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Teacher burnout: Wyoming Teacher of the Year tells NCSD trustees many thinking of quitting

Evansville Elementary teacher Alexis Barney (NCSD, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo. — Evansville Elementary School teacher Alexis Barney, who was named the 2021 Wyoming Teacher of the Year, told the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees on Monday that teachers are suffering from burnout.

“This is November 8 and we are tired and overwhelmed,” Barney said, noting that teachers are feeling a lot of stress after dealing with COVID-19 impacts during the past two school years.

Barney said the view that a lot is being put on teachers’ plates is an understatement. She noted that teachers are being asked to learn and implement new systems at the same time as they are being asked to keep helping students meet high academic expectations.

In addition, teachers are being asked to provide socio-emotional support to students. Barney said that she has seen more students in need of emotional support this year “than I have ever seen in my teaching career.”

She said that teachers recognize the need to provide social and emotional support for students, but asked whether there is enough recognition of teachers’ own needs.

“[I]f student are struggling with emotional health, how are the adults doing?” Barney asked.

Teachers are also being asked to plan for their own classes and create plans for substitutes and even plans for when there aren’t substitutes available, according to Barney.

They also have to deal with what to do as students or other teachers are on quarantine. She added that teachers are also being asked to help develop curriculums and are tasked with professional learning community work in schools. They are also involved in helping with school improvement plans.

“The list goes on and on,” Barney said. “These are not plates, these are platters.”

Barney said that she thinks the district should recognize that there is a time to stop asking more from teachers.

“I believe that there is a time for progression and a time for maintenance,” she said. “Is progress coming at a cost?”

“We need systemic changes in place that support the retention and recruitment of educators in our district. We need focused efforts in maintaining our educators because many are sadly thinking of leaving the profession entirely.”

Barney said that teachers need better communication systems in place in the district. She said that she thinks the district should also look for ways to ensure there is a “diverse supply of teacher voice” when decisions are being made.

“I implore you, please, when decisions are being made think of the teachers, their students, their families and their time,” she said. “Think of compounding impacts the pandemic has had and continues to have that will last for years to come.”

“Seek out teacher voice and provide clear, transparent communication. Please recognize that these heroes in our classroom are human too.”

Crest Hill teacher Kathy Fleming also spoke about teacher burnout on Monday. She said that teachers think not only themselves but also parents may be experiencing feelings of burnout.

The situation has grown bad enough that Fleming said she has concerns that teachers are looking for other job opportunities.

Fleming told the trustees she said she thinks they need to be reaching out and communicating more often with principals and teachers.

“You guys have always been really good about coming into our schools and talking to us,” she said. “I don’t know if it is COVID, I don’t know what’s going on, [but] we haven’t seen you guys for two years in our schools. We want you. We want you to come. We want you guys to talk to us.”

The NCSD trustees have resumed school visits this semester after those visits were put on pause during the previous school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fleming added that some teachers may feel scared to speak openly with trustees.

“I’m kind of scared right now to talk to you,” she said. “If you are going into a school and it is crickets, that is because they are afraid to talk to you, so just encourage them to open up.”

“Please just consider teachers’ feelings. … Humanize us, don’t hero-ize us.”

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