Teachers Are Not Okay

At the staff meeting the other day, one of my fellow teachers turned to me and said he was having trouble seeing.

He rushed home and had to have his blood pressure meds adjusted.

Another co-worker was sent home because one of her students had tested positive for Covid-19 and she had gone over to his desk to help him with his assignment.

I, myself, came home on Friday and was so beat down I just collapsed into bed having to spend the next week going from one medical procedure to another to regain my health.

The teachers are not okay.

This pandemic has been particularly hard on us.

Through every twist and turn, teachers have been at the center of the storm.

When schools first closed, we were heroes for teaching on-line.

When they remained closed, we were villains for wanting to remain there – safe from infection.

Then there was a vaccine and many of us wanted to reopen our schools but only if we were prioritized to be vaccinated first. We actually had to fight for the right to be vaccinated.

When our students got sick, we sounded the alarm – only to get gas lighting from the CDC that kids don’t catch Covid and even if they do, they certainly never catch it at school.

We were asked to redo our entire curriculums on-line, then in-person for handfuls of students in funky two-day blocks, then teach BOTH on-line and in-person at the same time.

The summer was squandered with easing of precautions and not enough adults and teens getting vaccinated. Then schools reopened in August and September to debates over whether we should continue safety precautions like requiring students and staff wear masks and if we should expand them to include mandatory vaccinations for all staff and eligible students to protect kids 11 and younger who can’t take the vaccine yet.

It’s been a rough year and a half, and I can tell you from experience – TEACHERS ARE EXHAUSTED.

As of Sept. 17, 2021, at least 1,116 active and retired K-12 educators have died of COVID-19, according to Education Week. Of that number, at least 361 were active teachers still on the job.

I’m sure the real number is much higher.

According to the Associated Press, the Covid pandemic has triggered a spike in teacher retirements and resignations not to mention a shortage of tutors and special aides.

Difficulties filling teacher openings have been reported in Tennessee, New Jersey and South Dakota. In the Mount Rushmore State, one district started the school year with 120 teacher vacancies.

In Texas, districts in Houston, Waco and other neighborhoods reported teacher vacancies in the hundreds as the school year began.

Several schools nationwide have had to shut down classrooms because there just weren’t enough teachers.

The problem didn’t start with Covid.

Educators have been quietly walking away from the profession for years now due to poor compensation, lack of respect, autonomy and support.

For instance, teachers are paid 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience. A 2020 survey found that 67% of teachers have or had a second job to make ends meet.

This isn’t rocket science. If people refuse to work for a certain wage, you need to increase compensation.

But it’s not just pay.

According to a survey in June of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic was likely to make them leave the profession earlier than expected. That’s almost a third of educators – one in three – who plan to abandon teaching because of the pandemic.

Another survey by the RAND Corp. said the pandemic increased teacher attrition, burnout and stress. In fact, educators were almost twice as likely as other adult workers to have frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depression.

The CDC Foundation in May released similar results – 27% of teachers reporting depression and 37% reporting anxiety.

However, the RAND survey went even deeper pinpointing several causes of stressful working conditions. These were (1) a mismatch between actual and preferred mode of instruction, (2) lack of administrator and technical support, (3) technical issues with remote teaching, and (4) lack of implementation of COVID-19 safety measures. 

I have to admit that’s what I’m seeing in the district where I teach.

We have had several staff meetings in the four weeks since students have been back in the classroom and none of them have focused on how we are keeping students and staff safe from Covid. In fact, administration seems happy to simply ignore that a pandemic is even going on.

We’ve talked about academic standards, data driven instruction, behavior plans, lesson planning, dividing the students up based on standardized test scores but NOTHING on the spikey viral ball in the room!

We get emails and phone calls every few days from the district about how many students and staff have tested positive and if close contacts were identified. But nothing is done to stop the steady stream of illness.

And these communiques willfully hide the extent of these outbreaks. For example, here’s an announcement from Sept. 13:

“We have learned that a Middle School staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. There were no close contacts associated with that case. We also have learned that a Middle School student has tested positive. Close contacts for this case have been identified and notified. Thank you.”

This announcement failed to disclose that contacts for the student were the entire middle school girl’s volleyball team. That’s 16-17 students who were all quarantined as a result.

Teachers are tired of this.

And I don’t mean palm-on-my-head, woe-is-me tired.

I mean collapsing-in-a-heap tired.

We are getting physically ill – even when it isn’t directly attributed to Covid, it’s from the stress.

At my district, the school board even refused to mandate masks. It took action from the governor to require this simplest of safety precautions. Do you know how much these kind of senseless shenanigans drain educators who just want to make it through the day without catching a potentially fatal illness!?

