The pandemic’s impact on primary and secondary schools across the U.S. has been heavy, wide-ranging, and inconsistent. Some schools were able to continue in-school learning while others had to rapidly transition to virtual learning. And many have been stuck in the middle, offering in-person and online hybrid learning simultaneously.
This has obviously put a strain on K–12 teachers. In addition to extra hours of work, without the extra hours of pay, there’s the mental fatigue of worrying about their classrooms’ safety, the frustration of having to teach with a mask on (and keep their students’ masks on, too!), and the ongoing struggle to maintain sufficient cleaning supplies.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there was a predicted teacher shortage—which will now only become worse with more educators retiring early or switching professions due to COVID-19-related issues.
So how can your school or district best address the oncoming teacher crisis? And how can you hire or prepare teachers to thrive in the post-COVID learning environment? Read this article to learn how to rebuild and retool your educational team.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, one in three educators say the pandemic has made them more likely to retire early—particularly among those who are 50+ and with 20+ years of tenure. Schools are also facing a record shortage of substitute teachers, putting even more strain on their fatigued and overworked teaching staff.
Some of the ways teachers have been impacted during COVID-19 include:
Preparing multiple lesson plans to serve both in-class and at-home students.
Learning new technologies, such as learning management and collaboration software, to teach classes online.
Working with counselors and administration to handle chronically absent, depressed, unmotivated, or stressed students.
Educating parents on how to monitor their kids’ progress or effectively teach at-home lessons.
Keeping up with irregular grading due to student (or teacher) absence due to illness.
While these changes have been overwhelming for some educators because they happened so quickly with little time for training or preparation, they may be beneficial in the long run. Some of the educational efficiencies that may result are:
Better transparency between teachers, students, and parents.
Faster and easier grading systems.
Collaborative lesson planning.
Thus, while the pandemic is forcing many older teachers out of the profession, it’s creating the opportunity to bring in a new breed of educators. Those who are excited about leveraging transparency and technology in the classroom and better equipped to handle their students’ emotional needs.
As of June 2020, public K–12 education was down 468,000 jobs from the previous year. This, according to the Economic Policy Institute, is from teachers leaving due to the coronavirus pandemic and state budget cuts. Also, if a new federal stimulus package is not passed soon, state budget cuts could get much worse—resulting in layoffs, salary cuts, and larger class sizes.
Budget and internet concerns.
School districts are struggling to find ways to pay for COVID-related necessities such as virtual learning technology, increased cleaning staff and supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), student desk shields, and employee training. Additionally, they’re taxed with having to figure out how to connect children from households without internet. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 12% of children ages 3–18 either lack internet access at home or are only able to access it from a smartphone.
School board challenges.
School boards are also being impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Some of the issues they’re dealing with are:
Changing the strategy for graduating students that meet state academic standards—e.g., moving to a remote or hybrid learning model.
Effectively allocating limited funds due to depressed tax collections and state budgets.
Evaluating how COVID-19 has affected financial markets, and thus, district employees’ pensions.
Becoming more transparent in communications with parents and the community.
Furthermore, school boards will need to assess the performance of their districts’ superintendents. In the short term, they’ll need to monitor their stress levels and offer support or coaching as needed. But sooner rather than later, they must weigh the impact of poor performance and possibly seek new leadership that can better handle current and post-COVID educational system demands.
School administrators are heavily impacted by the pandemic, too. Not only do they have to meet their ever-changing state and county’s safety protocols to keep their schools open, but they have to worry about the physical and mental health of their staff and students. Increasingly, school leaders are the ones responsible for managing the emotional responses of their communities to this crisis. This includes helping them cope with anxiety, frustration, anger, and loss.
Today’s administrators are also asked to do more with less due to fluid and changing staffing levels—whether from illness, shortages, or resignations. And they do all this while handling their teachers’ growing concerns and needs from having to do more work, while under intense pressure and unprecedented circumstances.
Of course, administrators are tasked with maintaining their schools’ academic success, even when schools are closed to in-person learning. This means forging strong relationships with IT personnel to facilitate remote learning technologies and optimize their performance.
And last, but not least, principals and other administrators need to be more open and honest than ever before with parents. With regular, ongoing communication, they can help parents make informed decisions about what’s best for their children’s safety and academic achievement.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our country’s education system. But from all of the chaos and turmoil that it has caused, and from the teacher shortage that lies ahead, there is a golden opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure to better suit the 21st-century world.
In addition to bridging the digital divide for our underserved students and implementing the technologies that will keep our schools adaptable as remote learning evolves, today’s school districts and policymakers have the chance to rebuild their teaching staff with a new generation of educators. These “next-gen teachers”:
Are more tech-savvy. They’ve either grown up with technology or earned a master’s degree that combines learning, instructional design, and technology. So not only will they know how to use new learning technology, but they’ll probably be early adopters and adept in maximizing its effectiveness.
Have enhanced social and emotional IQ. Emotionally intelligent teachers tend to better motivate their students and understand their behavioral and psychological well-being—all of which leads to more engaged and productive classrooms. These skills are often included in modern, master’s level teaching degrees or gained through professional training programs and certifications.
Can teach to different learning styles. Instead of standing in front of a class and lecturing for an entire period, next-gen teachers know that every student learns differently. So they incorporate visual, physical (hands-on), logical, social (group), and solitary activities into their lessons—which are more likely to be understood and more enjoyable, too.
Other ways that you can prepare your school for success after the pandemic are to continue offering hybrid learning for students that prefer it, supporting technology-based curriculums, and using this technology to build stronger connections with students and parents alike.
Even before COVID-19, education was already heading towards a more tech-enabled future. Many school systems already use learning platforms like Canvas, Blackboard, and Google Classroom, and teachers have been posting grades and assignments online for quite some time.
Offering degrees online for 20 years, WGU knows firsthand the weight of tech-empowered learning. It’s transformed higher education and is primed to revolutionize K–12 schooling. That’s why our Teachers College focuses on developing the next-gen educators we’ll need to rebound quickly from the global pandemic—teachers who balance traditional and online learning with emotional sensitivity to best address every learner’s unique skills, needs, and well-being.
In fact, WGU “practiced what we preach” by moving our classroom-based student teaching program online to help 1,875 candidates continue their student teaching practice during the pandemic. We’re also piloting a virtual student teaching program with online charter schools this fall.
Despite the many struggles our nation’s schools and administrators have faced from COVID-19, we can use this time to retrain or reset our teaching staff to be prepared for the brighter future that’s ahead. Education is the great equalizer, and with the right planning and preparation, our schools will prevail.