Opinion: Pandemic politics in Georgia won’t help teacher burnout

People carry sign in support of teachers in Gwinnett County trying to manage classrooms safely during the pandemic in 2020. A national survey released Tuesday found 55% of educators say they are ready to leave the profession earlier than planned.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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People carry sign in support of teachers in Gwinnett County trying to manage classrooms safely during the pandemic in 2020. A national survey released Tuesday found 55% of educators say they are ready to leave the profession earlier than planned. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

New national survey finds frustrations over staffing, COVID could fuel exodus

Teachers in Georgia and elsewhere are facing limits on what they can say about race in their classrooms and what books they can put on reading lists. This micromanaging follows two years teaching under trying circumstances in a pandemic.

So, it’s no surprise that a survey released Tuesday found 55% of educators say they are ready to leave the profession earlier than planned.

“America’s educators are exhausted and increasingly burned out,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, in a statement. “This is a five-alarm crisis. We are facing an exodus as more than half of our nation’s teachers and other school staff are now indicating they will be leaving education sooner than planned.”

The NEA, the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators, conducted the survey in mid-January. Among the survey findings:

• More than half (55%) of members plan to leave education sooner than planned as a result of the pandemic, up from 37% in August. That sentiment is more pronounced among Black (62%) and Hispanic/Latino (59%) educators.

• It is not just veteran teachers who are frustrated. Among teachers who have taught 10 years or less, about half say they, too, are more likely to leave the profession earlier than they planned.

• Nine out of 10 say feeling burned out is a serious problem. To address educator burnout, raising educator salaries receives the strongest support (96% support), followed by providing additional mental health support for students (94% support), hiring more teachers (93%), hiring more support staff (92%), and less paperwork (90%).

Georgia lawmakers appear amenable to Gov. Brian Kemp’s recommendation for teacher pay raises in the new budget. But they are pushing new laws that grant teachers less autonomy about what they teach and what they say.

Kemp and other Republican leaders have also now identified a new threat to students — “obscene” material in school libraries. They are seeking to appease conservative voters unhappy with books that explore LGBTQ themes or race relations in America. Teachers are being told to sanitize reading lists and say that books like “The Kite Runner” and “The Bluest Eye” are vanishing from classroom shelves.

Several bills in the General Assembly target “divisive concepts” which has become code for any unvarnished examination of race and racism in America. Senate Bill 377 would withhold up to 10% of state-contributed education funding from districts that teach lessons that make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity.”

If Georgia parents believe their child’s school is teaching divisive concepts, House Bills 60 and 999 would hand them public money to pay for a private school. Among the justifications that lawmakers cited for these voucher bills during the three hours of discussion Tuesday: failing public schools and learning loss due to poor virtual instruction as well as teaching that focused on social and political issues rather than math and reading.

Georgia is not alone in its apparent mistrust of teachers. A Florida lawmaker wants to put cameras in classrooms and microphones on teachers so parents can monitor what is happening at every moment. The governor of Virginia created a hotline to report teachers guilty of “divisive teaching practices.”