Washington County Schooling Affiliation president warns of instructor burnout, asks for assist – St George Information

On Tuesday’s meeting of the Washington County School District Board of Education, the education association president Amy Barton warned numerous teachers are pondering quitting amid perceived over-scheduling and staffing shortages. | Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

ST. GEORGE — The president of the Washington County Education Association sent out an SOS on behalf of local educators at Tuesday’s school board meeting. She took to the podium during her monthly report to say teachers in the district are suffering from serious burnout as duties and expectations for K-12 instructors pile up.

Amy Barton, president of the Washington County Education Association, reported at Tuesday’s school board meeting that teacher burnout has reached crisis levels, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by Sarah Torribio, St George News

Amy Barton, a second-grade teacher, prefaced her address by saying she loves her job and truly enjoys representing fellow educators. She said she prefers to emphasize positive news at board meetings.

“But this month, I need to share some realities,” she said. “Between the onerous and frankly odious bills being proposed by some of our Utah legislators, the pressures from special interest groups and the crushing daily challenges teachers are facing, I am worried.”

She pointed out the standing-room-only crowd.

“I see a lot of interested and engaged community members here in the room today,” Barton said. “We sure could use this level of involvement in our schools. We need playground supervisors. We need reading paraprofessionals. We need classroom volunteers. We’re here in the room. But are we in schools?”

Barton went on to read excerpts from several messages the WCEA has received from teachers, emphasizing the frustration is ongoing.

“This isn’t all year. This is not last year. This is just from the last couple of months,” she said.

The teachers quoted by Barton said being overworked and understaffed, with issues exacerbated by the pandemic, has brought them to a personal and professional crisis.

“I’m seriously considering early retirement. Who do I talk to?” one email read. “I’m so tired of the meetings, no respect and added demands. I’m exhausted.”

Virtually all of the correspondents complained of fatigue.

“I’m retiring specifically because I can’t keep doing two to three hours at home every night to be prepared to teach tomorrow,” another teacher wrote. “I am so tired. I’m done. The system doesn’t work. They set you up to fail, so here I am failing, asking for help and now walking away.”

Another teacher’s comments underscored the way education bills, no matter how well intended, often represent yet another hoop educators must jump through.

“If the legislature goes forward with this syllabus-posting or adding any more additional duties, I will be resigning,” they wrote. “I’ve never even thought about quitting or retirement before, but I am now. Any more additional work on my overflowing plate would send me over the edge, mentally and physically. There is not enough time in the day to do all of the additional duties and teach our kids.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jordan Teuscher, said the bill would help families have healthy dinner-table conversations about what kids are learning in school and alleviate what he described as a growing mistrust between parents and educators.

Teuscher withdrew the bill on Jan. 21 in the wake of a successful petition drive by the Utah Educators Association. Enough signatories heeded the call to “Tell the Utah legislators, stop making more work for teachers” that he opted to “push the pause button” on his bill. He vowed to reintroduce it in the future after more discussion with education stakeholders.

One secondary school teacher Barton quoted complained they’d been regularly subbing on their prep period due to teacher absences and a shortage of paraprofessionals. Often called paras, paraprofessionals are aides who assist students with special needs, everything from dyslexia to developmental delays to autism to ADHD, or who are English language learners.

“Super-subbing isn’t a sustainable practice for our kid,” they wrote. “Not giving paras insurance options isn’t helping either. We are short paras because no one can work for $11 an hour for a maximum of 27.5 hours a week and survive.”

Teacher’s plates are overflowing

“Monitoring student absences due to quarantine and actual illness sends teachers scrambling to provide instructional material through technology or take-home packets sent home,” Barton said. “Instruction and assessment is missing in the classroom and, as students return, teachers are struggling to fill in gaps, catch up on assessment and support students who have missed learning and social opportunities.

Barton took a deep breath and continued, saying teachers are foundering as they’re asked to “attend multiple meetings and IEPs and PLCs and conduct assessment and plan instruction and implement behavior plans and progress monitor and do diagnostic testing so we can remake WIN Time groups every six weeks and figure out math interventions and analyze acadience data and RISE data and classroom assessment data and prepare for pie nights and individual parent conferences and update CSUB and fulfill committee assignments and do recess and bus duty and implement SEL programs and find our elementary science and social studies curriculum – because we don’t have one adopted – and participate in LETRS training and Number Talk training … and TAC team meetings and department meetings and vertical alignment meetings and literacy, math, STEM and art nights and be club advisers and school -level ESL … and be department chair or grade-level team team leader.”

The litany made for a run-on sentence and a convincing explanation as to why, according to a survey cited in a Jan. 22 Forbes article, 48 percent of teachers reported they had considering quitting within the previous 30 days. The crippling amount of work is not sustainable, Barton said, reiterating the collective message of WCEA letter-writers.

“As a teacher, this has been a really long two years,” one teacher wrote. “I don’t want to go online. But with little support when needed and the burnout and exhaustion, I don’t know how we’re supposed to keep going. I’m looking at this from the perspective of a teacher and a parent. I’m wondering what’s the plan. Is there a plan? or do we all keep going until we run out of gas and can’t go anymore?

Barton said it’s time to address historic levels of teacher burnout.

“The best thing that could happen for teachers of every level is to take things off their plates, not add on,” she said. “What expectations can be dialed down? What meetings and training sessions can be pulled back? And what demands can be eased so teachers can focus on the critical issues and constantly changing situations in their classrooms.

Barton’s words were greeted by a hearty round of applause.

“This is a time when less is more,” she continued. “And we are asking on behalf of exhausted and drained teachers that building and district administration as well as the board of education give consideration to how the overwhelming burdens can be tangibly eased. Our teacher’s mental and physical health, and perhaps their ability to stay in their profession depend on it.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Sarah Torribio is a writer with years of experience covering community news and entertainment journalism. After 5 years as an education reporter at a small newspaper in California, plus a year subbing at local schools in Southern Utah, she’s excited to cover the Washington County School District beat as well as city affairs in Hurricane and the Short Creek area. She has two school-aged children, a menagerie of household pets, a bass guitar and dreams of being a successful screenwriter.


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