There are so many teachers absent every day. We know because there aren’t enough subs, either, so those of us who do show up usually have to cover missing teachers classes between teaching our own classes and fulfilling our other duties.

Things cannot continue this way.

We need help and support.

We can’t be the only people responsible for dealing with society’s problems anymore.

You can’t just put us in a room with kids and tell us to work it all out.

You can’t refuse to listen to us but blame us when things go wrong.

No one’s going to stay for that – not even for the kids.

We are literally falling apart here.

We want to be there for our students, to give as much as we can, but many of us are running out of things to give.

The system is built on the backs of teachers.

And we are ready to collapse.

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I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

37 thoughts on “Teachers Are Not Okay

  1. Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads and commented:
    This is so sad, and so unnecessary.
    Treat teachers with respect, pay them better, and treat COVID as something that needs to be addressed as something very, very serious.
    Teachers seem to be seen as glorified “babysitters” by too many people.
    And, BTW, in my school district, and in many others, they can’t hire enough bus drivers, or support staff, either.
    I don’t know what it’s going to take to get parents and school boards to wake up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think there is one sector that will cheer after reading this post. It’s called the narcissistic billionaire and/or CEO-controlled, publicly funded private sector Charter School Industry and all the other sorry-excuse for human vampires in the private sector sucking the public schools dry.


    • You’re probably right, Lloyd. In some way this is all part of the design. The anti-education forces out there behind high stakes testing and charter schools would celebrate if teachers fell apart. They want to replace us with apps and TFA temps. But educators can no longer fight this battles alone. The current situation is not sustainable. If people want to stop the erosion of public schools, they need to act – NOW!


  3. Hit the nail on the head. Our district has taken away all safety precautions, kids are back in pods, sitting on the carpet. But it’s ok because we are all wearing masks. I call BS. I am sitting at home with covid that I am pretty sure I got from a student. We have students and staff quarantining left and right, and we get the same nonchalant emails you. I am tired, and I am angry. Just tired and angry. I don’t want to be known as the tired and angry teacher, but it is hard. I am grateful to have support from other teachers and friends. Please make sure you are taking time for yourself! We all need each other, now more than ever!


    • Hey, at least you can require masks. I’m in Utah, where it is illegal to have mask mandates unless the local health department suggests it AND the local government votes to accept it, which has happened in only one of 41 districts. I can’t even put a sign on my door that encourages masks. Kids don’t quarantine if they’re exposed, even if it’s a family member, and they don’t even have to mask when exposed. Parents are the ones who report Covid cases, so it’s estimated that the Covid cases of school aged children, which now account for 1/4 of daily cases, are probably double what is actually being reported. And if the school has too many cases (30 students or 2% of the student body, whichever is greater), the school doesn’t shut down, It just tests all the students, sends home the students who test positive in that particular moment (with not-too-reliable rapid tests) and keeps the rest of the school open. It’s hell here.


      • That’s terrible. I don’t understand how it has come to this and how our representatives let it continue. If we survive this, those who come after will struggle to understand it, too.


  4. All I can say is I hear you. Every one of your points is heartbreakingly true. We need to recognize that teachers are the saviors of civilization. And then act before it’s too late.


  5. So true to the heart. And on top of this we begin weeks of computerized state testing on Monday.

    It would boost my spirit if we returned to single day, paper and pencil, “One Day In May” state tests.

    (Maryland Senate introduced a One Day In May Act bill in 2019; it was killed by State Department of Education Lobbyists)


  6. This should be for all school employees! We are all tired. We just all don’t get the same attention. Nurses, secretaries, lunch people and the custodians work just as hard, have the same stress, sometimes even more so!


  7. And at the same time state legislators are drilling down into what teachers can and cannot teach while trying to push students through higher ed as quickly as possible, loaded with “equivalencies” students took as early as middle school that are supposed to take the place of college-level analysis.


  8. Thank you for this. I read your post in a WaPo article, and it captures so much of what teachers I know are struggling with. I had to take a leave because of anxiety last year, and this year’s even worse. I took a day off last week to attend a retirement seminar and worked out that I need to put in 6 more years after this one. That’s still too much, but at least I have a horizon now.


  9. […]  I don’t love struggling to keep my eyes open as I drive home every day. I don’t love shuffling through the door, dropping my bag on the floor and collapsing into bed for a few hours before I can even think about cooking dinner. I don’t love the paralysis every tiny decision gives me after making thousands of choices all day long in class. I don’t love missing giant chunks of my family’s life.  […]


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