Bullington noted she is preparing to retire early due to the difficulty of teaching at this time and being left out of the decision-making processes that include addressing problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Teachers are leaving because they are exhausted, stressed and underpaid. We have had a lot more demands put on us.”
More than 200,000 weekly cases of COVID-19 have been reported among children in the past five consecutive weeks. Many schools nationwide have been forced to close within days of returning to in-person instruction due to high infection and exposure rates. The situation is far worse in states and school districts that refuse to enforce mask mandates, The Guardian reported.
Teachers are not only having difficulty teaching due to the pandemic and a lack of safety precautions in place, but they’re dying as a result. At least 378 active teachers have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to hundreds of other school employees. Surveys have found that teachers are more likely to leave their profession due to worsening burnout during the pandemic, plus preexisting issues including lack of resources and low pay.
“They don’t give us numbers or report it but we see in our buildings how we’re all needed to sub for missing teachers. It’s way more than normal,” Steven Singer, a middle school teacher in western Pennsylvania, told The Guardian. “I, myself, was in and out of the hospital last week due to my Crohn’s disease. The stress of the pandemic is taking a toll on me and all of us. We’re just at a breaking point. This crisis for teachers didn’t start with Covid. We have low pay, low respect, low autonomy, and no one listens to us. Now we’re being forced to risk our lives and our health.”
Teachers are not only stressed due to the changes and difficulties associated with teaching during a pandemic but because of the lack of transparency they are also facing, not to mention the lack of safety and care in place for educators.
In states like Florida, where masks are rare and mandates have been banned, teachers are afraid for not only their health but those close to them.
One former Florida elementary school teacher identified as Amanda Tower said she resigned from her position before the 2021-2022 school year because her school district stopped applying COVID-19 safety protocols. Not only were the classrooms tightly packed and poorly ventilated, but students were not required to mask and often came into class while sick. Teachers also received heavy pushback from COVID-19 deniers, which administrators did little to nothing about.
“I needed a change for my physical and mental health and that of my family, some of whom have conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid. There was a lack of transparency in the reported numbers and the push to do business as normal. It was all far too much,” Tower said. “I did not want to be a martyr. I loved my job. I’ll miss my kids, but I can’t pour from an empty vessel.”
As a teacher shortage worsens, teachers who are still employed are left to pick up the pieces.
The shortage present before the pandemic only increased due to burnout as well as vaccine mandates in some states. A majority of schools nationwide saw a surge in teacher vacancies this year. Vacancies increased by more than 67% this year compared with August 2020 in Florida, while in Texas one school district had 314 vacant teacher jobs at the beginning of this school year, compared with 71 at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
“Covid made it untenable to continue,” Bethany Olson, a high school teacher in Kentucky, said. Olson resigned from her position in August 2021 after losing her father to COVID-19. “The reality is that school cannot truly be safe during this pandemic because we have so many who can’t, or won’t, get vaccinated, and we’ve returned to overflowing classrooms as if the pandemic has ended.”
But teacher vacancies are not the only thing schools nationwide are dealing with. There is also a shortage of bus drivers and janitors—and troublesome food supply shortages, The Guardian reported.