From CNET, February 14, 2022 by Antonio Ruiz Camacho
The pandemic may be the last straw for a profession mired in stagnant pay, compounding demands and endemic burnout. The situation has some asking if the field of teaching needs a reset.
It took just a simple question for Andria Nelson to grasp how different the world of education was from everything else. Nelson had quit her teaching job just months into the 2020-21 school year and taken a job as a communications specialist for a transportation company. Her innocent request—seeking someone to cover for her so she could go to the bathroom—raised some amused eyebrows around the office.
“People in that office laughed at me because I asked permission for everything,” said Nelson over Zoom. “I couldn’t believe what it was like working in an office from being a teacher.”
Nelson’s story is a familiar one. She fell in love with teaching as a special education associate back in 2012, leading her to pursue a teacher’s certification. By the fall of 2020, she’d spent more than seven years teaching language arts to middle school students. Along the way, she’d also coached girls soccer, cross-country and track. She was teaching accelerated English and global studies with a teacher partner and had seemingly found her calling.
Then things began to change. For every education professional, the way working as a teacher goes from dream job to recurring nightmare looks different. For Nelson, it was the anxiety of coming back to in-person teaching during the pandemic while having an autoimmune disease, being harassed by another teacher and not getting help from the school administration.
In November 2020, Nelson quit. “My mental health is not OK,” she told her principal, “and now I’m starting to lose my physical health.”
Nelson’s departure illustrates the compounding complications of the COVID-19 era, which are taking a massive toll on teachers nationwide. But the coronavirus is just the latest crack in a system badly in need of an overhaul. Teachers were already burning out amid ever-increasing demands to do more, with little support and with stagnating salary increases. Every year, fewer people are choosing to join a profession that’s hardly evolved in 50 years, and vacancies are on the rise.
Now the Great Resignation has many fearing a mass exodus out of the teaching ranks. Experts argue, however, that there isn’t yet empirical evidence that teachers are quitting in record numbers. Still, even the most skeptical admit that the possibility of seeing an unprecedented wave of teacher resignations before this school year ends or the next one starts has never felt more real. And the potential consequences for students, schools, families and the country as a whole couldn’t be more serious.
“Teacher resignations pose an incredible challenge to public schools,” said Anne Claire Tejtel Nornhold, a former middle school teacher who’s now in charge of implementing a new classroom structure at Baltimore City Schools, known as Opportunity Culture, in an effort to increase teacher retention.