Teachers were exhausted before the pandemic. Now? They're in crisis.
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An image of a teacher at her desk.
Credit: Getty Images.

It's 2022. We're in our third calendar year of the pandemic. U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a record high this week. As the pandemic rages on, so does the debate about school closures.

Take Chicago, where students, teachers, and staff returned to school buildings for in-person learning this week. A week-long teachers' work action over COVID-19 safety precautions had temporarily shifted learning to remote. In New York, where Mayor Eric Adams has vowed to keep schools open amid the current spike in cases, hundreds of students staged a walkout to demand a remote option. Students in Massachusetts followed suit.

But pundits often cite children's mental health when arguing schools should remain open for in-person learning. It's true children's lives have been completely disrupted by the pandemic, and learning losses are real. But the evidence that kids are suffering simply because of school closures as opposed to other aspects of the pandemic, such as financial insecurity and deaths of caregivers, doesn't exist. And teachers are suffering, too. And one educator on Reddit can't take it anymore.

"I'm a teacher, and I'm done," wrote u/ConfidentPeace2130 in the antiwork Subreddit. "I just submitted my paperwork for a mental health leave of absence. I won't be going back after winter break."

The OP (original poster) went on to say they'd be using sick time and long-term disability and has a note from their doctor.

"See ya," the original post ended.

More than 3.6K commenters responded. Many could personally relate.

"The amount of BS you have to navigate in a normal year is unacceptable. The amount of additional BS caused by COVID is criminal," wrote one teacher.

"This is my 22nd year of teaching and easily the hardest. I didn't think beating last year in terms of crappiness was even possible, but here we are," said another.

Another commenter wanted to know what they could do to make things better.

"Is there anything parents can do to help?" they asked.

"Find other concerned parents, and organize. Work with the teachers' union and any local teacher activist groups. Part of the problem is that teachers and parents are divided. A unified teacher-parent-student voice is powerful," one person replied.

"Volunteer to go help at the school. Be a bathroom monitor. Or a lunchroom monitor. Or go read to a kid," another replied.

Schools desperately need help. Though districts like Chicago may have shifted to remote learning because of union work actions, many schools are closed because of issues with teacher shortages, including districts in Utah and New York. Just getting kids to school all year has been an issue. More than half of schools reported a bus driver shortage at the beginning of the academic year, and it's still an issue. A county in Maryland had to ask the National Guard to fill in this week.

Of course, watching teachers and school staff endure all of these issues doesn't make pursuing a career in education very attractive to current adults and students alike.

"I'm a teacher, and I tell my kids and any other young people I talk to not to go into the teaching profession. They don't really need that much convincing," one person said.

The OP was overwhelmed and humbled by many of the comments.

"I greatly appreciate the kind and thoughtful words from so many of you," they wrote.

And they wanted to really get through to people about what teachers are going through.

"There is a mental health crisis looming in our country, and schools are not immune," they wrote. "Continuing to ignore it will not make it go away. Please don't forget about teachers. I love my kids and will miss them, but right now, I need to be away."

The OP isn't alone, and statistics prove teachers are facing a mental health crisis. A Rand Corp. teacher survey from 2021 found that 27 percent of educators were experiencing symptoms of depression, and 37 percent reported generalized anxiety symptoms. More than half of teachers said they were more tempted to leave education now than they were pre-pandemic, according to research from the CDC Foundation.

It's a difficult time for kids and parents. Unfortunately, the pandemic—and the debate over in-person learning and even mitigations like masking in schools, which the CDC recommends—has brought out the worst in society. But it's important to be empathetic towards teachers, who simply want to be physically and mentally safe, too. There's no school without teachers, so coming together to support them will only benefit children, families, and society.