LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio educators say burnout is real, but with pending legislation regulating lesson-plan choices and security roles in schools, they feel “demoralized” as well.

A national survey showed 44% of K-12 teachers in the U.S. “always” or “very often” feel burned out, a stat that has surpassed other industries.

The Gallup poll showed more than 4 in 10 K-12 workers felt that way, topping college/university employees, retail workers and the government/public policy industry in the survey, conducted in February but released this week.

Researchers found that K-12 workers have “consistently” been leaders in burn-out in the country, but the COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated existing challenges,” while also introducing new ones.

Female teachers reporter higher burnout levels than male teachers, at a split of 55% to 44%.

“The result is a workforce that is burned out and unfortunately leaving the profession at a high rate,” according to the Gallup poll.

Those who teach in Ohio agree that the increased workload has taken its toll, but to also see mounting legislation regulating their careers and what they see as a continued lack of appropriate support from the state adds a new amount of weight to educators’ shoulders.

“When you talk about burnout, you’re talking about when you’ve extinguished a flame,” said Wendi Davis, band director and music teacher at Cory-Rawson Local Schools in northwest Ohio. “Teachers, they love what they do, and when they’re put in situations like what they’re dealing with right now, it’s more demoralization than burnout.”

Teachers have had to don ever-multiplying caps: as teachers, as standardized test guides, as social workers and as guidance counselors. Faced with all those issues already, teachers then faced a pandemic, according to Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

“What the pandemic did was essentially lay bare all of the problems that existed in education,” Obrenski said. “More and more is being put on (a teacher’s) plate and nothing is being taken off.”

When pandemic learning is combined with legislation currently being considered in the Ohio legislature that would dictate the subjects that teachers can discuss, and a recently passed and governor-signed law that allows teachers to carry weapons in school, Obrenski said educators get pushed to their limits.

That is, the teachers that are still there. Cleveland is short about 200 teachers going into the new school year, not to mention the ongoing shortage of substitute teachers, in the hundreds as well.

“And we’re not as bad off as other districts,” Obrenski said.

As school districts struggle to recruit and retain teachers and substitute teachers, teachers also struggle to be heard in their own districts and in their state government.

“Teachers need to be empowered at the local level by their administrators,” Davis said. “They need to have a voice at the table.”

Paying teachers more and funding schools in a way that supports the role they play is definitely a need, according to Obrenski, but so, too, is respecting teachers as professionals in order to keep them in schools.

“Something that is really important is a teacher’s voice in decision-making; Having teachers be part of the solution instead of condemning them as part of the problem,” Obrenski said.

SUSAN TEBBEN Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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