• Leslie Dorantes

Staff Shortages and Increased COVID Cases: How Teachers are Handling the Pandemic

On March 13, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, and today, almost two years later, American teachers are at a breaking point. According to the US Labor Department, 30,000 teachers resigned in September 2021 alone, and since January 2021, the educational services industry has seen the largest increase in the number of workers quitting. Between the Omicron cases climbing, behavioral issues in the classrooms, and staffing challenges, teachers are feeling overwhelmed from the number of responsibilities and the stresses put on them in their professional and personal lives.

While the beginning of the pandemic gave teachers hope that school districts would change their priorities to better address the social and emotional needs of students, that has not been the case. Rather than the infusion of stimulus dollars going to counselors, smaller class sizes, support staff, supplies and other vital needs, educators are finding that districts are doubling down on the already broken education system. Teachers are being demanded to collect more data and documentation, provide more testing, and handle more responsibilities. In addition, educators are still on the front lines of the pandemic, risking their health every day.

Across the country, there’s a shortage of teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, and other supporting staff critical to the functioning of a school. In Portland, Oregon, Keri Troehler, an educator for twenty years, decided she’d be leaving her profession to retire early. She, along with many other teachers across the country, say that teachers are stretched thin with little-to-no time to prepare or plan. School administrators are responding to shortages by asking current employees to take on lunch duty, hall monitoring, after-school supervision, and cleaning, causing many to lose their prep periods to cover other classes. This month, 92 Philadelphia schools had to temporarily move virtual due to staffing challenges related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, students have experienced unprecedented levels of trauma throughout the pandemic as they struggle to stay ahead of their education. As of July 2021, more than 140,000 children had lost a primary caregiver. Students are acting out after having missed nearly two years of critical education. Some students have had to watch and care for ill family members, and many older students have had to step in as breadwinners for their families. The demands to catch up and return to normal have left little to no room for compassion, flexibility, and social-emotional support students need.

In the US, 63 percent of the total US population is fully vaccinated with 24 percent of the population now fully vaccinated with a booster. Less than half of those eligible for the booster have received it, and at least 20 percent of the eligible population have not received any dose of the vaccine. As of now, it seems like there is hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, according to World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. However, it is important to remember to significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures we know work.





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