Bekkerus: The state of our educators

Columnist Paula Bekkerus gives insight into how burnout and lack of support are affecting current and future educators. 

Paula Bekkerus

As an education student, I’m knee-deep in lesson plans, state standards and, most importantly, coffee. I have a lot of important people in my life who are educators; there are so many teachers and professors who I have and always will look up to. But getting into education myself, I can finally see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Teachers have always been and always will be under-appreciated. The fast-paced, low-paying, tiresome job often goes unnoticed because teachers “have summers off” or are “glorified babysitters.” I can’t tell you how much these excuses bother me.

First of all, the idea that teachers get summers off is a myth. Even if you think they don’t need a break after working overtime every single week, they don’t get one anyway. More and more teachers have to get summer jobs to supplement their salary. Others revamp their lesson plans and class structure, while others still take classes, update their license, and attend workshops and conferences. That doesn’t even include summer sports, summer band lessons, summer school and countless other activities.

Just because the teacher isn’t in front of your child teaching doesn’t mean they aren’t working. And so what if a teacher gets four weeks off? Are the 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (and much later for many educators) weekdays for 10 months not enough to solicit a break? 

The truth is that more and more teachers are experiencing burnout, especially since the pandemic. According to EducationWeek, burnout is when teachers feel a state of exhaustion that affects their ability to function in daily life due to a lack of self-care. Because they are not able to take care of themselves, they are not able to take care of other people. Just like in daily life, to be able to give from your reservoir, there must be something in it. The same is true for educators.

Is “burnout” just another buzzword we’ve been hearing about constantly since the pandemic started? Maybe, but just because you’re tired of hearing about it doesn’t make it any less of a real-life issue. Teachers are reaching their “breaking points.” They are underappreciated, underpaid and underprepared for a new technological normal. If you think you have lost some steam because of the pandemic, imagine how tired the educators are.

So, what can we do to support teachers? One thing, if not the most important thing, we can do is vote — that includes local, state and federal. Every part of it affects how we teach, whether it’s the school board or Iowa HF802. I advise you to vote not just in line with your party, but really listen to the candidates and what they are saying. Put your vote where you will enact change for the good of students and teachers.

If you’re a teacher yourself, I won’t tell you to “take care of yourself during this unprecedented time,” because I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that just as much as I am. But I will tell you to stay in touch with your emotions. Don’t just take time for yourself, but make time for yourself. You, yourself, are still your first priority, and you can’t give from an empty cup.

As a future teacher, I worry about burnout already, and I haven’t even started yet. In my education classes, we are constantly warned of burnout and how we might avoid it. I hope one day our teachers will feel as if they are respected, paid well, and are making a difference in students’ lives without having to sacrifice their own mental health. But until we reach that, let’s take tiny steps toward making a big difference for our educators.