Teaching Through a Pandemic: When Is It Too Much?
May 9, 2022
Another fight. Another form to complete. Another meeting to attend. Another safety procedure. Another drill. Another insurance cost increase. Another night of no sleep because of stress.
Teaching since the COVID-19 shutdown, with the unbalance between pay and workload, has caused teachers to rethink their career choice. Whether or not it’s time to retire or find another profession, multiple studies confirm one in four teachers want out.
“A person who enters teaching knows they aren’t doing it for economic success,” Mr. John Davis, physics teacher, said. “But teachers also care about their students’ emotional and psychological health, and it’s stressful to us to see students having to deal with concerns and dangers we didn’t even have as recently as a few years ago.”
Mr. Davis started his teaching career 21 years ago and the job requirements gradually changed to include more difficult aspects.
“There are more non-teaching things that teachers are responsible for now outside of their lessons and taking care of student needs, for better or worse,” Mr. Davis said. “Students and teachers both struggle with attention-span issues, the psychological damage that social media causes and the stress caused by societal issues and divisions in our society.”
Pedro Ortega became a teacher because he wanted to coach and travel during the summer. He believes that technology changed his teaching career.
“It is hard to connect and impact students because of smartphones and headphones,” Mr. Ortega said. “A lot of students are addicted to their screens. They constantly have to be entertained.”
Mr. Ortega considered switching careers in an effort to earn more. He’s made various investments hoping to get away from teaching. Throughout and after the pandemic, his students became less motivated and harder to instruct.
“As a teacher, I really don’t have the leverage to get students to do work,” Mr. Ortega said. “We have to compete for the attention of students, and it is a losing battle. I feel what I teach today is a lot less rigorous because of students’ lack of attention and concentration.”
Some of the changes benefit students and teachers. When Ms. Donna Kercher began teaching biology 23 years ago, classes weren’t as student-led.
“When I started teaching it was more teacher-centered, with lectures and worksheets,” Ms. Kercher said. “Now it is more student-led discussions and groups.”
Ms. Kercher loves biology and interacting with students and teaching conveniently combined her passions. A few years ago, she told a student he had passed his EOC and he started crying.
“When I asked him what was wrong, he said ‘I’ve never passed anything before.’ That broke my heart, yet melted it at the same time,” Ms. Kercher said. “I was so happy for him. I gave him the biggest hug and have never forgotten that moment.”
Those relationships with students motivate teachers. Mr. Howard Ritz started teaching 25 years ago and could’ve retired five years ago.
“The reason I haven’t is because of watching the growth in students over four years, watching them become successful and building lifelong relationships,” Mr. Ritz said. “I still keep in touch with students.”
As a student, Mr. Ritz got in trouble for talking, but he turned it into his career. Mr. Ritz sees students come in quietly and grow their self-confidence during their time in his communication class. That growth keeps him motivated to stay in the profession.
“I’m not here to make money. I’m here to make a difference,” Mr. Ritz said. “At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to the next day.”
Ms. Madison Carrier began teaching in August 2019 and left the profession in October of this year because of her struggles with work and life balance.
“It is a really tough and time-consuming job, and you really don’t get to see it for yourself until you start doing it,” Ms. Carrier said. “I always heard that it gets easier every year, but with the ever-changing pandemic, it just did not feel like there was an end in sight for the excessive hours I was putting in to do a great job at teaching.”
Ms. Carrier now works as a revenue cycle analyst for a healthcare organization. However, she continues to care for her students and plans to attend her former students’ future games and events.
“I loved being there and supporting my students in whatever they needed, and for that reason, it was near impossible to step away from teaching,” Ms. Carrier said. “However, I am really glad I did because now I feel like I have a good balance between my work and my life outside of work.
During a time when 25% of teachers considered other professions, Mr. Davis said teachers who commit to helping students reach success are essential. This year, two teachers have left Legacy for other jobs mid-school year while four teachers retired at the end of last year.
“I think it’s important to have good teachers today because there are fewer and fewer people out there that will be your personal cheerleader in life,” Mr. Davis said. “People who will be proud of every one of your accomplishments as if you were their own son or daughter, and will always give you encouragement without any expectation for anything in return.”