Educators decry staffing shortages – commentary – New Hampshire Bulletin

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its multiple waves of distance, hybrid, and in-person learning, has heightened student support needs, exposed political minefields in teaching, and heightened work tensions for educators. . And in the 2021-2022 school year, staffing shortages have made all of this worse, as our work details.

Our long-term research with hundreds of teachers and school administrators reveals that persistent staffing shortages cause professionals to feel burnt out and worry that students are missing out on learning opportunities.

Speaking to our research team, Kendal, deputy director of a large suburban neighborhood, expressed the prevailing mood among educators: “Every day feels unsettled. I feel anxiety about how my day is going to go.

Labor logistics: “understand”

Acute pandemic-related staffing issues have plagued schools since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, when bus drivers were particularly hard to find. A principal told us that his school had not had 30% of its buses for almost two months.

When they hired drivers, some submitted “immediate resignations overnight,” the manager said. He described driving behind the new drivers, providing step-by-step instructions over the phone to ensure every student got home. A deputy director from another district, tired of the daily chaos of transportation, got her own bus driver’s license so she could participate.

Administrators describe waking up in dread knowing they will have to scramble to find cover for absent staff. Kendal, the deputy director, explained that he was on call 24/7 during the omicron surge in January and February: “Communication about staff absences is constant. [We] e-mail and SMS in the evening, on weekends and early in the morning. I cover classrooms for staff who are away, then try to find time to do the rest of my work at night.

It was common for schools to have 30% of staff absent during omicron. Such shortages compelled everyone to participate. At a school with no guards, the tech teacher cleared the sidewalks of snow. A school nurse away for two months with long COVID meant others cared for sick children.

Demand for substitute teachers has exceeded supply during the pandemic, often significantly. Administrators describe “scratching the bottom of the barrel” with “less than ideal” substitute teachers. When none are available, teachers fill in for other teachers during their prep hours, and paraprofessionals and administrators serve as substitute teachers.

In a pinch, schools place multiple classes with just one adult. A teacher describes the situation: “They combined two other classes with mine, having over 100 students in the auditorium. I was able to take attendance this period, that’s all. When this coverage happens, there’s not a lot of learning going on.

Open positions remain vacant. During the second week of school in September 2021, a reading specialist at one school was temporarily assigned to teach third grade. In April 2022, she is still there. There is little research on how students fare with substitutes, let alone with a revolving door of substitutes or long-term substitutes.

One manager remarked, “When [a coffee shop] has staffing issues, they close for the day. When schools have staffing issues, we need to “understand”.

A person in a camouflage military uniform holds a paper in front of a class full of students
In New Mexico, school staff shortages were so severe that the governor mobilized the National Guard, sending them to classrooms as substitute teachers. (Cedar Attanasio | AP Photo)

Learn: “I’m not even pretending”

The educators we speak to are concerned about how these shortages have affected students who were already struggling due to the pandemic. One headteacher said: ‘What students need more than anything now is consistency and stability. These things are impossible to provide when 20% of staff have COVID and students have to work with different people on a daily basis. This is particularly disruptive for students with special needs.

When school counsellors, reading specialists, English teachers, social workers and other specialists are lured elsewhere, their services are canceled, often affecting students with the highest needs. Teachers describe some students who wait several months for their Individual Education Plans to be implemented because there are not enough staff to provide diagnostic tests or services.

The shortage of teaching staff affects every student. One principal explained that learning breaks when “students in classes with spinning subs can spend the hour playing video games with no structure or learning.” Another added: “The sub-plans are very basic. Children are bored and they deserve an engaging and differentiated education. We are unable to provide this at this time.

At the peak of omicron’s rise, when safety and basic coverage were major concerns, an elementary school principal said he “didn’t even pretend” to focus on the learning at this stage.

Emotions: “It’s horrible”

Shortages make educators worried about each other. A principal worried about the resilience of his teachers: “When so many staff have left, educators are called upon to be flexible [their duties and schedules] almost daily. They can’t find a steady rhythm and they can’t find feelings of achievement. »

One teacher described her concern about the pressure placed on administrators and other teachers in her district: “We lost one principal to suicide, two went on sick leave at the start of the school year. An assistant manager traveled to three different buildings to cover these leaves. All of that and the district is always telling us to speed up, not to focus on what the kids are missing. How do we do that?”

Looking ahead, educators wonder how schools will cope with staffing challenges both during the end of the pandemic and beyond. A teacher said: “We can only cover so many things, and it seems that not many people apply for this position. … I worry about the whole public school system.The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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