When I read this quote from Dr. Adam Saenz, licensed psychologist and author, it resonated deeply with me as an educator working through a third school year impacted by a global pandemic. We continue to read in the news that our nation is seeing educators exit the profession — or at least considering it — at an alarming rate, with reports of low teacher morale, increased workload, political pressure, and fear for COVID-19-related health concerns. In fact, prior to the pandemic, researchers estimated that one out of six American teachers was likely to leave the profession, but new survey data suggests that now one out of four teachers considered quitting after the 2020-2021 school year.
Like so many adults and children, teachers are simply feeling overwhelmed. Research has also shown that they were nearly two times more likely to say they had frequent job-related stress and nearly three times more likely to report symptoms of depression, compared with working adults in the general population. These findings suggest potential immediate and long-term threats to the teacher supply in the United States. They’re tired, feel as though they’re never able to do enough, and that they are wearing more hats than ever in caring for students; and they are.
We are seeing significantly more children come to school frustrated and angry, aware of the turmoil around them, and some acting out as a response to a high level of stress at home. After a year or more of missed social connections that support students who are still learning to regulate their emotions, educators and families are seeing pandemic-fuelled frustration with some children and teens expressing anger in unhealthy ways.
While schools initially placed a heavy focus on the social-emotional needs of children, the fear of learning loss turned the emphasis sharply back to a focus heavily on student achievement and ensuring proficiency in high-stakes testing. This emphasis is not misplaced and the concerns over gaps in children's learning are real, but there is a balance that we can comfortably settle into in understanding that relationships and rigor are not one or the other, but are actually complementary, working to form a foundation for best supporting the whole child.
There is no question that students must know that we love them. Students need the safe environment that school provides with the promise of adults who believe in them and genuinely care about their success. They also need the structure and routine of the school day with clear expectations for behavior and a strong commitment to their academic growth. They need highly skilled teachers using scientifically-backed curriculum and instructional methods that are proven to work. More than any of that though, they need teachers who remember their why.
They need the teachers who see something in them that others have overlooked for years.
They need teachers who have a level of patience and grace that supersedes what sometimes seems humanly impossible.
They need teachers who are committed to using a multi-sensory approach to learning, tapping into their unique learning styles and meeting the diverse needs of all learners.
They need teachers who are lifelong learners using proven strategies that promote student achievement.
We cannot forget our why and we cannot simply abandon the noblest of professions and the one that all other professions rely on. We went into teaching to make a deep and impactful difference in the lives of students, the students who are the future of this world. We went into teaching to make a difference. Our students are counting on us, they are depending on us, and they need us. Do not quit now. Know your why, and it will sustain you.
Jessica Saum is a native of Columbia, South Carolina, but calls Sherwood, Arkansas home. Currently, she is a self-contained special education teacher at Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, Arkansas teaching students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Jessica is a 2021 AAEF Advocacy Fellow and a 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.