By: Shaunna Harrington, Ph.D.
Associate Teaching Professor, Northeastern University @shaunna3830
I love seeing teachers recognized and celebrated as the People of the Year! But I am also wary of superficial accolades that fail to lead to better conditions for teachers in the complex, challenging work they do each day. Many teachers have shared with me that this school year (2021-22) has felt harder than last year (2020-21). They don’t want to romanticize what it was like to teach remotely and to teach in a hybrid model, but they say last year social-emotional needs and relationships were prioritized, flexibility and generosity were valued, and new ideas and strategies were embraced – and that this year, much of that has been lost in the effort to quickly “get back to normal” and make up for “learning loss.”
We are back in school buildings now, but students are still struggling with the challenges of growing up and going to school during a pandemic. More than 140,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent, a custodial grandparent, or grandparent caregiver to Covid-19. Educators are still struggling with how to meet the additional needs of their students while also having to deal with attacks on antiracist education, staffing shortages, and some community members who oppose masks and other public health safety measures.
Large numbers of teachers are reporting that they feel burned out and demoralized. We need healthy teachers to support healthy growth in children, and that means our society needs to take seriously our investment in teacher well-being. Some of the most impactful steps are for schools to offer comprehensive mental health supports; reduce the extensive demands on teachers; and empower teachers in decision making.
Teachers serve one of the most important roles in our society. Let’s shout that from every magazine cover and any other platform we have access to! And let’s keep pushing for policies that provide teachers with the supports they need to be able to continue to make their incredible and varied contributions to our kids and our communities.