By: Neven Holland, Treadwell Elementary, Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS), Tennessee
“It’s the difficulty that keeps me here. It’s the opportunity to give my students in an underserved neighborhood with limited resources the high-quality teachers they deserve,” says my teacher colleague Armani Alexander. Despite all the difficulties of pandemic teaching, there is still this culture to grit and grind like our hometown Memphis Grizzlies in the profession we love with respect and knowledge of our urban community (Emdin, 2016).
Still, I would be naïve to think that there has not been frustration, fatigue, and burnout to be everything for all students and district leaders during this public health crisis. Last year during the height of the pandemic, prepping and grading for daily online lessons exceeded instructional time. Transitioning to in-person instruction has also been the hardest as it relates to supporting students with academic concerns and/or challenges to their psychological well-being wrought by the pandemic. According to research, “This perception seemed to directly impact the mental and physical state of the teachers. Burnout leads to turnover, which has more than doubled for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers still encounter ever changing health guidelines and policies contributing to stress and burnout feelings which may manifest in adverse health outcomes and future turnover” (Davis & Kotowski, 2022). This is more urgent in hard-to-staff schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color where certified teachers are difficult to find and hire (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).
I have been working as a 4th grade mathematics teacher at Treadwell Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee since 2015. My school has worked tirelessly to retain teachers knowing the profession has not been pleasurable since the pandemic started. In fact, a record number of our teachers (over 90%) are planning to return next year, even though this year has the been one of the most difficult and mentally draining on record. There are five reasons why teachers at my school are deciding to stay.
School administrators make an intentional effort to build strong relational capacity with staff.
- School administrators make judgments based on human feelings. They understand there is life outside of school and respect the use of personal days to take care of self and family.
- There is an authentic school community t where lunch potlucks, staff get-togethers, and extended lunches help build and maintain teacher morale.
- Administration and other support staff provide backup support to help cover classes so that teachers do not have to carry the burden without a planning period or adequate break.
- Teachers are leading professional development that is culturally relevant and practical.
This year, according to my principal, the few departures are surprisingly not due to job dissatisfaction but retirements or promotions to other school positions. It has not always been picture-perfect and based on a recent insight survey led by TNTP on school climate, my school had the highest satisfaction score in 4 years. I am pleased that my principal and administration have formed teacher committees to address areas of improvement. My principal and the administration practice a culture of listening without defensiveness and respect teacher expertise to positively impact student outcomes. Through this initiative, I have been able to express the stressors in and outside my classroom that interfere with student progress. I am also hopeful that though the pandemic has taken emotional tolls on myself and my students, I am able find silver linings where my students are still seeking to be active participants in my class. Because of my school administration’s willingness to consider critical feedback and the respect they show teachers, high teacher turnover is not going to be our expected, normal reality.
Neven Holland is a teacher at Treadwell Elementary in Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) in Tennessee. He is a 2022 Tennessee State Finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and a Klawe Leadership Fellow for EdReports.org.