December 3, 2021

Educator Workload: A Mounting Crisis

Educator Workload: A Mounting Crisis Featured Image

As we entered December, Wisconsin recorded its highest single-day COVID-19 case total in nearly a year. Teachers and education support professionals continue to work more hours than ever to keep students safe and learning. The mounting educator workload crisis – which results in frequent staff turnover, unfilled positions and mental health concerns – is a key area our union is drawing attention to as we close out 2021 and head into 2022. It’s time for educator-led solutions to ease unsustainable workloads.

While more districts are becoming aware that unrealistic educator workloads must be addressed, long-term solutions from district administrators are few and far between. For instance, in Oshkosh, school administrators are recommending repurposing two snow days into mental health days for students and staff. A recognition of the unrelenting workload, for sure, but more needs to be done, WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said.

“WEAC’s three-prong approach to address the educator workload crisis consists of restoring educators’ right to negotiate with our employers, developing educator-leaders in local unions to organize staff and advocating for pandemic relief funding to address staff shortages and mental health,” Wirtz-Olsen said.

In a recent TV interview, Wirtz-Olsen explained why the solution to the workload crisis starts with the right to negotiate.

“The extreme amount of prolonged stress and increased workload educators face hasn’t diminished since COVID started,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “The long-term solution is reinstating educators’ right to negotiate with our employers, so teachers are at the table in all school decisions and can address the mental health of students and staff.”

Watch the Interview

‘We’re Exhausted”

From teachers expected to teach in-person and virtually at the same time, to education support professionals who are performing duties frequently under hazardous conditions, educators are exhausted and buckling under the load. In Wisconsin and nationally, more educators are opting to resign or retire. Too many others are on the verge of walking away from our careers rather than work under untenable conditions. New York Times: Remote Learning Burnout

Workload Drivers

The workday of teachers and other educators who are exempt from overtime has always extended beyond the regular school day. Many educators routinely spend evenings and weekends grading papers, preparing lessons, communicating with students and parents and completing paperwork and data entry. The pandemic, however, has pushed workloads well beyond sustainable limits. Under stressful conditions, educators also have continually been required to overhaul how and where we work at a moment’s notice.

Educators, oftentimes without meaningful support from administration, are still scrambling to find ways to connect with and provide quality instruction to all of our students, which further increases our workload.

The following are some of the drivers educators point to for increasing our workloads, solutions to which our union is committed to addressing:

  • New, Changing and Mixed Instructional Models. Adapting to new and often mixed instructional models, and in many cases bouncing back and forth between various virtual and in-person models as the year progresses and the pandemic rages on, continues to take an unrelenting toll on educators.
  • New and Inadequate Technology. Educators are teaching students to properly engage in an online classroom setting and navigate technology. Complicating matters and driving workload is inadequate technology, inaccessible to students, which increases the amount of time spent on everything from performing routine tasks to troubleshooting technology issues for students.
  • Equity Issues. Lack of access to technology and Wi-Fi, combined with the inability of parents to supervise because they work outside the home, increases the need for alternate and additional support for students outside of regular class time and creates challenges for educators in locating students who have not participated.
  • Health and Safety Measures. Distancing requirements, accommodating at-risk students, altering school schedules and distance learning all add to workload and cut into planning time. Beyond managing — and actually teaching students — educators also must clean and disinfect classrooms between classes, administer health screenings and monitor hallways and lunches.
  • Educator Shortage. In addition to a surge in retirements and resignations, staffing levels are stretched when educators miss work because they, or a family member, have contracted or been exposed to the virus or because their mental health is suffering to the point of incapacitation. Substitute teachers are also in short supply, so teachers, paraeducators and other staff are forced to fill in the staffing gaps throughout the school.

This article is based on NEA Issue Guidance: COVID-19 and Educator Workload. Read the entire report