COVID crisis caused many teachers, new and experienced, to consider leaving their profession.
Barely a month into her first year of teaching last fall, Shayna Goldstein, a science teacher at Thornton Middle School, was asked to take over a class for an older colleague who didn’t want to do in-person instruction in the midst of a pandemic.
“I thought, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy — I’ll probably be fine,’” said Goldstein, 25.
Still, it served as a jarring reminder that the 2020-21 school year — filled with disruptive quarantines, mask mandates and disjointed remote learning — was not what she’d expected.
“I think nothing could have prepared me for this,” Goldstein said. “This was not something I had practiced in my student teaching.”
Despite it all, Goldstein isn’t marching for the exits. She’s eager to embark on a second year of teaching on Wednesday, when Adams 12 Five Star Schools’ academic year starts.
“I’m excited to have the kids back — I’m really excited to see them,” she said. “I’m hoping this year will be somewhat normal.”
For others, the pandemic and its uncertainty and instability caused them to reconsider their work. According to a survey conducted by the Colorado Education Association in February, 40% of licensed teachers across the state said they were considering leaving the profession.
The percent considering an end to a teaching career among Colorado educators in their 20s, which includes many teachers just starting out, was 32%.
School safety concerns and unmanageable workloads brought on by the pandemic were cited as major reasons for the dissatisfaction among teachers. And there’s no guarantee the situation will clear up soon as new cases of COVID-19, driven by the highly infectious delta variant, continue surging across the country.
“We are certainly having deep concern about recruiting teachers into the profession,” Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said. “It was challenging for all teachers.”
However, early-career teachers share a “profound hope” that the new school year will “move us back to that normal,” said Elizabeth Davis, state director of the Professional Association of Colorado Educators. And above all, she said, they are seeking the stability that was sorely lacking last year.
“Our new educators are extremely excited to be face-to-face with students,” Davis said. “Fundamentally, new teachers come in looking forward to building those relationships.”
Tim Hernández, an energetic 24-year-old who began with Denver Public Schools in January, is “very excited to have all my students back in the classroom.”
“Not just having class on a microphone but having it in person,” said Hernández, who’s a senior English teacher at North High School. “Of course I have hope — I teach kids.”
A February survey from MissionSquare Research Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan organization that helps local governments attract and retain workers, showed a sharp decline in education employees’ job satisfaction since the onset of the pandemic.
Among K-12 teachers, satisfaction fell from 69% in March 2020 to 44% in October 2020, and 41% of K-12 employees said they were working more hours last fall than prior to the pandemic.
Hernández said he can vouch for the increased workload reported by his colleagues around the country. He was forced to manage a class that was split between kids physically in the room with him and those attending via computer.
“We did hybrid learning, which was awful,” he said. “We had kids doing class from their bathtub, from their shower or from their closet because that was the only quiet place they could find. It was really hard to come into class and create that sense of urgency and relevancy.”
Describing himself as “Latino” and “loud,” Hernandez said he loves “to get up and move.” But he found himself corralled behind a pane of clear plastic at his desk, his face and the faces of his students obscured by masks.
“We couldn’t teach the way we were taught to teach,” he said.
Goldstein had the same issues at Thornton Middle School.
“I tried to make the online kids and the in-person kids feel they were all together,” she said. “There were a lot of ups and downs.”
Despite the difficulties the pandemic heaped on the last school year, there could be lessons gleaned going forward, said Silvia Noguerón-Liu with the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“Teachers may have to change the way they teach from how they were trained — they can expand their repertoire,” the associate education professor said. “We have an opportunity to rethink or do differently things that may have not been working for children before the pandemic.”
Goldstein is convinced that the way the pandemic force-fed technology into every aspect of education will likely be one of its lasting legacies. Getting up to speed on how to conduct classes over Zoom while juggling a live classroom of kids, she said, was akin to learning how to drive a stick shift — overwhelming at first, but hardly a deterrent to following her chosen career path.
“I was meant to do this,” Goldstein said.
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