Toxic Stress is Demoralizing Teachers
Teachers have extremely difficult jobs, and the pandemic has made them even more stressful than ever. This is one of the reasons behind a projected mass teacher exodus that would create extensive turnover issues for administrators. However, not all is lost. There are many things that can be done to support teachers and learners through this difficult time of toxic stress.
Directing ESSER funds to support teachers through evidence-based socio-emotional learning would be a critical step for promoting emotional wellness and reducing turnover.
Issues Prior to the Pandemic
The world of K-12 education has been negatively impacted by the pandemic in many ways; however, it is important to realize that education was not in a good place even before the coronavirus arrived in the United States. In fact, between 2008 and 2015, elementary and high schools across the nation saw $23 billion in cuts, a 31 percent reduction in funding. This trend has continued since and been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Additionally, a fear of teacher turnover is not a new problem either. An Education Resource Strategies report highlighted that teacher turnover was consistently high prior to the pandemic, particularly in schools in high poverty communities. This study found that pre-pandemic turnover was 17.3% but dropped to 12.6% during the pandemic. Despite the drop, it is noted that working conditions and job satisfaction have not improved while the pandemic has injected new concerns.
The decrease in turnover is positive news; however, it is not evidence of a solution in place. If anything, it is only a sign that the projected teacher exodus has been delayed rather than prevented and could still occur if changes don’t take place.
Why hasn’t the projected exodus materialized? A report from FiveThirtyEight noted that teachers have met the problems and toxic stress of the pandemic by becoming more engaged. They are advocating regarding workplace issues and education policy. However, if things do not change and they begin to feel that these efforts to save education are going to fail, the inevitable result will likely be exodus.
Current Problems in the Teaching Profession
While many teachers have found reasons to stay in the profession, others have left. Why are they leaving? Results from a national teacher survey provide insight. The research found that teachers were more likely than the overall population to experience toxic stress at work and depression. Leading stressors were adapting to new instructional modes and health concerns, both contributing to burnout. Furthermore, a third of teachers had to care for their own children while teaching.
Meanwhile, some schools are already seeing cracks arise. A research report found extensive staffing problems in some school district, particularly those in high poverty areas. Add to this the fact that schools are continuing to face accelerating budget cuts with COVID-related cuts in some areas projected to be as high as 10%.
America’s teachers have been facing extensive burnout. However, now two years into a global pandemic, this has accelerated. The teachers are not simply burned out, but often completely demoralized. Education is a passion profession yet many teachers are losing that passion due to the toxic stress, budget cuts, and other issues. In the end, this will only continue to affect students who suffer when teachers are too burnt out and demoralized to be mentally present.
Culture Change and Socio-Emotional Learning Are Needed
How do we reverse the prospect of teacher burnout and a coming mass exodus in the educational sphere? There is not one simple solution. As a complex problem, this will involve many necessary solutions. However, the overarching myriad of solutions must certainly be led by a shift in school climate and culture.
Research has clearly established the importance of school climate for both teacher and student success. Prioritizing and investing in education is an essential aspect of this change. However, a way to begin facilitating this is to invest more directly in socio-emotional learning, an evidence-based strategy for improving school culture.
As this chart shows, there is a strong intersection between socio-emotional learning and school climate, both of which combine to create ideal conditions for student learning. Addressing these two aspects simultaneously can provide enhanced learning and foster better job satisfaction for teachers.
In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of education depends heavily on socio-emotional learning. A CASEL report shows strong support among teachers and administrators for socio-emotional learning with 97% believing that integrating this evidence-based approach will improve student behavior, learning, and professional development. However, only 35% have developed a plan for teaching it.
Using ESSER Grants for Socio-Emotional Learning
It is clear that many administrators do not have a plan for integrating an SEL curriculum into the classroom despite the fact that teaching SEL skills, emotional health, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence has shown to be an evidence-based practice for improving both social skills and academic performance.
Teachers and students alike can greatly benefit from Clymb, an evidence-based SEL curriculum aligned to CASEL competencies. Clymb leverages a periodic CASEL-aligned assessment along with a quick daily check-in to customize the learning experience of individual students. Results have shown that Clymb improves emotional intelligence, self-esteem, and academic performance while reducing negative behaviors, suspensions, and teacher burnout levels. It is an effective and easy way to implement SEL skills.
An impactful way to utilize Clymb is to take advantage of ESSER grants. These grants were initially created by the CARES Act as a way to help schools during the pandemic; however, reports show that they have not been reaching teachers. Fortunately, Clymb is fully covered under ESSER funds and is also ESSA approved. Remaining ESSER funds can be utilized for Clymb in order to efficiently introduce an SEL curriculum into the classroom.
It is clear that it is time to reimagine education to create a culture change where teachers no longer feel burdened and burned out but rather empowered in their quest to transform the lives of children. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently noted that with the pandemic disrupting education, we are closer to a reset than ever. Now is the time to make change. As Elizabeth Steiner noted, “It’s good news that we haven’t seen a mass exodus of teachers nationally this year. But to focus only on teacher turnover is to miss the forest for the trees.”