In recent years the expectations of teachers in the United States and Canada have reached unprecedented levels. The unspoken expectation is that teachers will work long hours and juggle countless tasks. Since the Covid pandemic, these expectations have only increased as have their workloads.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), the pressure of meeting student needs remotely, while facing technology challenges, can cause overwhelming stress. How can we as a nation find effective solutions to prevent a critical teacher shortage?
Teacher Workloads are Reaching Critical Levels
Teachers from kindergarten through high school are experiencing workloads that are reaching critical levels. Educators are now required to teach more students for longer periods of time while covering more material.
Additional support and resources, however, have not been adequately provided to meet these expectations. The following are a few specific reasons teacher workloads are increasing:
Increased Class Size – Research has shown that the ideal class size is approximately 18 students. This allows the teacher more opportunities for one-on-one instruction and more small group activity. Most public school classrooms are much larger than this. Many have more than 30 students per classroom.
Longer Teaching Hours – For years school districts have been increasing either the school day, the school year, or both. Educators have more prep and grading from increased teaching hours, yet fewer hours in the evenings to complete the required invisible work. Studies show that teachers in the United States work longer hours for less pay than many of their international counterparts.
Manual Feedback – Teachers must provide a great amount of manual feedback. Feedback can range from daily formative assessments to summative assessments like tests and essays. Grading long-form writing, like essays, is especially time-consuming and can include writing or typing the same comments over and over again.
Consequences are Destroying Families
Angela Watson, a licensed teacher and curriculum author, describes how an unrealistic workload during her early years as a teacher almost ruined her marriage. She states that she was working 12 to 16 hours during the week and at least 8 hours each day on the weekends. Her husband showed support, but occasionally made statements such as, “I want the wife I married back.”
She went on to write, “I can’t tell you how many emails and private messages I have gotten over the years from teachers telling me that teaching is ruining their marriage. I’ve heard of husbands giving their wives ultimatums: It’s either teaching or me.”
Unrealistic workloads don’t just affect teachers and their families. Millions of children are not getting the time, attention, and quality education they deserve when their teachers are at the breaking point.
Districts are Experiencing Teacher Shortages
According to a recent report, 81 percent of educators believe that high workloads are a contributor to higher levels of stress. Stress on the job can lead to everything from health problems, more sick days, and a teacher shortage. Stress is causing more educators to leave the field and fewer individuals to choose the profession.
If this trend continues, we may see teacher shortages in just a few years. The Economic Policy Institute states that by 2025 there will be a shortage of nearly 200,000 teachers nationwide, across the United States.
An overwhelming workload and increasing teacher shortage not only affects individual students and teachers, but entire school districts and communities. Teacher turnover rates are higher in high poverty and rural districts. This can negatively affect student achievement and future educational opportunities for already marginalized students.
It is possible to solve the growing problem of increasing workloads and looming teacher shortages in education. Here are several steps to address the crises and implement successful solutions:
Assess Workloads – School districts should start by assessing the needs in their own districts. Carry out polls and research that quantify how much teachers are expected to do in a school year. Conduct further research how that is affecting both retention rates and educators on a personal level.
Provide Productivity Tools – Find out what types of resources and tools teachers need to more efficiently accomplish their assessment tasks. This could include everything from greater access to technology tools to claiming available federal funding for assessment software.
Offer Training – Teachers can increase productivity with technology such as the use of educational apps in the classroom for instruction and assessment. Teachers need awareness of such resources and personalized training and support to adequately use them.
Rethink Assessments – Student assessments are a necessary part of education, but there are ways to conduct them that can reduce teacher workload. A few options include self-assessment, peer assessments, and adopting software that can aid in assessment.
Reduce Class Size – Limiting class size will not only reduce stress and workload levels, but will improve educational outcomes for students.
Teachers, school districts, communities, and the government must come together to solve these problems collectively. Teacher shortages threaten the quality of our educational system. The pandemic has only shed light on this impending crisis. Additionally, stories like Angela’s are not isolated incidents. The teaching profession has trickled into teachers’ personal lives in exorbitant amounts for far too long.