All through the fall, teachers have been at the center of vehement debates over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction — often vilified for challenging it, sometimes praised for trying to make it work.
But these debates have often missed just how thoroughly the coronavirus has upended learning in the 130,000 schools in the United States, and glossed over how emotionally and physically draining pandemic teaching has become.
In more than a dozen interviews with The New York Times, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once.
Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled.
Many teachers said they had also become impromptu social workers for their students, directing them to food banks, acting as grief counselors for those who had family members die of Covid-19 and helping pupils work through their anxiety, depression and isolation. Often, the teachers said, their concern for their students came at a cost to themselves.
“Teachers are not OK right now,” said Evin Shinn, a literacy coach at a public middle school in Seattle, noting that many teachers were putting students’ pandemic needs above their own well-being.
Experts and teachers’ unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements, undermining the fitful effort to resume normal public schooling. In a recent survey by the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, 28 percent of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.