New Georgia DOE report examines roots of teacher burnout

Participants hold signs during a protest to urge a stop of standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Participants hold signs during a protest to urge a stop of standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Department of Education task force also offers ideas on how to address them

A report released today by the Georgia Department of Education’s Teacher Burnout Task Force describes a classroom workforce burdened by testing, time demands and unrealistic expectations.

Chaired by the 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year Cherie Goldman, the task force looked at the causes of teacher burnout and recommended policy actions in its 35-page report.

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Cherie Bonder ​Goldman, the 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year

Credit: Courtesy Photo

Cherie Bonder ​Goldman, the 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year

Credit: Courtesy Photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Cherie Bonder ​Goldman, the 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year

Credit: Courtesy Photo

Credit: Courtesy Photo

“The teachers I know don’t want to walk away — but too many of them are running on empty. In this report, you will hear the raw, insightful voices of classroom teachers from across the state. I encourage schools, districts, parents, and communities to listen to those voices and the actionable strategies and solutions they present,” said Goldman in a statement.

The Teacher Burnout Task Force grew out of a 2015 Georgia Department of Education survey of more than 53,000 teachers in which 66.9% said they were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage high school graduates to pursue teaching.

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The task force included the 10 finalists for 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year, along with classroom-teacher representatives from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia Association of Educators, and Educators First. Meetings of the task force were overseen by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which also compiled the report.

Teachers shared a wide range of views, starting with testing. Typical of the responses: “The time taken out of instructional time to administer assessments causes precious teaching time to be cut short; therefore, students aren’t receiving the instruction they need.”

Another theme in the report: Too little time. “The workload is nearly impossible to tackle during the hours we are actually at the school. So many of us have to ‘volunteer’ our time simply to do what is required of us.”

And those demands worsened with the pandemic, where teachers said the push to “return to normal” came with an unrealistic expectation that student learning and achievement should immediately return to pre-pandemic levels without giving them the time, support, resources, and compassion to meet students at their current academic level.

Here are the key areas of concern identified by the task force:

Assessment: While high-stakes testing requirements have been reduced at the state level to be more in line with federal testing requirements, the number of district-level tests has increased. The state, local school districts, and school leaders should work collaboratively to inventory, evaluate, and reduce tests and preserve instructional time.

Preserving and Protecting Time: Making up for lost in-person instructional time due to the pandemic is essential to the state’s academic recovery. Teachers’ planning and instructional time must be treated as sacred for this recovery to be successful and effective going forward.

Pressures and Unrealistic Expectations: Teachers have long faced unrealistic expectations that ultimately hinder student achievement. Coming out of the pandemic, the desire to “return to normal” has also come with an unrealistic expectation that student learning and achievement immediately return to pre-pandemic levels, without giving teachers the time, support, resources, and compassion to meet their students where they are.

Teacher Voice and Professional Growth: Teachers serve on the front lines and directly impact the learning of students. The state, local school districts, and school leaders should work collaboratively to reimagine an educational system that engages teacher voice and treats teachers as professionals.

Mental Health and Wellness: Just as it created stress on students and families, the pandemic both contributed additional stressors and exposed existing stressors on, and nonacademic barriers to, teachers and their work. The state, local school districts, and school leaders should work collaboratively to provide a stable and supportive environment where teachers and teacher morale are valued.