COVID burnout fuels lower morale among K-12 educators

Although many have approved of their district's reopening plans, a new study shows steep drops in job satisfaction since March.

According to a national study done by the non-profit Center for State and Local Government Excellence, job satisfaction and morale has tumbled among K-12 educators who say they have experience high levels of burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study of 500 school-level faculty, conducted in October as a separate part of an overarching survey of state and local employees, showed that only 44% were extremely satisfied with their current jobs, down from 69% of those polled in March.

“Many educators indicate that they are working more hours, which could explain why stress, burnout and morale is even more problematic for this sector of the public workforce,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, director of research for the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. “The pandemic is weighing heavily on the state and local workforce, employees who are the front lines of public health and safety and trying to educate children under difficult circumstances.”

Across the board, educators expressed higher levels of dissatisfaction than other public employees. Some 63% report “feeling stressed while at work” compared with only 45% of other local government workers. More than half feel burned out, while only 41% of other employees say they are experiencing fatigue. More than 40% of educators say they are working longer hours since the pandemic began.

Those less-than-positive sentiments are spreading among co-workers, according to the study, with 42% of teachers saying there is “negative morale among co-workers in general.”

That’s not to say educators feel unsupported. Despite the gloomy numbers, 60% say they were consulted and listened to in their district’s reopening strategies. More than 50% said they respected those decisions and have been allowed some level of flexibility in helping execute those plans.

However, when it comes to parents, that’s a different story. Only 30% of educators say parents been “very/extremely understanding with the school’s approach to holding classes and any limitations or inconveniences it may entail,” according to SLGE researchers.

Educators across the board say they are struggling to cope with both the rigors and expectations of the 2020-21 academic year. In their responses to 13 questions about job satisfaction ranging from quality of coworkers to job security, every category dropped significantly from March. The biggest: Ability to Serve Community (83% down to 58%), Personal Satisfaction (75% down to 56%), and Work-Life Balance (61% down to 40%).

They also appear to be feeling the pinch on finances, with 40% expressing more uneasiness about their salary, compared with 27% in March, and the future of their retirement savings.

A report also released on Monday shows that 86% of educators used personal funds on classroom tools due to circumstances around COVID-19. An alarming 17% have spent more than $1,000. And they likely won’t get much in return this holiday season, with only 25% of parents saying they will give a gift to teachers this year.

What do educators want most for the holidays, according to researchers? Appreciation for their work and subscriptions to online learning platforms.

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