Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.
Teachers are among the most vital people in our workforce. As educators of tomorrow’s leaders, teachers bear a heavy responsibility — and we need to support teachers as they meet that challenge because they are burning out faster and at higher rates than ever.
A recent Gallup survey found that 44% of US teachers reported feeling “always” or “very often” burned out — a higher percentage than any other profession, including medical professionals. While discouraging, it’s not surprising. Teachers are an incredibly resilient group, yet the last three years have presented an endless stream of challenges, from a global pandemic to heart-wrenching global events and tragedies closer to home. Through it all, teachers have continued to show their dedication to supporting their students, working through the hardships to guide, mentor and inspire America’s current generation of students.
Their proven role in guiding our youth to success leads to an indisputable fact: We must support teachers. To proactively prevent further burnout and halt the flood of teachers leaving the field, we must show appreciation to our teachers. We must demonstrate that we value and support them within their classrooms and the community.
How to support teachers in the classroom
In most classrooms, one teacher is responsible for meeting the academic and emotional needs of 20 to 30 students, often with inadequate resources: lack of supplies, personalized materials or simply extra hands.
Additionally, the widespread shift towards personalized learning requires that teachers differentiate material to meet the needs of each student. Personalizing for and attending to the needs of 20-plus students can be exhausting — not to mention emotionally draining — for teachers. The traditional classroom setting in which there is often one teacher that tends to the needs of an entire classroom may no longer be a sustainable method of instruction.
Deploying volunteers and interns within a classroom setting to help with small-group or one-on-one instruction is one way to provide additional support for teachers.
Lloyd Hopkins, founder and director of the Million Dollar Teacher Project, has told me that while we’re reevaluating education to aid in student achievement and well-being, “at the same time, classrooms need to be reimagined to care for teachers’ mental, emotional and physical well-being.”
How to support teachers in the district
Teachers must feel valued and appreciated within the classroom but also at a district level. Administrators and district leaders must acknowledge teachers’ work. The best solution? Provide teachers with a strong support network both within and outside of the school.
Teachers need the freedom and support to build formal and informal communities with their fellow teachers. Providing a dedicated space for teachers to collaborate and engage with their peers is crucial in aiding their mental health and well-being. Districts can take tangible steps toward this goal by implementing same-schedule lunch breaks across grade levels and building time into teacher schedules for collaboration on lesson plans.
To encourage engagement and build teacher communities, districts should create space and time for teachers to collaborate.
How to support teachers in the community
Supporting teachers begins in the classroom, but it’s not confined to the school or district. A recent Merrimack College Teacher Survey found only 46% of teachers felt respected and seen as professionals by the general public, a 31% dip from a similar survey conducted in 2011.
Yet the positive impact of teachers’ work within the community is evident. Teachers within a single school educate hundreds of students annually, supporting both their academic and emotional development for what many assume is eight hours a day, five days a week.
But that view might contribute to why teachers do not feel valued within their communities. “It’s a misconception that teachers work eight hours on weekdays and don’t work at all in the summer,” says Hopkins. The Merrimack survey backs that up: Teachers, in fact, work an average of 54 hours a week — or just over 10 hours a day. Additionally, 1 in 5 teachers works a second job in addition to their primary educator role.
To combat this stereotype and ensure educators receive recognition for their valuable work, community leaders should:
- Prioritize teacher appreciation efforts both within classrooms and in the community, showcasing achievements.
- Create spaces for teachers to share the complexities of the profession, such as school board meetings.
- Publicize volunteer opportunities within the school districts.
Teacher burnout affects students, districts and communities. To help educators succeed in their profession, we must do our best to support, respect and encourage them at all levels.
Becca Hughes serves as director of editorial development for Learning A-Z, ensuring instructional resources support teachers and in turn lead to student engagement and academic success. During her 20-plus years of experience in public education and learning-focused organizations, Hughes has been a teacher, instructional coach, academic school director, and curriculum director and editor.