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How can school leaders help?

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How can school leaders help?

Louise Williamson has been an educator for over three decades. But last school year was one of the most difficult for her.

Over the years, the teaching profession has “collapsed” under the weight of unrealistic expectations of educators and schools, said Williamson, who teaches English at a high school in Southern California at a symposium hosted by Education Week.

Long-standing structural problems – growing workloads, scarce resources, difficult working conditions – have become more acute recently as schools struggle with staff shortages and struggle to meet the academic and social needs of students in the wake of the global pandemic.

For everyone talk of learning lossThe hardest part of teaching at such a turbulent time is that many students, especially teenagers, seem to be emotionally ill, she added.

“If our students feel bad mentally, we need to do so much,” Williamson said. “There is so much to find out. How do I contact this student? How do you make sure a student gets the support they need? How can I make sure my class is a safe place for this student? How do I attract some of my other colleagues? This [been] For me, this year is a grueling attempt to take care of them at an advanced level, if I’m not at the highest level.

Self-care is not the answer

Recent attempts to help teachers manage a huge workload through attentiveness– Deep breathing exercises, yoga, scented candles – do not compensate for systemic problems caused by emotionally existing, bottomless load – added Tiffany Moyer-Washington, who teaches language arts in Hartford, Kansas, and spoke with Williamson at the symposium.

“It’s not like the time when you just taught English or math, now everything, right?” she said. “We are training for active shooting. We teach children how to socially interact with each other. And one of our big benefits is that once a month we can wear jeans? What we invest and how we are valued or compensated does not match. “

Some of her colleagues had to get a second job – a bartender, a realtor – to make ends meet, as teachers are usually paid tens of thousands less than professionals with the same education, added Moyer-Washington.

It would be very helpful to have fewer classes and get more time a day to plan, evaluate and collaborate with colleagues – all work that is now carried over into the evening or weekend, both teachers said.

What leaders can do to ease the workload of teachers

But given that it can be difficult to provide these things without changes in regulations or much more resources, district and school leaders need to think of other ways to ease the burden. This may include reducing the schedule of meetings that teachers should attend and the number of emails they need to view.

Another request to district leaders: take on a limited number of new initiatives, focusing on meaningful work on one or two things.

“One day of training on injuries, one day of anti-racism, [another of] reading is too difficult, ”Moyer-Washington said. “A teacher just needs to juggle so much.”

And both teachers said that – just as they offer positive reinforcement to their students – they want their work to be seen and recognized.

“Someone who stopped near my class or stopped me on the way to the parking lot said,‘ Hey, I saw you talking to this kid in the hallway, and I just really appreciate how you handled it, or, you know, I noticed that the child you work with has won an essay contest. That’s great, ”Moyer-Washington said.

She also encouraged district leaders – including school board members – to spend more time in schools, interact with teachers and understand what they need to do their job better, whether it is an opportunity to attend a professional development session or just get access to a working photocopier.

Williamson urged leaders and board members, especially those who themselves have never been class teachers, to spend a day or two with one of their teachers to understand “how many swords we juggle.”

Moyer-Washington agreed, adding: “I think at least the opportunity to use the bathroom is only when teachers can go, only it will give you an idea of ​​how difficult Teacher’s Day is, because it’s no joke.”

Joking aside, Williamson worries that if he doesn’t seriously rethink the profession – expectations, workload, support, compensation – more teachers will burn out and move on. Without high-functioning public schools, “quality education will become a commodity for 1%,” she said.

“I have dedicated my life to this profession and I love it,” Williamson said. “I love my students. I love my former students. But if what needs to happen is to be shattered for a career to be sustainable, then this is what needs to happen. We need to do something to make this work realistic and have a life. ”

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