Teacher burnout is driving schools around the country to pull back a little from full-time in person learning.
In mid-November, all Detroit public schools and a school district in Utah announced that through the rest of the calendar year, Fridays would be virtual only. Seattle public schools added extra days to the Veterans’ Day holiday. A Florida school district used the rest of their unused ‘Hurricane Days’ to close schools for the entire week of Thanksgiving.
What’s going on, and it is going on everywhere in the United States, is teacher burnout. Caused by a combination of precaution fatigue, staffing shortages, struggling with parents about teaching science and history, and the sheer hard work that is teaching and caretaking classrooms full of children, teacher burnout is resulting in teachers retiring in unheard-of numbers, and the trickle of new teachers to replace them has never been lower.
Many of these closures have been sudden emergency decisions, giving parents little notice to find child care or to figure out how to supervise remote learning. And one thing we learned in 2020 is that many students, a majority, will fall behind in virtual learning.
Some districts cited hard reasons for their temporary closures, like increasing infection rates or a need to sanitize classrooms, or already not having the staff to stay open five days a week. But for many, the remote learning ‘breaks’ are an attempt to forestall waves of teacher resignations.
“What you hear from teachers is that it’s been too much,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “And they’re trying the best that they can.”
Parents are upset about the closures. Having a child home one day a month can cost hundreds of dollars in childcare, especially if it had to be arranged with little notice. Many also feel that the inconsistency is bad for students, and they may be right.