One Virginia school district has made select Wednesdays shorter for students as teacher burnout through the coronavirus pandemic drags on.
The district's superintendent said the move was to give teachers more time amid a historic shortage of educators.
"Our teachers are just tired — they’re tired and they’re overwhelmed and dealing with a lot of the mental health issues that I think many folks are dealing with as a result of the pandemic," Aaron Spence, superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "We talked to them about how we can help, and they gave us a lot of different thoughts. And one of the things they told us was 'We just need more time.'"
The Virginia Beach School Board voted to end classes at Virginia Beach’s public schools two hours early on seven Wednesdays in the next three months.
'A state and national issue' for schools
Teachers across the country have been faced with an enormous increase in responsibilities over the past year and a half.
According to Spence, this is "not a Virginia Beach issue. This is a state and national issue. We’re hearing from teachers all across the country that they’re tired. They taught during a pandemic, [and] they were asked to do things that they’d never been asked to do before."
Three school districts in Missouri have also given teachers and all employees a day off on Oct. 22 for them to concentrate on their mental health and wellness. Two school districts in St. Louis County are also cancelling classes on Nov. 1.
In North Carolina, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have added an optional teacher work day and two new "wellness" days to give students and staff off for the week of Thanksgiving. In Virginia, Henrico County Public Schools have made two school day and calendar modifications for the current school year due to mental health concerns.
"We’re about 100 positions short in Virginia Beach right now," Spence said. "Teachers are covering classes, they’re covering hallways, they’re covering cafeterias, and they don’t have the kind of unencumbered planning time that they need to have in order to best prepare for instruction for our students."
Teacher burnout and shortages have been long-standing issues for school districts. In the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, nearly 300,000 jobs were shed from the public education sector, according to one estimate.
Within two months of the coronavirus-induced economic crisis of 2020, around 750,000 public school teachers and other school employees in local areas were laid off, according to one estimate by the American Federation of Teachers.
"There’s been a teacher shortage crisis looming across the country ... and I think they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic," Spence said. "We’ve never been in position where we didn’t start the school year with our fully staffed on our instructional side."
The latest recovery has been uneven: In the September 2021 jobs report, employment decreased by 144,000 in local government education and by 17,000 in state government education. Employment changed little in private education, which dropped by 19,000.
"In the educational sector, there's something going on there [that] we have to do some more research on," U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh previously told Yahoo Finance, "particularly the education public sector number. I think a lot of people expected with school starting that we'd see that number a lot higher... I'll say it was disappointing."
JP Morgan is expecting the education sector to lag in October as well.
"We think that seasonally adjusted education-related employment could fall by another 50,000 in October, as the increase in hiring that month anticipated by the seasonal factors does not fully materialize," the note stated, adding: "It looks like schools are having a hard time filling positions, with the ratio of openings to hires hitting an all-time high in August."
'I don’t think that in our nation, we pay our teachers what they’re worth'
One of the key factors driving this shortage, particularly for teachers, is due to the low pay in some areas.
According to the National Education Association (NEA) estimates for the 2020-2021 school year, the national classroom teacher salary stands at $65,090. When adjusted for inflation, that represents a 0.9% increase over the past 10 years.
Teachers in Mississippi ($46,843), South Dakota ($48,984), and Florida ($49,102) earn some of the lowest salaries in the nation.
Educators across America are also heavily weighed down by student debt, according to a report from NEA.
"I don’t think that in our nation, we pay our teachers what they’re worth," Spence said. "In Virginia there, for example, there’s a 40% pay gap between our teachers who have a bachelor’s degree and everybody else in the Commonwealth who has a bachelor’s degree. That’s unsustainable."
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.