Teachers union survey quantifies mental toll from remote learning
Education Minnesota study shows teachers having the hardest time working on hybrid schedules
ST. PAUL — Working during the coronavirus pandemic has left Minnesota educators feeling stressed, overwhelmed and thinking about quitting, according to survey results released Monday by the state teachers union.
Those having the worst time are working on hybrid schedules, with students learning both in-person and from home at the same time, Education Minnesota found.
Union president Denise Specht said in a statement that schools should take any unnecessary tasks off teachers’ plates and stop requiring them to teach students in multiple places at once.
“That arrangement may have seemed like a good idea in August, but it’s not working in October and it may drive out hundreds of teachers by May,” she said.
29% ‘thinking about quitting’
The union said the online survey fielded 9,723 responses between Sept. 23 and Oct. 5. About 83% were teachers, with school nurses, counselors and aides also responding.
Overall, 29%t said they were “thinking about quitting or retiring.”
“Our public schools won’t function if thousands of educators burn out and leave. It’s time to adjust,” Specht said.
However, retirements since May actually are down compared with 2018 and 2019, according to the Teachers Retirement Association. The pension plan did see an increase in retirement applications last month, but applications overall are roughly on par with the last two years.
Those figures generally correspond with teacher retirement numbers across the country, defying worries about a looming workforce crisis.
Working remotely and in person
Most educators in the survey — 61% — were working with students both in-person and remotely.
Asked how they’re feeling about their work, 79% said “stressed” and 73% said “overwhelmed.”
Just 12 percent of respondents said they felt “happy” about their work, including 19% of those working in-person full-time.
“We love our work, but it has taken up every minute of our lives,” White Bear Lake special education teacher Erika Jagiella said Friday at an Education Minnesota news conference in Andover, where teachers raised concerns over safety and workload. “Asking teachers to teach in multiple formats is not sustainable.”
Among those surveyed, negative feelings and workload concerns were somewhat lower for educators working with all their students in-person every day. However, those working from home said they felt much safer than those working with students at school.
Anoka-Hennepin English teacher Jodi Anderson-Wolhaupter told reporters Friday that her teacher husband was given approval to work from home for health reasons, but she was denied early in the school year. Rather than risk her husband’s health to work on Anoka-Hennepin’s hybrid schedule, she took unpaid leave.
“The denial of my request to work remotely effectively nullified my husband’s accommodation,” she said.
Teachers unions across the state and country have been pressing their employers to negotiate special agreements around working conditions and benefits during the pandemic. In some of Minnesota’s largest districts, they’ve bargained for safety measures, limits on workloads and live instruction, extra pay, and child care and sick leave benefits.
Union leaders also have been lobbying for more federal money to enable schools to operate safely, with stronger testing protocols and enough staff and space to teach in-person while maintaining enough distance to prevent the virus from spreading.
“We need to make sure we’re listening to what educators are telling us,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Friday.
Despite a surge in coronavirus cases in Minnesota, only 11 public and private schools have reported outbreaks involving five or more infected students and staff in their buildings, according to a Thursday report from the Department of Health.
St. Paul Public Schools, which began the school year with all students in distance learning, will move more than 500 special-education students to a hybrid schedule next week. District leaders will announce Wednesday whether general elementary school students and additional special-education students will join them Nov. 16.
Superintendent Joe Gothard said in late September that many parents are eager to have the option of in-person learning but that the local teachers union was “delaying our ability to do so.”
According to state guidelines and last week’s health department report, the prevalence of the coronavirus in Ramsey County is low enough that all St. Paul students should be able to safely attend class in-person, at least two days a week.