Addressing Teacher Burnout and Turnover in a Post-pandemic World

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From right to left: Dr. Olivia Chi, assistant professor at the BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and Dr. Andrew Bacher-Hicks, assistant professor at BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Both faculty members specialize in educational leadership and policy studies.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has the US education system experienced a “mass exodus” of teachers? If so, do you predict this to continue ahead of the next school year?

In general, we have not seen a “mass exodus” of teachers during the pandemic. During the first year of the pandemic, teacher turnover rates were remarkably consistent with turnover rates before the pandemic. At the beginning of the 2021–22 school year, however, many states found that fewer teachers returned to their positions than in previous years. Though the recent increases in turnover do not yet rise to a “mass exodus,” it does suggest that we should pay careful attention to the underlying factors driving turnover and increase supports in the future.

What are some of the biggest challenges teachers faced over the recent pandemic school years?

Teachers faced a wide range of challenges during the pandemic, including unexpected shifts in schooling mode, learning new technologies, additional childcare responsibilities, and managing personal health concerns. And these challenges were not equally felt by all teachers. For example, younger teachers were more likely to feel burdened by additional childcare responsibilities while older teachers were more likely to report concerns about their personal health.

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What are some of the signs of teacher burnout?

There are several signs of teacher burnout. First, many teachers are reporting high levels of job-related stress. It’s worth noting that teachers also reported high levels of stress prior to the pandemic, but they are now also reporting that the career is not worth the stress. Second, teachers are increasingly indicating that they are considering leaving their jobs. Finally, we’re seeing that these thoughts of turnover have materialized: across the country, we’re seeing reports of increased teacher turnover rates in the most recent school year.

Recent studies have pointed to a sharp increase in educational inequity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for students of color. How can school administrators, educators, and society at-large work to address this gap?

We know that the increase in inequality was not as severe in districts that held more in-person schooling during the pandemic. This suggests that in-person schooling plays an important role in reducing inequality. Therefore, resuming the standard educational model of full-time in-person learning is a first step. However, it’s also more important than ever to support students who lost ground during the pandemic. Many school districts have pushed for personalized tutoring initiatives, but as with any strategy, there are challenges related to scaling these initiatives to serve all the students in need.

On a societal level, how can we better support teachers?

One potential pathway for improving teacher support is to focus on improving teacher working conditions. A recent study shows that teachers in schools with strong communication, targeted professional development, meaningful collaboration with colleagues, fair expectations, and recognition of effort were more likely to maintain their self-reported sense of success during the early stages of the pandemic.

Were there any positives or benefits that came out of pandemic teaching and learning?

Very few people would argue in support of pandemic-era teaching and learning overall. That said, there have been some instances where students have benefitted in some ways. For example, not having in-person schooling has led to decreases in bullying, both in person and online.

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