Between teacher shortages and burnout, schools are struggling, which is now putting parents in tough situations.
Throughout November and now into December, schools across the country have been canceling days of classes abruptly and giving parents very little notice.
In Detroit, the superintendent of public schools announced that classrooms would be closed every Friday throughout this month and there would be online school only on those days.
In North Carolina, some of the county schools voted to close schools on Nov. 12. They only gave parents two weeks’ notice, NPR reported.
In Michigan, Ann Arbor’s public schools suddenly told parents that Thanksgiving break would begin on Monday instead of Wednesday, giving students and staff a whole week off for the holiday, the Washington Examiner reported.
In Washington state, three school districts, including the Seattle Public Schools, unexpectedly closed on Nov. 12, the day after Veterans Day, The New York Times reported.
Schools say that the reason they are making these sudden cancellations and plans to go remote is that teachers are getting burned out and there are simply not enough teachers.
“But for many schools, the remote learning days — an option that did not exist before the pandemic — are a last-ditch effort to keep teachers from resigning. They are burned out, educators said, after a year of trying to help students through learning loss, and working overtime to make up for labor shortages,” the Times reported.
But these changes are damaging students and also creating problems for parents.
One student told the New York Times how he did not have supplies for his online art class and then his science teacher did not show up for class online.
“I’m a senior, this is one of my last years of education,” he said. “It’s nerve-racking to miss out on that.”
Another parent, Missy Kisselman, responded to schools abruptly changing schedules asking, “Are you kidding me?” She then told the Times about how she struggles to help her daughter with online lessons as the girl has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The sudden switch back to online classes sent her daughter’s anxiety level through the roof.
“She was just in and out of the living room because her anxiety level was so high. She’s like ‘What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to learn on my own?'” Kissleman said.
“How is that not going to be harmful to these students?” Caitlin Reynolds, a single mother in Detroit, told the New York Times.
It’s already clear that the disruptions in students’ education during the pandemic was deeply damaging.
“Nearly all — more than 97% — of educators reported seeing some learning loss in their students over the past year when compared with children in previous years, and a majority, or 57%, estimated their students are behind by more than three months in their social-emotional progress,” one report found, as CNBC News reported.
But in spite of the known damage that remote learning and canceled school results in, schools are saying that teachers are burning out so they need the sudden breaks and transitions back to remote learning.
For years, schools have struggled to find enough teachers, but after the pandemic and the extra stress put on teachers, many simply quit.
On top of that, teachers’ unions have been turning up some pressure to try to address the shortages and high burnout rates.
In November, the Indiana State Teachers Association called on legislators to allow teachers to bargain employment contracts in order to mitigate burnout and more teachers quitting.
“It is important now more than ever, to retain our current teachers. We are now going into the third consecutive school year impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Our educators, already overburdened, are facing unsustainable levels of stress and stress-related illness,” ISTA President Keith Gambill said, as Newsweek reported.
ISTA specifically wanted teachers to be able to negotiate contracts to take health, safety, class size and prep periods into consideration.
Another Union in Virginia, Virginia Education Association, also worked similarly to allow contract negotiation.
“Negotiations ensure that educators’ unique perspectives and input are brought to the table. Negotiated contracts help recruit and retain top-notch educators. Collective negotiations offer a way to meet local school challenges,” were the three main points that VEA outlined as the purposes for contract negotiation.
So in light of the high quitting rates, burnout and union pushes for negotiation, schools are trying to give their teachers breaks where they can.
“The number of leave requests on a Friday after a federal holiday [Veteran’s Day was that Thursday] is indicative of the fatigue our staff and students are experiencing in these months of the return to classroom,” school officials told the Seattle Times. “The four-day weekend may offer physical, mental, and emotional restoration.”
But these random days off are also leaving parents scrambling.
One single mother in Detroit, Kristina Morgan, explained just how problematic it is to have schools abruptly changing schedules like this.
“It’s very difficult already being a single parent, period. But when you have your life figured out based on your child being in school during certain hours — and when I have to scramble to find child care outside of those hours, or to ask around — it’s frustrating,” Morgan said, the New York Times reported.
Another mother, Jennifer Reesman, told NPR. “We’re upset because it really is a slap in the face to all of those essential workers” who are parents. Reesman is a single mother as well and works in health care.
Schools, however, say they are caught in an impossible situation. To keep teachers, they need to give breaks and put some classes on line, but doing so is hard on parents and students.
But some parents feel like they are being failed by the schools.
As Reesman told NPR, “… talking with other parents, we all feel like we’re witnessing the death of public education up close and personal.”
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