How Mental Health Plays a Role in the Teacher Staffing Crisis
Raise your hand if you have an educator in your life. Do you know if they’re doing OK?
This week, our school district’s superintendent resigned. In June, it was our beloved elementary school principal and four other educators from the same school. While I am grateful they stuck it out and waited to retire after shepherding our children through the chaotic first two years of the pandemic, I am so sad to see them leave. They have provided a sense of leadership and stability during trying times. Still, I don’t blame them.
The last few years have been particularly stressful for teachers. They have dealt with learning to teach online and holding classes on Zoom, all of the extra COVID precautions once students returned in person, and were stuck in the middle of the political battles between parents and school boards over mask mandates. Not to mention further threats to their safety with the number of school shootings at an all-time high.
It’s no wonder that outlets across the country are reporting record numbers of teacher vacancies. The National Education Association (NEA) raised the alarm back in February with a survey of its members that found that over half are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned.
K-12 education is experiencing a teacher staffing crisis, and it’s only going to get worse. According to the Washington Post,
“Rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks this fall due to lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching background to enter classrooms. Arizona is allowing college students to step in and instruct children.”
With enrollment declining in college teacher preparation programs, there won’t be enough staff to take the place of those retiring or leaving the profession. There is also a shortage of special education teachers, who are crucial to the families of children with disabilities.
Teachers’ Mental Health
In June, a survey explored how educators and working adults are experiencing indicators of well-being. Seventy-three percent of teachers reported feeling frequent job-related stress (compared to 35% of other working adults), 59% reported burnout, and 28% have symptoms of depression.
EdSurge recently did a deep dive into this issue with their piece on how “The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit.”
The teacher shortage impacts so many of us – our children, us as parents, those with friends and family members who are educators, and really everyone in our communities who depend on teachers to help raise our children to be well-informed citizens.
We Need More Financial and Mental Health Support for Teachers
Teachers should be paid like professional athletes. They have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. They are doing some of the hardest work in this country, with pay that does not reflect the many hours and arduous effort they put in. How would you like to try to corral a bunch of first graders, let alone get them to learn how to read and write, math concepts, and social-emotional skills? Me neither.
I am incredibly grateful to all of the teachers in my family’s life and we continue to try to show our appreciation. As a parent, I help out in the classroom when volunteer opportunities arise; donate to holidays, teacher appreciation week, and end-of-the-year gifts; purchase small gifts, and write notes of thanks. During parent-teacher conferences I ask what I can do to help make their school year easier. And whenever the subject of our elementary school comes up with anyone, I let them know how amazing the teachers are here.
But we need to do more on a legislative and collective level. We need to provide more financial and mental health support for teachers to help them stay in the workforce and for others to join the profession, in order for our economy to run smoothly.
And the next time school is closed for a teacher work day, I hope you’ll remember all that our teachers do. I hope you’ll wholeheartedly support this small chance for them to take a breath before they dive right back into their classes full of our children.
- Mighty contributor and teacher Tammy Oz’s “4 Coping Skills That Can Help Teachers With Their Mental Health“
- “How Schools and Districts Can Support Educator Mental Health” from Education Week
Getty image by Fat Camera