the critical part, however. The governor has actively listened to IEA members elevating their educator’s voice. Now he and other elected officials and policy-makers must make sure that Idaho schools get what they need. Releasing more federal CARES money is a start, but the state has an opportunity to make significant investments that will protect the health of students and educators, address mental health issues, shore up or replace outdated facilities, and keep veteran educators in Idaho classrooms. Listening is good. Action is better.